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.

Mark 15:26

The words of the charge against him, written up over his head, read – ‘THE KING OF THE JEWS.’

he who wants to be king
she who wants to be queen
she who wants to be king
he who wants to be queen

run into a larger don’t want
to run others for their benefit
covering my benefit one-to-one
of having a final say

mocking another for not being king
mocks the one currently a king
thus a kingly position is revealed
it its rawest form self-protection

The formal charge includes a legal, technical term, αἰτίας, (aitias) which justifies this capital punishment. This continues the placing of an actual cause of Jesus’ death within the arena and power of the Roman occupiers, no matter how much the Sanhedrin would have done so, had they the legal authority to do so.

Sabin2144does help us see Mark continuing to play with his description. This may help Readers to also play with this story, particularly this chapter, and learn to mock that which deserves mocking—pretentious power that thinks that naming something actually makes it into what is named.

…Mark speaks of the title “the king of the Jews” as an “inscription” on Jesus’ cross (15:26). It was common Jewish idiom to speak of scripture as “what is written” or “what is inscribed.” Mark thus suggests that the mockery of Jesus is, in its own right, a “Scripture.”

Rome’s presence is contingent upon the destruction of actual ruling structures of the lands they occupy. For better and for worse, Rome accepts the consequences of ruling others for their own benefit. It is for their benefit that all pretensions to rule are dramatically squashed.

Here is another pretender brutally done away with. Time after time, in days ancient and contemporary, such raw power is seldom defeated for long (and Jerusalem will bear the brunt of this reality within decades of this crucifixion). The fall of such power will eventually come from the internal contradictions and rape of resources that underpin conquest.

Mark is clear that he is mocking all this mockery of Jesus. He sees through the attempts to destroy a return to a living community.

Mark 15:25

It was nine in the morning when they crucified him.

nine in the morning
might as well be midnight
light shines on
morning noon night

there is no basket here
to cover this candle
cast into a very dark place
alive though beyond hope

I told you I would rise
you could only get to death
which you soundly rejected
but of rising there is no end

Mark appears to be using a formula to measure out the day that emphasizes time as a symbol rather than clock-time. We have cock-crow, sunrise, sun half-way up in the east, noon, half-way down in the west, sunset, night.

The Greek reads, “third hour” (three hours after sunrise). The day is going along as expected. Nightmares have moved from present to past. The day’s work is well underway—nails have been pounded.

Elizabeth Struthers Malbon, in Anderson38, attends to the narrative structure of Mark and comments:

The more detailed setting of scenes in time and space of the Markan passion narrative is the implied author’s plea to the implied reader: slow down; take this in; to understand anything of the story you must understand this. It is another form of urgency.

Instead of a general time frame of “morning” in earlier sections of Mark, we are now given more specific designations. Though this chapter is shorter than the first 14, time is slowing down. We hustled through the teachings and healings, moving quickly from one to the next. Here it feels like time is constricted in a way that only great pain or great love can. Each moment extends past a normal passage of time—we’ll never get better; may this never end.

The simple statement “the crucified him” is repeated from the previous verse. It now lodged in the reader’s mind and can be present, without being said, in each subsequent verse.

Each time it comes around there is a choice to be made about our desensitization, after all this is just a story, or re-traumatization at each succeeding glimpse of a crucifixion’s progress and processes.

These same choices, plus whether we will intervene or not, come to us in every news-cycle that carries somewhere within it another scene of crucifixion of another Child of G*D or group of Children of G*D. We might well wonder where we were at “nine this morning”. Whose crucifixion did we attend to or avoid?

Mark 15:24

Then they crucified him, and divided his clothes among them, casting lots for them, to settle what each should take.

before an inside fades
an outside peels away

with only one cloak
it is nothing to have none

run out of family and home
new ones regularly rise

even hammerers are kin
raising more friends all around

pause for a moment
there’s nothing new here

come place your bet
be dressed in death’s glory

life’s rhythmic way
repeats every coda

will this tale
wag a god

It is imperative to let the lead phrase of this verse linger and echo for a while. Mark’s pace makes it easy to slip right by all that this statement means.

