Mark 15:5

But Jesus still made no reply whatever; at which Pilate was astonished.

befuddling authority
takes no grand plan

simply stand outside
the given frame

from such a vantage
cracks are clearer

from one universe over
joy is still an option

together solid silence
remains always an option

Mark builds his story with related scenes. At this point, we are reminded of Herod and Baptizer John.

John was imprisoned by Herod as a threat to his administration. He brought a moral challenge to leadership regarding rules of marital relationship. Jesus extends that to other partnerships with the sick, designated unclean, and the poor and is now in the hands of Pilate.

In 6:20 we heard that Herod protected John before being caught in an extravagant offer. It offers this comment, “Herod listened to John while confused and intrigued by him.”

Pilate, here, is recorded as marveling or filled with wonder at Jesus’ unusual response of silence to the accusations made against him. Bratcher475 indicates Pilate’s response as “almost equivalent to ‘Pilate was dumbfounded.’”

This is the same kind of marveling that the Pharisees and Herodians experienced when Jesus avoided their trap over taxes in 12:13–17.

Such wonder does not keep John safe and it will not keep Jesus safe.

This same marvel describes the response of people to the witness of the Geresene now in his right mind (5:20), Jesus at the lack of faith in his hometown (6:6), the disciples when the storm at sea was stilled ( 6:51), and Pilate again when hearing Jesus died so quickly (15:44). Crowds had a similar response when Jesus was healing and teaching (2:12, 5:42, 6:2, 7:37, 10:26). Similarly, the scribes and chief priest were astonished and frightened at Jesus’ presence (11:18) and will bring Jesus to Pilate. Marveling, being intrigued or amazed at a person is no barrier to danger. The same threat continues for those who build a defense on the basis of establishing relationships with those in power in a hope of changing policies. Whenever it suits those in power, a relationship is sacrificed to maintain the privilege they hold.

Mark 15:4

So Pilate questioned Jesus again. “Have you no reply to make?” he asked. “Listen, how many charges they are bringing against you.”

we are so accustomed
if there is a stimulus
there must be a reaction

when accusations rise
our defenses kick in
with any and every escape route

accusers accuse
to frame to their advantage
to cage any variant vision

acceptance of an accusation
does not require agreement
only considered breathing

The question remains the same: “Are you the King of the Jews?”

Jesus has responded: “You said it.”

For Pilate that is not sufficient. In this court, there are only two responses, “Yes” and “No”. This fudgy, putting the question back to the questioner won’t do.

Pilate emphasizes this with, “Your life depends upon you’re answering!” To further emphasize the dire nature of the situation, Pilate reminds Jesus that there is more than this one question that puts him in danger. We might imagine him holding up a long list of accusations.

In the Greek, πάλιν ἐπερωτάω (palin eperōtaō, again demanding) helps us understand that Pilate is not a nice prosecutor. It is clear that Jesus is in a no-win position. His choice becomes to play the trial game or to be present in a way that will reveal it for the power-play it is.

This is a still needed teaching—how to evaluate the situation and respond with a choice, not a reaction.

So we will do well to attend to this verse to meet the times in our life and the life of our time that demands an allegiance that cannot be given and still claim the agency of belovedness. Moral choices abound in every direction we look. There is no avoiding them. How we respond remains important.

It is fruitful to consider the accusations that have been made against us, the reaction those accusations engendered, and the actual response we made. It is also productive to consider the accusations that could have been made against us that we know would have been deniable. Our being caught between these false and all-too-true accusations makes us vulnerable to responding with too much or too little information.

Mark 15:3

Then the chief priests brought a number of charges against him.

to be wrong in one instance
is to be wrong in all circumstances
every little misstep dominoes
we all fall down
unable to be put back
together again

thankfully we set wrong right
in the clearest possible terms
just say no just say yes
you’ve been carefully taught
umpteen ruling guidelines
to protect all concerned

There is really only one charge against Jesus—sedition, fomenting insurrection against Rome.

This sentence is one of the reasons Mark has never been accused of being an elegant writer. Literally translated it reads, “They asked [demanded] of him, the chief priests many things [or much].”

The “many things” or charges might better be understood that the chief priests brought the most persuasive case they could. This approach is based on an adverbial usage of πολλά (polla, much, strongly, insistently).

