Mark 15:36

And a man ran, and, soaking a sponge in common wine, put it on the end of a rod, and offered it to him to drink, saying as he did so, “Wait and let us see if Elijah is coming to take him down.”

the fourth quarter
nears a final whistle
the game might be interesting
if we can but extend it

our star player injured
there is no sub available
our only hope is a pain killer
take this drug entertain us

this is not a time
to think about addiction
there is work to be done
a paying crowd to play to

a real man would get up
just one more play one more
such a small thing to ask
given your pay grade and title

The “sour wine” is less about vinegar than it is a reference to the cheap wine of the Roman soldiers. This connection with wine and putting it on a pole or reed (which can also be a reference to a javelin used by the soldiers) strengthen that this scene brings Rome into the mockery.

The Roman judgment ensues after that of the Sanhedrin. The Roman mockery follows after the chief priests and local Jews passing by. In both cases, it is Rome where the buck stops.

There is a temptation here to try to find what relief was possible by having a bit of hydration. It is in direct relationship with 14:25 and Jesus saying he would not drink the fruit of the vine (sweet or sour) until he did so in the presence of G*D.

Regarding Elijah, this is not the first time there has been a confusion about Elijah. The disciples have reported that others have mistaken Jesus for Elijah. After Jesus was transfigured the disciples ask about Jesus and learn that Elijah’s role is not that of the tradition, he is not coming to restore all things (9:12). Elijah will not save Jesus from suffering and death. Jesus goes on to say that Elijah has already come (9:13, a reference to Baptizer John filling the Elijah role) and so there is no need to wait and see if Elijah will come.

It is as if the soldiers are pulling one last trick, an intentional misunderstanding of a cry of desolation. This suggests there is hope where that whole category has been abolished through an emphasis upon suffering, death, and rising as a result of refusing our usual self-imposed censorship regarding the limits of healing and partnership.

The bottom line is that Jesus’ life has been as much a parable as his teaching. People have not heard it or seen it for what it is.

Mark 15:35

Some of those standing around heard this, and said, “Listen! He is calling for Elijah!”

bystanders always get it wrong
they are in the wrong place
to give an eye-witness account
always caught in their own meme
they cannot hear what is said
and so make up whole cloth

not only a wrong place
the timing is all off
Elijah has already come
and gone headless away
any transfiguring has passed
now dark valleys are walked alone

but thanks for playing
watching death gets boring
breaths dwindle down
to a precious few
and then fall away drifting
Elijah was an interesting card to play

“Look!” is an attention-getter. In context it could be, “Hey!” In response to a cry, there is nothing keeping it from being, “Listen!”

At question is who is speaking at this point. Is the Cyrene still present after carrying the crossbeam? We have soldiers distracted by dividing Jesus’ garments. There are chief priests present who have a vested interest in this particular execution. At least two others are being crucified at the same time. Everyday traffic is also passing by and being warned by a never-ending tableau of crucified bodies how not to end up here: stay in line. At some distance there are fellow-travelers.

We have heard mockery by the soldiers in their divvying up of a few scraps of clothes, the little a life is worth.

That mockery is more easily identified by the inside jokes of the chief priests and the mocking tone of the passersby.

I tend to follow Mann652 in returning to the soldiers for their part in the spoken mockery by continuing the misunderstanding of what Jesus has actually said about Temple walls or a cry to G*D.

Whether therefore Eli was misunderstood as an invocation to Hēlios, the sun god, or as Ēlias, whether by Jew or Gentile, it appears to this writer that we can best understand this episode by treating bystanders as the attendant soldiers.

The arguments for who is speaking are technical and difficult. The easiest narrative reading in Mark (as opposed to other gospel reports) is to connect this verse with the next and have the same person both call out and initiate the coming action.

Mark 15:34

And, at three, Jesus called out loudly, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabacthani?” which means ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’

it’s never so dark
it can’t get darker

beyond the physics of light
lies the experience of life

when a nearest breath leaves
darker becomes darkest

turning toward a morning
is no antidote to this dark

soul dark can’t cry out
there is no other there

with no next breath
even a groan is too much

having left myself behind
all else leaves at warp speed

Regardless of any outward disaffirmation of an inward belovedness, we claim our fear of wilderness even as we enter it more deeply. Such a personal cry is bound to be misinterpreted by anyone casually hearing us. There is no, “I understand” or “I know what you mean” or “I’ve been there” that could possibly be of any comfort or other significance.