Read it again, “They crucified him.”

It does not need an exclamation mark. Crucifixion with hammer or fountain pen is going on to this day and still too easy to overlook or excuse.

– – – – – – – – – – –

No matter how many crucifixes you see, there was no modesty panel on a cross. You were strung up in all your stark nakedness. This is difficult for us to encode and can be checked the next time you see a crucifix.

A question about the common portrayal is, “who is being protected with this artistic addition and those with Adam and Eve?”

Any response to this question will begin a wondering about where else in the tradition this fudging of reality has crept in.

In this one arena we must salute the soldiers in finding a way around rank demanding its privilege to accumulate the left-overs (are you remembering the baskets after feeding thousands?—another reference to Jesus being bread?). This same dynamic of fairness is enhanced in the early church with reports that its participants shared all things in common.

It is not necessary to return to Psalm 22:18b–19 to bolster this with some mystical foresight of the Psalmist. The scene is grisly enough as it is.

Mark 15:23

There they offered him drugged wine; but Jesus refused it.

do not go gentle
to any goodnight
drunk beyond pain

look every night
even a last night

this is real
and hurts like hell
grieve it through

whether narded outside
or myrrhed inside
I am who I am

Coming off the mocking by the soldiers, it seems unlikely that it would be they who would try to ease the pain of a crucifixion to come. Who that leaves is open to conjecture. The women?

Whoever it might be, the Greek is better translated as “offered” as “tried to give” carries a bit more force.

At any rate, the attempt to have Jesus drink wine was unsuccessful.

Mann645 talks about “drugged wine” or “wine mixed with myrrh”:

Proverbs 31:6 has a command to give strong drink to the desperate or to one about to die. The word drugged is the Greek esmurnismenon (literally “mixed with myrrh”), and the use of myrrh was intended as an anesthetizing or stupefying agent.

As usual, it is helpful to remember previous comments about drinking. Verse 10:38 speaks of coming difficulties in response to the request of James and John—who only see glory ahead. Verse 14:25 indicates Jesus has already had his last glass of wine. In verse 14:36 Jesus prays for this “cup” of suffering (death) to be removed, thus not coming to a temptation for an actual cup that would ease his way from life. When the “cup” is not taken from him, Jesus proceeds to drink from it rather than this wine that would deaden him to death.

This is not to discount the value of palliative care for those at the end of life who have not partnered and agreed to suffer to the end. Jesus is not the one-to-one model for everyone’s life. The entrance of a larger spirit and experiences of wilderness can reveal other gifts needed for a particular time. At the same time, reflection on Jesus’ life can be a challenge to more boldly use one’s gifts and risk standing quietly in the midst of consequences for doing good in a harmful world.

Readers might begin asking what drug they have taken that is allowing them to continue observing this perversion of justice and general lack of mercy without engaging that going on around them.

Mark 15:22

They brought Jesus to the place which was known as Golgotha – a name which means ‘place of a Skull.’

just to be sure
death is death
we take it to the bone

the way of all flesh
death is death
even before flesh is gone

skeletons are more final
death is death
than wind-blown ashes

life is pirated away
death is death
signed by a naked skull

all transfigured beloveds
death is death
journey under this sign

Mark’s appreciation of ambiguity shows here with his continued pattern of explaining Aramaic words. We don’t know, though, whether this is a description of the topography or the function of hanging people on a cross until they are picked clean by birds or dogs.

Those interested in etymologies will appreciate LaVerdiere2290 tracking,

Golgotha is a Greek transliteration of the Aramaic name Gulgulta’, meaning Skull. In Hebrew, the name would be Gulgulit. As Mark indicates, the place of Golgotha (Golgotha topos) can be translated as “Place of the Skull” (Kraniou Topos). In the Latin Vulgate, the Greek Kranious Toposis translated as Calvariae locus, from which our English name “Calvary” is derived.