The trick for the chief priests was transforming their own religious judgment against Jesus for “blasphemy” into a political charge that would carry a death penalty. Whether that was done with a multitude of smaller accusations or one big one takes a back seat to the continuation of “false witness”—this time by the chief priests.

In today’s world, we might think about “moral injury” that leaders often fall prey to as they find themselves having to “protect” an institution by suppressing their own conscience, eventually taking on the weakest aspect of the institution they represent.

We can remember the number of attempts that had been made before Jesus’ arrest to find something they could hold against him. The first surfacing of this animus was in 2:6 when muttering began about a healing of a paralyzed man brought by his friends in terms of “He’s insulting G*D”, or blasphemy. This escalated into particular direct questions intended to trap Jesus: divorce (10:1–9), authority (11:27–33), taxes (12:13–17), resurrection (12:18–27), David (12:35–40). Eventually, by turning “child-of-G*D” into “G*D” a determination was made that Jesus had committed blasphemy.

All of this lies behind Pilate’s evaluation of how to rile the various forces against one another. In the end both Pilate and the Chief Priests understand they are serving their respective institutions.

Mark 15:2

“Are you the king of the Jews?” asked Pilate. “It is true,” replied Jesus.

now we are getting to it
ye olde nub of the matter

we rule and brook no rival
any claim you make will fall

asking of nobodies is silly-talk
why claim to be a big nobody

this is just a big laugh
thanks for a levity break

time to stop this charade
claim your ordinary nobody-ness

you’re looking rough around the edges
renounce your crown get patched up

so one last chance
still say you’re my king

my judge and jury
you’ve said what needs saying

Pilate’s question is addressed to someone distained with mock surprise in its tone. There is nothing here to lead us away from the expected suffering and death that have been rolling along.

With the introduction of a title, “King of the Jews”, is a position of no consequence. Most recently it was the designation of the Herod family as client-leaders instituted by the Romans.

This subservience to Rome is in tension with the possibility of a King arising to lead a revolt against Rome and Caesar. Either way, the title is not really at stake here.

Pilate’s non-question is responded to in an equivalent fashion by Jesus—a shrug of the shoulder and dismissive, “You said it.”

Although a number of translations try to shade this response in an affirmative direction (as the one used in this blog, above), following on the heels of an “I am” statement to the Chief Priest, Pilate’s question can’t be responded to with an easy “yes” or “no”. Mann636 says that Jesus’ reply “… is meant to say that the speaker would have posed the question differently…”

While easy to read resignation or evasion into Jesus’ response, there is also a challenge of what will be used to prove such an accusation. What in the previous 14 chapters could be pointed to that has an overtly political agenda. There are some economic challenges with pigs, camels/needles, widow’s offering, and anointing oil, none about governance (other than highlighting the virtue of service).

Mark 15:1

As soon as it was daylight, the chief priests, after holding a consultation with elders and teachers of the Law – that is to say, the whole High Council – put Jesus in chains, and took him away, and gave him up to Pilate.

day-break arrives
night’s clamor lessens
is acknowledged
as not sellable

in dawn’s early light
our lack of power
like it or not
we seek out what we lack

our plans shattered
it is time to plot deeper
fool’s gold
needs an alchemist
to pilot our desire

Meanwhile, back at the Sanhedrin, the official condemnation of Jesus back in 14:64 has found its way to bring Jesus to death—hand him over to the Roman authorities as they had exclusive rights to execution.

At the first binding of Jesus, Peter ran away and then followed at a distance. While this binding of Jesus goes on, Peter weeps and is never again directly on stage in Mark.

As the representative of the Way of Jesus, Peter’s absence means the handing over of Jesus to the Romans leaves Jesus without visible support. Sympathetic people lining the trip to crucifixion or someone to help bear the load of the cross are stories in other gospel records, not in Mark.

Daybreak brings clarity that there is not going to be a last-minute rescue by Navy Seals or Guardian Angels. There will be no plea bargain that will release Jesus, though he will be the vehicle for the release of another father’s son.