The experience of bereftness is overwhelming. It is an immensity of nothingness, an emptiness of monumental proportions. And yet, for those acquainted with the prevenience of grace, it is a mirage.

It is in the caughtness of this moment that we need to remember again the Garden of Gethsemane and a prayer of partnership rather than hierarchy.

It is in this understanding that my translation in Slow-Reading the Gospel of Mark comes out:

my G*D
my G*D
why have you
unpartnered me

Mark used the word βοάω (boaō, to cry out) twice—here and back in 1:3 where Baptizer John cries out in the wilderness. This helps us understand the impetus behind and power of John’s call to the people as well as grounding Jesus’ cry in expectation.

The three-hour silence is broken with the last use of Aramaic (e.g., 5:41, 7:34, and 14:36). This is a final distancing between the Reader and the characters in the story. By this time, Mark can expect the Reader to have ears to hear behind the sounds of the world.

Mark 15:33

At midday, a darkness came over the whole country, lasting until three in the afternoon.

noon to three
a fine time
for a siesta

just a little nap
after a difficult morning
what the doctor ordered

oblivion sweet oblivion
quite needed now
oblivion dark oblivion

no more alert
no more choice
only quiet time

I’ve eclipsed myself
initiated stealth mode
won’t be long

The last of the plagues before the final one of the death of first-born children and domesticated animals was a palpable darkness, one that could be felt (Exodus 10:21–23).

That darkness lasted for the symbolic three days. This darkness lasts for a symbolic three hours.

In Moses’ day, it is recorded that while darkness hung over the Egyptians, the Israelites each had the equivalent of their own bubble of light going where they went.

This parallelism would bring a wonderment about where light was still shining during these three hours and what might be considered a final plague too great for the most powerful and entrenched authorities to resist—thus unraveling everything the current regime counted on.

Behind both darknesses is a comparison with Genesis 1 and both primordial darkness and creation of light. The darkness here is also the deepest of wildernesses that, later, St. John of the Cross would name a Dark Night. This darkness will require what every wilderness does, recognition of what has gone awry, purgation, and a vision of a way beyond it, ascent.

Nothing else happens during this sojourn in a wilderness. It is as though the mockers are caught mid-breath and suspended. Likewise, disciples around the edges, draw no closer. Everyone lingers in amaze, waiting for the world to go on again. [Listen to Jean Redpath sing The Song of the Seals.]

At noon, metaphorically the height of power for both Rome and the Sanhedrin, their light blinks out. Their claim of providing “good news” has been eclipsed without anyone moving a muscle. Darkness has come. Light awaits a wilderness deepening absence and unwitnessed rising. Light awaits a Reader’s response.

Mark 15:32

Let the Christ, the ‘king of Israel,’ come down from the cross now so that we can see it and believe.” Even the men who had been crucified with Jesus insulted him.

I’m tying
my belief
to sense
lest vision
raise fear

I’m tying
my belief
to better
than him
or them

I’m tying
my belief
to safety
for me
and mine

my belief
safely tied
will sacrifice
without qualm
anything else

The religious leaders were having a victory party by dancing on Jesus’ grave before he is in it. After rejoicing in the validation of their accusation of blasphemy and setting a division line between the “divine” and the “human”, they turn to Jesus.

The form here is worth a look at. Bratcher489-490 indicates this first part of the verse:

is a kind of third person command…. However, a third person imperative is rather rare in languages and hence some paraphrastic equivalent must be employed. These are generally of two types: (1) a shift to second person, e.g. ‘you who claim to be the Christ, the King of Israel, come down…so that we may…’ and (2) a statement of obligation, e.g. ‘the Christ who is the King of Israel, should come down…so that we may…’ In general the latter method is preferred, for it eliminates the necessity of relating ‘you’ to ‘the Christ’ by some phrase which would be out of keeping with the attitudes of the chief priest and scribes. ‘You who are the Christ’ would be entirely out of harmony with the context.

Having plausibly made the translation of a designation of religious blasphemy into a political charge of a pretender to a throne so Rome would inflict the judgment of death desired by the Sanhedrin, the chief priests are now using the very title they would deny had any legitimacy.

Imagine that those about to die at Jesus’ side might well place their hope in anything after their death still being available if entrance is based on a curve. Surely the blasphemy of claiming partnership with G*D is far worse than anything they have done (which might even be argued is for the freedom of Israel from Rome). If so, and all three arrive at whatever equivalent of pearly gates may have been in vogue at the time, they might yet sneak in while Jesus is given the equivalent of another beating by a blasphemed G*D.