Of more interest to others is a comparison of images from the beginning of Mark with those from the end. In 1:10 a dove descends onto or into Jesus, presumably involving his head. Here we see that life stripped away, leaving only a skull. Readers need to wonder what has happened that good news has so devolved into bad news. It should be noted that this bad news cannot be fully redeemed by some appeal to any good that can come out of a mean and nasty situation—harm done is harm done.

Of interest here is the legend that Golgotha was the burial place of Adam’s skull. Sabin2143 reflects on this, “…even as he shows Jesus being led to his death, Mark calls attention to the fact that Jesus is a second Adam. Mark thus suggests the cosmic irony of his death.”

Swanson349translates the title “Son of Man” as “son of adam” (lower case to connect with creation and earth) as a form of self-reference. This keeps a connection with such a legend and a key parable—between a seed sown (Adam) and a harvest of thirty-, sixty-, or a hundredfold (Jesus). As we interact with this nearly 2,000-year-old story, an active imagination is a gift that opens new entry points.

Mark 15:21

They led Jesus out to crucify him; and they compelled a passer-by, Simon from Cyrene, who was on his way in from the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus, to go with them to carry his cross.

hey no stumbling
for a king you’re weak
must be too much wine

ho you there
you’re strong enough
carry this to there

hey got you a courtier
up and at it
the day’s moving on

ho what’s your hurry
got a funeral to attend
you’re on state business here

Occupying troops carry with them the right to requisition what they need, including impressing people into their service. Sometimes there are limits set on such activities so as not to burden the occupied into an earlier revolt than a historically expected change of power would occur. One rule of thumb is that someone can be recruited to carry something for a designated distance such as a mile or some number of stadion.

It is difficult to discern whether being in the right place to be arrested or the wrong place to carry a crossbeam is of G*D or fate or a fluke.

With very little to go on, Readers need to turn their speculator up a notch. Cyrene is in North Africa. Passover is a time of faithful Jews coming to Jerusalem and, presumably, Simon is a Jew from Cyrene. Whether Simon is more Semitic or more African cannot be told. A Reader is advised to consider both options.

Mark does not do a lot with identifying particular people with a name. Alexander and Rufus would likely be known to Mark’s community or these references would not have anything to ground them. There is a Rufus mentioned in Romans 16:13 but no way to know if they are the same person or another occasion when more than one person carries the same name.

In later time, there would be those who speculate that Jesus was not crucified (did not die) but that Simon was the one who was crucified in place of Jesus. This would parallel Jesus taking Barabbas’ place in the crucifixion queue.

It is also possible to consider that Simon of Cyrene reprises the role of Simon Peter and adds facilitator of Jesus’ crucifixion to runner-away and denier/betrayer. Of playing with names there is no end.

Simon’s coming from the countryside can also indicate a peasant status instead of being a well-enough-off pilgrim.

Mark 15:20

and, when they had left off mocking him, they took off the purple robe, and put his own clothes on him.

time’s up
we’ve had our fun
you’ve had your honoring

off with your crown
off with your robe
off with your title

you’re the 2,642nd this week
your 15 minutes of fame
has come and gone

get in line
step lively now
hup one two

The anticipated crucifixion from betrayal, arrest, rigged religious trial, handed over to the state, bargained against, beaten and mocked has finally come to the beginning of a death walk.

Stripped again and finding himself back in a single cloak for walking with his partner to practice imaging what a changed life might be like, Jesus continues in silence regarding all the pre-death rituals church and state place around capital punishment to make it acceptable to them—primarily to diminish the person scheduled to die.

Our end is wrapped up in our ordinary life. After all the fake honor, Jesus is satisfied to continue in the same guise he has had all along the way—transient wilderness walker sharing wisdom and healing with those available to it. This is a challenge to the Reader who must decide how their everyday life is going to be changed as a result of looking in on Jesus’ life.

Though we don’t talk about it as much as previous generations have, the question of how we are going to die is important to assist us in making those ordinary decisions that come our way. Allowing that there are personality changes that do come to some with one form of dementia or another, for those not so afflicted there is a direct correlation between life lived and life ended. If for no other reason than it affects what we do today, we do well to consider what our last word will be so that we might have it be so ingrained in us that it will naturally be offered as a blessing.

