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?

Mark 15:17

They dressed him in a purple robe, and, having twisted a crown of thorns, put it on him,

come let’s play dolls
they won’t mind
being stripped
see nothing there
now what
a pretty purple robe
it only needs
a few drops of red
to make it pop
just a few thorns
does the trick
no need to overdo

Purple is a royal color, primarily because of the expense in making that particular shade of red. This may be an aspirational color carried out in a faded red cloak of a soldier.

Purple is also a color that is used or known differently in different cultures. In Ifugao it would be “a kind of blue” and in other translations it could only be identified in terms of something in nature, such as the color of some bird or flower (Bratcher482).

Regardless of the particulars, it can be understood that a mocking is going on.

Mark does connect clothing with identity, beginning with Baptizer John dressed as Elijah. Here the mocking of a royal color reveals more of Mark’s irony. What was intended to be a taunting is for the reader an inadvertent revelation of the importance of Jesus as a counter to Power, Gentile or Jewish.

While any play crown would do, there is an aptness to a crown that draws blood. Jesus can now say with some literalness, “This is my blood of a partnership with G*D that is shed for many. I will not drink wine again until I do so in a new way—in the fullness of G*D’s presence.”

Myers197 imagines this scene differently than political kingship:

Jesus is dressed up in a Roman military cloak and a “laurel wreath” of thorns, symbolizing the very militarism and imperialism he has resisted (15:16f). Mocking the whole notion that the Jews could be self-governing, the centurions subject Jesus to the humiliation reserved for political prisoners (15:18f). Only when they tire of their sadistic games do they turn to carry out Jesus’ sentence: death by crucifixion.

From those who lead a segment of leadership, the chief priests and Sanhedrin, to those who have larger leadership of an economic and military complex, to those who are implementers of their rule, it is unimaginable that business-as-usual can be done in any other fashion than control from the top-down. Anything else is evil personified and worthy of being impersonally disappeared.

Mark 15:16

The soldiers then took Jesus away into the courtyard – that is the Government house – and they called the whole garrison together.

Pilate’s court
had a cohort
at his disposal
to dispose of

how else rule
so many others
by such a pittance
of pity

here’s yet another
this must be Tuesday
or any other day
who knows who cares

much practice
leads to great efficiency
we whistle we work
as one ought
in a graveyard

Presumably, these soldiers were the ones who publicly scourged Jesus. It is likely that they were just as matter-of-fact in their hauling him away to be disposed of through the all too familiar route of crucifixion.

We know from current reports of secret places of detention around the world that further degradation of identity and torture await. In preparation for those, a larger audience is called together for the “fun”.

It was not that long ago that Jesus was led from Gethsemane to the chief priests who called together the whole Sanhedrin for a religious trial. From there Jesus was led to Pilate for a state trial that never became a trial but a bartering session. Pilate had Jesus led away to the keeping of soldiers on his way to Golgotha. They, in turn, called a larger group together for a pre-crucifixion ritual of diminishment and weakening.

Jesus had indicated that he would be handed over to death. At the time it was not clear that there would be handing over after handing over. This is a systemic institutional response—keep shunting a decision on to a next level for implementation. Everyone can claim to be innocent; it is always the next set of actors that screwed up.

As we enter deeper into the processes leading to the death of Jesus, we might remember Barabbas. Knowing the duplicity of occupiers from the inside [note slavery and removal of Native peoples, not to mention sequential waves of immigrants, women, and LGBTQ+ persons], Readers can imagine Barabbas also having been present during the previous scene and freed to walk down the steps and into a cheering crowd. Other imaginations can see this as a promise and that he never makes it out of captivity or is recaptured the next day.

Mark 15:15

And Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released Barabbas to them, and, after scourging Jesus, gave him up to be crucified.

in the end rulers aren’t
to lead beyond followers
getting a perk here a buck there
will only shorten a reign

despots and crowds an unholy mix
bring each other down a peg
and then a whole step or era
competing over the smallest bits

this one must die
or everyone will die
we’re in agreement
for now

in a seeming few seconds
we’ll be at each other’s throats
common enemies keep enemies
apart for only so long

“Wanting to satisfy the crowd”, sounds like an unsanitized version of a church growth slogan. This is not much different than any established or aspiring power willing to say one thing to cover the doing of its opposite.

After the feeding of thousands, Jesus “released” or sent the crowds away. Presumably, they were sent away full or having received enough. Here Barabbas is being released, sent away, still a murderer, still an insurrectionist.

While there are no paper trails between Barabbas and the Maccabees or a developing Revolt, we can see him returning to his assassin ways.