Mark 15:31

In the same way the chief priests, with the teachers of the Law, said to one another in mockery, “He saved others, but he cannot save himself!

cronies love to laugh together
particularly at the expense
of them there over there
getting what they deserve

always too late to recognize
the wisdom of their taunt
he saved others but lost
himself in the process

still unable to hear
no one can be saved
without everyone being saved
they keep guilt working overtime

The exaggeration so useful in making fun of another has truth in it, but when looked at from a bit more distance the target is different than first expected.

“He saved others.” Yes. We can hear echoes of those healings when the forced laughter becomes background noise rather than a demand to join in.

There is an implicit understanding that the funsters have no need of healing, of saving, of wholeness. Their point is to get to their punch line that Jesus’ goose is well and truly cooked.

When we read slowly enough to raise a cloud of witnesses to the good that has been done, this light-hearted mockery becomes both a light of how we might yet live together and a bone-deep sadness that there once was “a place called Camelot”—but no more. We are at a point of recognition that this is a growing gap we seem incapable of bridging.

In concluding Jesus cannot “save” himself, to be for himself alone, there is also an admission by the mockers of not needing to be healed, of being all too sufficient unto themselves.

The fun has brought us back to an earlier point about a Living Spirit. Where healing and restoration are the basis of community a Living Spirit flourishes. Where there is an absence of “The Substance of We Feeling” (SOWF, in Doris Lessing’s, Shikasta), that which dissipates it is blasphemous (3:28–30).

The case against Jesus in the Sanhedrin finally came down to “blasphemy”. Now a Reader must decide whether unauthorized healing or expected order is blasphemous. What was seen as a win by the proponents of order-at-all-costs is upset by a non-violent response.

Mark 15:30

come down from the cross and save yourself!”

if only you
would save yourself
I’d see better
and better hear
how to myself

there’s not time
to mess around
get to it
come on down
spark my life

no don’t say
sell your goods
hug your neighbor
simply eat together
that’s too much

do it now
do for us
what we won’t
do for us
much less them

The sense of this verse is as an appeal as much as it can be read as a continuation of the mocking.

It might also be read, “You must save yourself by coming down from the cross.”

There is almost an imploring tone in this request. Myers200, puts it this way:

Their plaintive cry is the pitiful culmination to the struggle for faith in Mark’s story. If only Jesus would come down from the cross so that we might “see and believe (15:32)! Yet this is the moment in which our blindness will be most consequential, for to understand what happens next truly requires “eyes to see” (see 4:12; 8:18).

Whatever the tone with which these words are said, kind or mean, Sabin2145 reflects:

Mark chooses language that reminds his audience that Jesus has said the opposite: “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel will save it (8:34–35). The ultimate irony of Mark’s narrative lies in the way he shows that in spite of the appearances of death and defeat, Jesus is accomplishing what he set out to do.

Depending on how a Reader has been engaging this text, they may or may not agree that this is something that Jesus set out to do or became a consequence of hewing to his experience of Belovedness at Baptism and Transfiguration and subsequent involvement in physical and communal wildernesses.

Jesus has now been asked to deny his humanity and show himself as beyond human with religious and governing authorities. Now Jesus continues his silence in the face of these requests with the general public passing by in their everyday duties. His is an example of endurance in a smaller frame of what he understands to be a larger arc of life.

Mark 15:29

The passers-by railed at him, shaking their heads, as they said, “Ah! You who would destroy the Temple and build one in three days,

tsk tsk
say those
temporarily safe

rattle rattle
empty heads
repeating rumors

ha ha
burst forth
chortling ninnies

boring boring
tedious lives
bothersomely chant

Rumors have a way of continuing regardless of any evidence to the contrary. Old scams come around regularly on the internet. It is difficult to get rid of lies. They take on a life of their own. They band together to deepen the lie. Lie’s name is one we ran across back in chapter 5—“Legion”.

The return of this reference to the Temple allows a Reader to wonder about what a place of prayer, instead of commerce, might look like. If this pain and dishonor are what the consequence of prayer looks like, we’ll probably stay with a sacrificial system that places the responsibility upon G*D and we do what we can to direct G*D’s attention and bargain for our pittance of consideration.