We are no longer dealing with what Jesus has done but with who he is. This question of identity runs through Mark’s story. Whether it is a wilderness scene that would tempt one away from belovedness, the being seen by inhabiting spirits of one constraint or another, the awe and wonder of crowds as person after person is healed, an inspiriting teaching, or calming of storms—Jesus’ current binding is not related to these. Pharaoh’s religious experts could match and thus discount most of Moses’ signs intended to let his people go. Religious and occupational authorities could live with Jesus’ doings. It was his being, his identity, that threatened the identities of the authorities. Without their identity as authorities, they were nothing. Their investment in their position was everything they had, much like the questioning man who went sorrowing away, not giving to the poor.

Mark 14:72

At that moment, for the second time, a cock crowed; and Peter remembered the words that Jesus had said to him – ‘Before a cock has crowed twice, you will disown me three times’; and, as he thought of it, he began to weep.

nature calls out time
there is no more
consequences will be reaped

every falsehood called
by the rape it is

time’s up

Malbon, in Anderson40, sets the end of this section in a helpful comparison:

Jesus’ scene concludes with the guards taunting him to “Prophesy!” (v. 65). Peter’s scene concludes with his remembrance of Jesus’ prophecy of his denial (v. 72), an ominous echo of the earlier foreshadowing. It is sadly ironic that Peter’s noisy denial of his discipleship in order to save his life is narrated almost simultaneously with Jesus’ quiet affirmation of his messiahship, although it will lead to his death. The rhetorical juxtaposition of these scenes—characters, words, actions, setting—in the unfolding plot pushes the implied reader not only to judge the two contrasting characters but also to judge himself or herself.

If we follow this line, there is a self-judgment different from self-acquittal that comes when we remember our value system after excusing it for a time. At question is what would trigger our remembrance. One time-tested process is charting behavior with the intent to change our engagement with the world. From the “Holy Club” of the 18thcentury is noting every expenditure and evaluating whether we are comforting ourself or improving the life of another. When that tips over to spending more on ourself than the common good, we can hear a rooster crow to remind us of a camel being threaded and our denial of the poor we can always assist.

It is this sort of remembrance that will lead to Peter’s “break down” or “throwing of himself to the ground” or “beating upon himself”—all images of unclean spirits exiting. This remembrance is a beginning of a cleansing, changing process introduced as Jesus left the wilderness—change your ways; trust good news.

Peter has finally awoken from his Gethsemane sleep and the nightmare of impotence at Jesus’ arrest. We are back to the instruction for wakefulness when we sleep-walk through trying times when an abomination of desolation is installed where it ought not be.

Mark 14:71

But he said to them, “I swear that I do not know the man you are talking about! May God punish me if I am lying!”

o so angry
at getting caught
not getting our way
there is no stopping
a fume and fuss

when fantasy shards
of deep dreamtime
come suddenly apart
they writhe and contort
explosive in their pain

The curse or punishment Peter is claiming, is against himself—“May I be accursed.”

The Greek ἀναθεματίζειν (anathematizein, to devote to destruction) is an extreme statement that is not only meant to put one literally in danger if not true but to be emotionally compelling, so one is seen as sincere. Peter has pulled out a big stick, probably said in a big voice.

First, Peter claims to be willing to take whatever punishment is meted out for lying. He may well have figured out that, given G*D’s mercy, this would be small potatoes compared with what he would have to live with as a betrayer.

Second, Peter calls upon G*D as a witness to the veracity of his response.

These uses of G*D are familiar responses in every age and system, whether family, religious institution, or governing politics.

This is the third denial of Peter. Denial by denial, feeling more and more trapped and moving further away from Jesus whom he followed before this night and after Jesus’ arrest, Peter escalated his responses from avoidance to vehemence.

At this point we may remember the many people who were healed by Jesus and asked to keep silence about their healing and Jesus’ part in it. They were not able to stay silent but started and continued to blab it wherever they were and to whoever was around. Contrast this with Peter who, when directly asked about his relationship with Jesus, was adamant in denying any connection with Jesus.

Readers may also return to Gethsemane to wonder what prayer Peter might have prayed that would have kept him from getting into the pickle of his present circumstance. Does Mark’s story of Jesus require a lonely wilderness valley at the cross as well as after baptism and during ministry?

Is there anything Peter could have done to express his solidarity with Jesus, not left Jesus on his own and connected Jesus on the cross with Peter as well as with a darkened Creati*n and absent G*D?

