Tag Archives: passion week

Friday: Robe, Crown, and Title

And the soldiers wove a crown of thorns and put it on his head, and they dressed him in a purple robe. They kept coming up to him, saying, "Hail, King of the Jews!" and striking him on the face.

* * *

Pilate also had an inscription written and put on the cross. It read, "Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews." Many of the Jews read this inscription, because the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, in Latin, and in Greek. Then the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, "Do not write, 'The King of the Jews,' but, 'This man said, I am King of the Jews.'" Pilate answered, "What I have written I have written."

19:2-3; 19-22

On Good Friday, this strange coronation of King Jesus comes to a close, complete with crown, robe and royal title. The supreme irony of all of the mockery in this narrative is that it is all, of course, more true than any of them know. Pilate, the highest human authority in this drama, seems to come closer to understanding what is really happening than anyone else when he refuses to correct the sign in response to the complaints of the Judean religious leaders.

Do not miss the fact that the inscription is written in multiple languages. Jesus' "gloriication" or "lifting up" – as its been called – is for all the world to see. Everyone in their own language must read and see that Jesus is now King.

And with this, "It is finished!" (v. 30). In a single moment, a gruesome scene of torture is transformed into a sign of God's love for the world, and we come to see his ultimate victory over the powers that hold the world at bay. It is a stunning paradox/mystery that – to this day – Christians can find both tragic and triumphant, disturbing and exhilarating, all at once. 

For Reflection: Imagine the scene of the cross in your own mind. On this Good Friday, what are you experiencing in this scene?

[Note: there will be no Holy Saturday post in this series. The final post will be on Easter Sunday.]

Thursday: The Power to Release, and the Power to Crucify

Pilate said to them, "Here is the man!" When the chief priests and the police saw him, they shouted, "Crucify him! Crucify him!" Pilate said to them, "Take him yourselves and crucify him; I find no case against him." The Jews answered him, "We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has claimed to be the Son of God."

Now, when Pilate heard this, he was more afraid than ever. He entered his headquarters again and asked Jesus, "Where are you from?" But Jesus gave him no answer. Pilate therefore said to him, "Do you refuse to speak to me? Do you not know that I have the power to release you, and the power to crucify you?" Jesus answered him, "You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above; therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin."

As we move closer and closer to Jesus' crucifixion, we find Jesus, ironically, more and more in control of the situation. The chief priests and the police pressure Pilate to crucify Jesus for violating their laws against heresy, but Pilate – the only authority that can legally perform the execution – seems unconvinced that Jesus poses a sufficient threat to the Empire to justify an execution.

We are sometimes told that the same crowds that cheered on Jesus on Palm Sunday are the ones who called for his execution on Thursday, but this isn't the story that John tells (I don't think the other gospels tell that story, either). Instead, what we see in this text is a very particular group of people – religious leaders who are from Judea – who are calling for Jesus' death.

In either event, it is clear that everything rests on the decision that Pilate is about to make.

Pilate describes his authority to Jesus in terms of the power of life or death, but Jesus retorts by saying that Pilate does not truly hold such power over him. Rome's power exists only because God is allowing it to exist. The supreme authority within creation doesn't rest in the Empires that are "from" this world, but in the Kingdom of Christ.

Jesus will later demonstrate the power of his own Kingdom when he "breaks" the power of Rome, demonstrated in his execution, by rising from the dead. When the dead rise again, the State can no longer claim its choke-hold on the people.

In a sense, this is the ultimate "good news" in the gospel – God has demonstrated his ability to defeat the powers by raising his son from the dead.

For Reflection: Do you think that human, political authority still exists only because God allows it to be so? Can the "good news" that God has ultimate power over human authorities – and the power over death – bring hope to the world? How so?

Meditating on Passion Week

When meditating during Passion Week, I often repeat this mantra:

  1. Jesus dies instead of us.
  2. Jesus dies with us.
  3. Jesus dies to show us the way.
  4. Jesus invites us to die with him.

The first, third, and fourth items are taken directly from something that I heard Scot McKnight mention one time. The third is my own addition.

The first item suggests themes of substitution – Jesus takes our place and endures death and hell instead of us.

The second item suggests themes of solidarity – Jesus knows about the suffering of the least among us because he himself has suffered in the way that they do.

The third item suggests moral influence – Jesus refuses to take up the sword against the powers, but instead speaks out against them, even though it invites death. He shows us a way that both rejects and confronts injustice without resort to violence. This shows us the way out of the spiral of violence.

The fourth item suggests self-denial. Jesus’ death invites us to give up our old selves, trusting that in the death of our old self, God will raise us to a new self.

For me, it is important not to think any one of these holds the one “true” meaning. I often bristle at substitution, and I am too easily swayed to moral influence. I need to avoid both temptations.

When you settle in comfortably into any one of these ideas, to the exclusion of the others, you lose out on a part of the mystery of the atonement. The challenge of walking through the Passion with Jesus is to understand that all of them, in their own way, are true at the same time.

The Last Week

51PSR1C9SYL._SL500_AA300_[1] About a week ago, I mentioned in a tweet that Sheila and I are teaching Sunday School out of The Last Week, a remarkable book by Marcus Borg and Dominic Crossan about the final days of Jesus’ life, as told in the Gospel of Mark.

