Mark 15:9

he answered, “Do you want me to release the ‘king of the Jews’ for you?”


hey Pilate
you stupid
or what

don’t release
that one
the other

a father’s son
in place of
a father’s son

what’s taking
so-o-o long
hurry now


Text Box: hey Pilate
you stupid
or what

don’t release
that one
the other

a father’s son
in place of
a father’s son

what’s taking
so-o-o long
hurry now
The crowd has asked for the release of a prisoner. Understood is that the one they want released is Barabbas. Pilate is acting like a big tease when he, oh so innocently, wants to clarify that it is “the king of the Jews” they want released. Of course, it is not.

Not only is there mean teasing going on but some irony as well. The word for “release” is ἀπολύω (apolyō, give leave to depart). This same word has been used by the disciples when there were crowds of hungry people and by Jesus after those persons have been fed. He sent them back to their ordinary lives after an extra-ordinary event. It is also used in the debate about divorce and one person releasing another (10:1–12). It can also be seen at the end of each healing with release from sickness or an unclean spirit.

Those earlier recognitions of needful endings of a season of life are here continuing those natural, expected, habitual times to be followed by a reset.

Yet, in the play about releasing there is a different edge. In just another 6 verses, Barabbas will be released from captivity and Jesus will be released to crucifixion.

Pilate is in charge of this conversation about release. He has the authority to release or not to release. His wonderment at Jesus and toying with the crowd might lead a Reader to suspect that things might still turn out alright for Jesus. Peter may well have been correct to not buy the suffering and death part of Jesus’ vision and jump to rising from victory to victory until the end of time. Perhaps Pilate won’t give his authority away to a dancing girl’s desire (theleō).

Yet, Pilate is asking Herod’s question, “what do you want?” (thelete) to a roiling crowd.

Pilate appears disinterested in anything resembling a trial to deal with this problem put in his lap by the chief priests. His primary goal seems to be to avoid a significant disruption or riot during the time of overcrowding Jerusalem during this major feast.

Mark 15:8

So, when the crowd went up and began to ask Pilate to follow his usual custom,


pushy crowds
make up
their own rules

it makes no difference
generations old tradition
made up on the spot

whatever they want
they want now
and brook no delay

they’ll do the deal
we want you to get rid of
so now you get rid of

it doesn’t have to make sense
it just needs to be obeyed
and that right soon


The crowd enters the scene. While it is easy to make a connection with the mob that arrested Jesus and those who brought false witness at his trial before the Sanhedrin, the crowd may have been there to advocate for the release of Barabbas rather than for the trial of Jesus.

It may be that the triumph of entering Jerusalem cannot be connected to the venom expressed at the Antonia fortress that protected Pilate when he was in Jerusalem. The crowd may not have turned against Jesus; he became only a cog in their attempt to release Barabbas.

A Reader might also begin reflecting on Pilate’s political calculus about which father’s son was most likely to cause him the most difficulty in the near term. Is it the pretend insurrectionist who has already proved his ineptness by being captured in the first place? Is it the gathering a grass-roots movement that has already affected the economy of Geresene and thus of the Roman army with the loss of pigs (after all an army travels on it stomach), and sheer numbers of 4,000 and 5,000 people in one place (where a healing service could quickly turn into a political rally that looked at the root causes of poverty in an occupied country)?

While it is never easy to peer into the motivations of an occupier well-schooled in benign reasons for how Rome became so powerful and Israel so weak, it doesn’t take much to be able to see Pilate glad to play Barabbas-oriented crowds off against the chief priests and their anti-Jesus orientation. He can make two critical opposition factions happy for another day, thus delaying their resistance to his rule.

It also doesn’t take much to not see this as some grand G*D-Plan. Power refuses to recognize its own irrelevance and all the actions to this point are understandable as business-as-usual.

Mark 15:7

A man called Barabbas was in prison, with the rioters who had committed murder during a riot.


every father’s son
carries a patriarch’s choice
to overthrow a thwarting
by sabotage or violence

whether through legal means
or those not licit
abba father is reduced
to murder of soul and body

like son like father
a net is cast to catch
freedom’s choice to step aside
beyond controlling addiction


Mark introduces us to a head-scratcher with this new character, Barabbas.

At its simplest, “Bar” means “son” and “abba” means “father”—“son of the father”.

This, of course, is also a designation of Jesus’ relationship with G*D.

Aichele13 reflects:

Barabbas does not appear as an active character in Mark’s narrative, but his name is used by “high priests” as the one to be released when they “stir up the crowd” in order to demand the crucifixion of Jesus.

…the statement in some manuscripts…that Barabbas was also named “Jesus” generates an element of irony or even slapstick in the story: Jesus the son of the father (“abba”) is condemned while Jesus the son of the father (“Barabbas”) is released…. The political insurgent becomes a mock double of the Galilean preacher who has been arrested “as if [he] were a highwayman”(Mark 14:48).

Mark does use irony, but it seems particularly out of place here. Mann637–639 suggests the “Jesus Barabbas” that shows up in some manuscripts had the “Jesus” excised in by scribes in the copying process. He concludes:

“All in all, we are unlikely to solve the puzzle of the prisoner with the startling appellation; and, short of some new and dramatic discovery, we must deal with the text as we find it.”

There are difficulties whenever Readers—original (ancient) or subsequent (contemporary)—attempt to wrestle with a text. LaVerdiere2279helps keep us from getting mired in the details:

When Mark is interested in the etymology of a name, he explains it. That is what he did with Bartimaeus….

In the end, Jesus’ uprising is the same and different than the uprising Barabbas was involved with. Quite the puzzle, intended or not.

Mark 15:6

Now, at the feast, Pilate used to grant the people the release of any one prisoner whom they might ask for.


let them eat husks
this rabble can be tricked
to release the very excuse
I need to further restrict
their available options

there is no freebie
without a corresponding
consequence of obligation
the freedom of one
becomes the downfall of many

to see such machinations
is wearying to the soul
leaving us trapped
exhausted into collaboration
blind to an emperor’s nakedness


We almost have a reversal of the request to have Baptizer John beheaded. Will a once-awed crowd request the release of Jesus?

Regardless of a request from a third party, the action of Herod and Pilate remain their action even as attempts are made to absolve Herod by blaming Herodias and exonerate Pilate by putting the burden upon a Jewish crowd stirred to incivility by both Pilate and the chief priests.

Arguments about the historicity of this sort of amnesty during a festival continue. There are Roman citations that report it and no Jewish records that support it.

Waetjen228–230 focuses on a narrative approach to Mark:

Although the Jewish people are free to choose for themselves whom they want Pilate to pardon—and others, such as the two bandits who were crucified with Jesus, are available!—their choice is actually limited to two individuals. This may appear to be self-contradictory, but it is determined by the design of the author. For the tradition of 15:6–15 dominates the narration of Jesus’ trial before Pilate and conveys a reenactment of a central feature of the very first Passover: divine and human preferences in the binary opposition between the Hebrews and the Egyptians….

The strategy of this piece of repertoire is, rather, to confront the addressees of the Gospel with a similar choice which they must make in their own context. As they reach this point in the story, they too must choose between Jesus and Barabbas. Each of them represents a way into the further of the Passover anticipation of a new world.

Readers are still asked whom they will release in today’s world. Would Jesus ask the release of all prisoners, even the most violent?

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
falsity
is acknowledged
as not sellable

in dawn’s early light
our lack of power
glistens
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.