In seeing passing people choose the “winning” side that measures everything in terms of the short-term, we again see Jesus standing before the accusations of the Sanhedrin and Pilate. Jesus does not shake his head, “No”, in response to their head wagging and loose talk. Silence continues to be the primary response to Gethsemane prayers and charges leveled by the powerful and violent.

Mark has woven the destruction of the Temple throughout Jesus’ last days. This is a critical part of his telling. As it corresponds with the nearly contemporaneous Roman destruction of Jerusalem (either easily projectable or recently completed), this is an important factor in the development of early Historical Jesus communities. The destruction of the Temple is as much a sign to Jesus’ followers that he was “right” as the people’s judgment that the Chief Priest and Pilate were “right” (for, like Peter, they have no comprehension that a Messiah would suffer and die).

Even though this charge is presented as false, in the first place, and mocking, in the second, the loss of the Temple plays an important role in the development of Rabbinic Judaism and Gentile Christianity—and their separation.

Mark 15:28

And the scripture was fulfilled that says, ‘He was counted among outlaws.’

anyone can claim
scripture is fulfilled

anyone can be
beside the point

making lists
signifies little

you’re listed
proves nothing


Text Box: anyone can claim
scripture is fulfilled

anyone can be
beside the point

making lists
signifies little

you’re listed
proves nothing

While found in a number of manuscripts of Mark, this verse is not found in the earliest and best. In addition to a questionable provenance, there is the matter of style. Mark does quote scripture but does so as a part of his story, not by introducing scripture as something to be fulfilled on a one-to-one basis—Jesus’ life reveals scripture.

It feels more like a later addition attempting to reconcile Mark with Luke (22:37).

In addition to the linkage with other reports, this verse doubles down on the mockery of Jesus (in whom Pilate found no wrong but a political advantage) by locating innocence in the midst of the unlawful. In so doing, the connection with James and John is lessened—this is not what drinking the cup Jesus drinks or bearing your cross means.

Readers can return to 8:34–9:1 to reflect further on the positive nature of taking up a “cross”, rather than martyrdom. The suffering, rejection, death, and rising Jesus speaks of for himself is simply the consequence of living as a beloved well acquainted with wilderness and the healing of grief. Such living in a world of constrictions rather than openings carries with it the disruption of business as usual, whether that is in the realm of business qua business or the business of religion or governance through power and violence.

Those who desire a life that connects their inner life with its outward and visible activity, know how easy it is to be dismissed as a nobody when this connection is made. If such living proceeds to be practiced into a habit of heart and hand, what was ignored will be actively opposed with an accusation of lawlessness or a breaking of regular order. Should such living challenge current power-brokers beyond their comfort level, their response will escalate. This is cross-bearing—to take up one’s belovedness, have it tested in a wilderness setting, and embodied in a consistent manner that looks at everyone with a clear and caring eye that there may be a fullness of joy in their life and larger common good within the community.

Mark 15:27

And with him they crucified two robbers, one on the right, and the other on the left.

just to make it clear
by association’s rule
thief by thief
brigand by brigand
what is true of two
must be the case
of any third party

negative advertising
has worked from snakes on
we so enjoy a good fear
lynching solidifies community
burning crosses control neighbors
a place of skulls warns everyone
no deviation no multiplicity none

Visually this brings to mind the request of James and John to be at Jesus’ right and left hands when he is officially powerful. The question Jesus asked then was whether they were ready to actually do what it took to be in such positions, even if it were available to him to offer them.

That request was like stealing from the other Twelve. If the Jesus Way included excluding people, James and John would have been hung up right then.

This tableau is enough to scare a disciple into running away at the last minute. “There but for my fleet feet, hang I.”

Of course, there is a sense of discipleship grandiosity here, as the Romans were convinced that getting rid of the head of a movement would get rid of the rest of those who had tagged along until it got too hot for them—their revolutionary fervor dissipated.

Under normal circumstances, this would be true. It is still a mystery how the story of Jesus took on a life of its own and people held to his precepts in their daily life long enough for it to attract others. Given the multiplicity of communities of Jesus that eventually surfaced, there were undoubtedly uncounted traditions that grew and interacted. Some of these traditions had significant disagreements with one another over such issues as eating and circumcision. Sometimes resolutions could be reached (Jerusalem Council—Acts 15), sometimes not (also Acts 15).

It isn’t until the time of Constantine and the development of the sequence of Creeds that this vibrant energy was structurally constricted into one attempt at uniformity after another.

We are still trying to get a promise that our way will be a winning way and get on Jesus’ living right hand and left, rather than his dying right side and left.