If you are interested in marking the days of Holy Week through prayer and meditation, a great way to do it is by reading through Mark’s account. We have put together a brief devotional guide for our class to enable them to do just that, and I thought I would share it here.


Some Background. Jesus lived during tumultuous times in Roman-occupied Israel. The Romans, in cooperation with the authorities in the Jewish temple had set up a system of economic and political domination that caused a few, elite in the cities to become very rich, while economic conditions in the countryside were worsening dramatically. Jews had a love/hate relationship with the temple – they were dependent on the system of sacrifices that occurred there, but those in charge of the temple endorsed, and even benefitted from a harsh system of oppression. Jesus’ ministry was almost exclusively directed at the impoverished masses in the countryside. None of his ministry – except when he came to Jerusalem – took place among the wealthy landowners who inhabited the cities. His message was a political one – it taught of a “kingdom of God” in which, among other things, the poor were treated with justice. For Jesus to come to Jerusalem during a major feast, being hailed as a king by a large crowd of beaten-down followers, must have been a very frightening thing to those in charge of the temple.

What Happens During Mark’s “Passion Week”? Mark’s take on the “passion” of Jesus is different from what we might imagine. Jesus is passionate about justice for those who have been oppressed and marginalized by the corrupt temple authorities, and he is ultimately killed because he confronts this system, and refuses to back down. For Mark, the point is not the amount of suffering that Jesus underwent (this is normally what we think of as Jesus’ “passion”), rather Mark focuses on Jesus’ passion for God’s kingdom, and it is that passion that gets him killed. To walk through the Passion Week with Mark requires us to be confronted by the same Jesus, to reflect on the ways that we may ourselves be involved in modern-day versions of domination systems, and to contemplate what it means to oppose those systems. What role can we play in liberating those around us who also find themselves in the margins and shadows of society?

Here are our readings for this week:

Palm Sunday (Mark 11:1-11). Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem is a planned, political demonstration (see the story that immediately proceeds this in Mark 10:46-52 to see how Jesus had pre-arranged this event). It invokes Zecheriah 14:4 9:9, in which the King of Peace rides into Jerusalem on a donkey. It should contrasted with the intimidating display of force that is involved when a Roman Governor comes into town, mounted on a horse and surrounded by a regiment of a brutal, Roman-trained killing machine.

Monday (Mark 11:12-19). Jesus goes into the temple and shuts down the process of converting currency, something that is necessary for the temple system of sacrifices to take place. He condemns the temple authorities openly, accusing them of using the temple as a “den” while the undertake robbery outside the temple. To understand more about his reference to a “den of robbers,” read Jeremiah 7. If one engages in injustice outside the temple, one cannot expect to find God’s protection inside it. This story is sandwiched between a two-part story of a fig tree that is cursed by Jesus, and that then withers. It seems to suggest that, in the same way the fig tree is cursed by Jesus and then destroyed, so the temple – which is “cursed” by Jesus on this day – will meet its end.

Tuesday (Mark 11:20-13:37). In this long text, Jesus is confronted by the people in charge of the temple, who question his authority, and then attempt to humiliate him by asking “trick” questions that are designed to trap him in his words. It doesn’t work. Note especially Jesus’ story about the wicked tenants (12:1-12). Again, he is suggesting that the “end” of the temple has now come. At the end of the day (Chapter 13), Jesus foretells that the temple soon meet its destruction. The actual destruction of the temple in 70 CE was probably happening around the time Mark wrote his gospel.

Wednesday (Mark 14:1-11). On this day, a woman pours expensive perfume on Jesus in an act of devotion, an event that Mark views as Jesus’ preparation for burial – a sign that his fate is now sealed. Notice how, when the disciples object to such extravagance, Jesus makes a statement which assumes that his disciples will always be present in the midst of poverty (“The poor you will always have with you,” v. 7).

Thursday (Mark 14:12-72). Notice again the elaborate plans Jesus has already made for Passover, as his disciples are led, in almost a clandestine way, to the place where the meal is to be held. There, he tells them of his coming death, and its meaning, but alerts them that he will be raised, and that he will later meet them in Galilee. Note how everyone gradually deserts Jesus. Eventually, even Peter turns on him. Though later editors will add in additional stories, this is the last that we see or hear from any of the eleven in Mark’s original gospel.

Friday (Mark 15:1-47). Today, Jesus is executed and buried. Notice, during this reading, how God’s judgment now comes on the temple. The land becomes dark (see Amos 8:9), and the temple curtain is torn in two (15:38), seeming to suggest that God has “left” the temple. Jesus himself quotes from a scripture (Psalm 22), in which it at first appears that God has deserted him, but which later indicates that God will vindicate him. Even the Roman soldier, a symbol of the Imperial domination system, declares Jesus – not Caesar – to be the true Son of God (v. 39).

Saturday (Nothing). Nothing is said in Mark’s gospel about the Sabbath day. This is a day to sit in silence, reflecting on the sober, reality of Jesus’ mortality. He lies silent, in the tomb.