Mark 14:70

But Peter again denied it.

Soon afterward the bystanders again said to him, “You certainly are one of them; why you are a Galilean!”

put off
put off
put off

no matter how long
another opportunity
to not put off

put on
put on
put on

again and again
even enemies offer
revealed insight

put away
put away
put away

every excuse
to cover past
missed honor

put here
put here
put here

outworn strategies
polished fabrications
a simple yes

Now it is more than one servant who is asking about Peter. There is no more room or time—true colors must be shown.

JANT92 uses an interesting phrase in discussing these verses about Peter.

… Mark ironically conveys that Peter’s “self-acquittal” is occurring simultaneously with Jesus’ conviction.

Peter and the disciples had been taught the way of deaconing. Associated with this is the problematic phrase, “self-denial”. For a significant, long-term, purpose we are willing to put ourself in service on behalf of another or some larger group of others. The dramatic image is that of choosing crucifixion if that comes to be the consequence of being a deaconing angel in a wilderness.

Such self-denial needs to be very careful for the temptation will be to unnecessarily call a crucifixion down upon one’s self to be a witnessing martyr. This short-cut is actually a “self-acquittal” that expects a privileged entrance to whatever fantasy of “heaven” one has come up with. There is no virtue in self-acquittal.

Peter began this series of denials by saying he didn’t understand the question about knowing Jesus. Now he moves on to deny that he knows the other disciples. This is the way of denial—one more denial is always needed. “Self-acquittal”, or denial of one’s self, never seems to get to the bottom of the questions being asked.

This is not the self-denial that Jesus spoke about in terms of serving one another for it only serves as a false defense of self.

Announcement of a new book

There is no posting today as I am out-of-town to speak at a District UMW gathering on “Sacred Spaces: Encounters with G*D and Neighb*r”.

This gives an opportunity to announce that I have just self-published a translation of Mark that is available on Amazon—Slow-Reading the Gospel of Mark.

The format invites a reflection on some of the smaller connective words in Mark’s telling his Jesus story. The text pushes back at our desire to scan and rely on a familiar story. Hopefully, there will be a new opening to this old story as a Reader faces an awkward style not smoothed with familiar language choices.

Should you take a look at it, I would appreciate your posting a Review on Amazon (negative as well as positive, so we don’t get too far away from reality). Reviews help me as an author to see how to improve and assist potential readers to dive in or move on.

Thanks for your traveling with me through these long months—with a couple more to go.


Mark 14:69

and there the maidservant, on seeing him, began to say again to the bystanders, “This is one of them!”

a nobody wandered by
collecting remainders
of other lives
living off their life

a found kite string
wrapped round
a tattered life
brings dignity

a call reminds
another call
to restring a net
olly olly oxen free

come from hiding
return home
claim it gladly
an interconnected web

One way the servant could have recognized Peter was if she had been part of a crowd appreciating the teaching and healing of Jesus. Peter could have quietly said, “Yes, but please keep that quiet for now. I simply need to be as close as I can be after losing my courage for a moment.”

This scene is becoming more intense. The first recognition was done at an appropriate level, face-to-face. When Peter avoided that first identification, we find the servant now speaking to others who happened to be present.

In attempting to avoid putting himself at risk, the circle of those who will be looking at Peter increase.

This negative escalation seems familiar to anyone who has had a dark-night-of-the-soul. Things just keep getting worse and we don’t know what to do about it. We are stuck sitting around a cold fire that can no longer warm us and there are an unknown number of walls between where we are and where we think we need to be but aren’t capable of going.

This is a place to review Franz Kafka’s parable, Before the Law. We come seeking how to live and find a blockage on the way. For whatever reason, we turn a mole-hill into a mountain that cannot be removed to the sea. We spin and spin, losing more and more agency. Our fears and inadequacies strike at the most inopportune time. Whatever made a fisherman think his utopian dream would actually come to pass? We are still waiting beside an open door, one of the best descriptions of hell there is.

Even if we made It past the first wall, the second is higher and thicker and better guarded. This is the reality of denial: there is an ever increasing pressure to repeat it again and again until it becomes our truth. This is the disciple’s unclean spirit: a promise-breaker becomes our self-identity.