This being said, it will be interesting to see about Jesus’ last words and how those comport with how he spent his time after his baptism of belovedness and transfiguration leading back down from a mountain-top experience.

Mark 15:19

And they kept striking him on the head with a rod, spitting at him, and bowing to the ground before him – going down on their knees;

the most generous interpretation
continually falls short of reality
arrest intending death
brings demeaning to strengthen
our resolve to live red-toothed

that crown is too small
to compensate
we’ll drive it deeper in
to make it more secure
so you won’t forget it

ahh that’s a better fit
now you look the part
the king is dead long live the king
we kneel for our own purpose
unaware of anything larger

Text Box: the most generous interpretation continually falls short of reality arrest intending death brings demeaning to strengthen our resolve to live red-toothed that crown is too small to compensate we’ll drive it deeper in to make it more secure so you won’t forget it ahh that’s a better fit now you look the part the king is dead long live the king we kneel for our own purpose unaware of anything larger Whether one is carrying one thorn or many, in or on one’s head, if it or they are repeatedly struck it brings back an initial pain until there is only pain.

Readers might see this as a sequence coming from soldier after soldier: hit, spit, kneel—hit, spit, kneel—hit, spit, kneel….

Each of these actions, including the mock kneeling, says, “You are in my power and there is nothing you can do about it. I’ll finish you off when I’m ready, not when you finally beg for it.

Here at the end of Mark’s story, the act of kneeling reminds us of earlier kneelings that speak to healing instead of killing a healer. In the midst of this scene of cruelty, remember these: a leper desiring healing (1:40); the recognition of demons that they were before an image of G*D (3:11); and a woman who bravely touched the edge of a cloak and was astonished to her core by her cure (5:33).

We can also remember Jesus using spit to heal, not hurt (7:33 and 8:23).

Even the violence of hitting is an echo to Jesus’ use of force in the Temple (11:15).

The more a Reader retains about the story, the more it can be appreciated as an art form. It is also a reminder that the doing of good is to be done for its own sake, not that it will guarantee a welcome reward. Good done in an unclean system that advantages the rich and powerful over the poor and controlled reveals the meanness hiding behind the hypnotic illusion of wealth that so easily captures our attention and becomes our measure of value. In this case, each good done brings a perversion of that good in return.

Mark 15:18

and then began to salute him. “Long life to you, king of the Jews!” they said.

everyone passing these gates
must give up hope
there is none
up to the job

those who do so gracefully
have our admiration
we honor them
in our own way

soldiers recognize their own
bound by larger orders
and salute an enemy
who shapes their own identity

with none of the usual irony
every Jew carries all the rest
each is a queen a king
anything less devalues our work

“Hey!” is too informal for the import of χαίρω (chairō, rejoice, be well, rejoice). Bratcher482 indicates that chairō “can be translated by the indigenous equivalent of ‘Long live the King’….” This is a much better mock than the casual, “Hey.”

Note that this is the soldiers who derisively use the title, “King of the Jews.”

Readers have had much practice to this point in knowing more than the characters on the page. Readers can see through Mark’s use of irony that the one mocked as a King is, for Mark, the way he sees the situation.

Interrogation, sleep deprivation, more interrogation, and a whipping are imposed to weaken resolve and lead to a denial of intention. There is an implied dignity with Jesus’ silence in the face of accusations, physical abuse, and mockery. All of this is background to what Nikos Kazantzakis labeled as “The Last Temptation of Christ”—that which would lead Jesus to back away from his own admonition to bear one’s cross when their soul is crushed and hope is so unseen as to not be present.

Readers are beginning to question if they are going to be silent in the face of what is happening to Jesus and to people of every time and clime. Athletes practice visualization of how they will do when it comes time for them to perform. Mark’s Readers are in a similar situation regarding a visualization of their Belovedness, Wilderness Retreats, Healing, Wisdom, and Transfiguration as they face the realities of their time and the pain present in their life and the life of individuals and crowds around them.

Will they be open to a surprise of having power taken from them as they travel, to redefine their family partners, and to come down from their privileged altitude of understanding observer?