A point can be made that the textual interplay between Abba and Barabbas “reflects and emphasizes the artificiality, and therefore the profound fictionality, of the entire sequence of the arrest/trials scenes in Mark” (Aichele13). Even so, this fiction also reveals the realities of power structures down through time—expeditiously trading for the most immediate gain.

Guards and soldiers have been mentioned before. They remind us that decisions are never made by other people without their implementation by still others at a remove from the decision-making, whether Herod’s guard sent for Baptizer John’s head or, here, the soldiers receiving Jesus.

This is a good time to remember to include ourselves and how we are complicit in political decisions. Buffy St. Marie wrote “Universal Soldier” in the early sixties. She said, “It’s about individual responsibility for war and how the old feudal thinking kills us all.”

Mark 15:14

“Why, what harm has he done?” Pilate kept saying to them. But they shouted furiously, “Crucify him!”

I’ll ask you a question
so you can dig a deeper hole

it’s the easiest of four others
I could put before you

most simply put—why
most elusive of the lot—why

you can ask all you want
to those unable to hear

in the end it’s a minor delay
the unquestioned roll along

Even as Pilate asks why the crowd has the response “Crucify” so quickly on their lips, we might see him cupping a hand behind an ear as if to say, “What was that? Louder, please.” It would not be the only double message he has sent.

Translationally, the English “wrong” or “harm” is much too mild for “evil”. The word κακός (kakos, base, wrong, wicked) is a primary word and etymologically related to the crude “kakka” or “sh_t”.

This can relate back to Herod’s appreciation of Baptizer John, but it is far easier to see it as Pilate continuing to play with the chief priests and crowd.

Given the way Mark references previous scenes, Readers can appreciate the imagination of Myers196:

The fickle masses are central characters in the farce and important to Mark’s political message. In a matter of days, the crowd has gone from “hearing gladly” Jesus’ criticisms of the priestly elite (see 11:38) to being manipulated by them to lobby for his demise (15:10f). In the Colosseum parody, the tragedy is that the masses again succumb to the will of their political and class opponents (who fear them! see 14:2). That is why the shrieks of the crowd (15:13f) simultaneously echo the wails of the demons in Mark (see 3:11, 5:5, 9:26) and the cries of the oppressed (see 9:24, 10:47f, 11:9).

Even to this day the poor, the masses, find themselves tricked into supporting the current economic paradigm that has never been on their side. Sheer overwhelming power against them and dreams of riches that may yet be theirs combine to entice them to act against their own long-term best interest.

Whatever the cause of wailing, it has been heard by Jesus and he has been present with those crying out. This has connections with Moses entering the court of Pharaoh with a demand to release wailing captives. Both Moses and Jesus have elusive grave stories from an unknown location to empty.

Mark 15:13

Again they shouted, “Crucify him!”

crowds shout and chant
the only thing they know
the shorter the better
the more rhythmic the better

so off with her head
so lock her up
so crucify him
so kill

were there conditions
ambiguous options
we’d have to negotiate
then where would we be

offer one choice
never more never less
tenaciously hold to it
as a center of the universe

get in our way
you’ll live to regret it
get out of our way
you’ll live to regret it

The penalty for a murderer who had participated in acts of insurrection against Rome—Barabbas—is crucifixion. The crowd has come to release Barabbas from this penalty. Their response here is in keeping with their intention. If there is a crucifixion to be had and it was going to be applied to someone, the crowd would want that crucifixion to be attached to someone other than Barabbas.

This accounts for the strange use of “palin” here. Since this is the first time Pilate has asked about applying a penalty to Jesus, “palin” can’t be used in its usual fashion of bringing back to mind a previous occasion similar to this one.

What is being returned to is the issue of release and the penalty attached to it. To release Barabbas, his expected penalty needs to return to Pilate for assigning. Thus the crowd’s response, connecting the penalty of crucifixion to Jesus.

It doesn’t matter if Pilate says, “Jesus” or “king of the Jews”. The crowd only hears, “Not Barabbas!”

Jesus becomes a nobody in stages. A disciple, Judas, betrays Jesus in the dark. The Sanhedrin resorts to lies. Pilate does not use Jesus’ name, but a derisive nickname to depersonalize his opponent. These last two political techniques have been used from time immemorial and to this day. The crowd also participates in the disappearance of Jesus before he is even dead. He is only, “Not Barabbas”, not a father’s son.

Without going the route of Docetism, that for which Jesus was anointed is already present before a physical death. All traces of Jesus have been erased. There is no Jesus, no movement. It’s over.

Mark 15:12

Pilate, however, spoke to them again, “What should I do then with the man whom you call the ‘king of the Jews’?”

in a strict binary world
there is only release and death

were there ever more
we’d go starker raving more

poor pea-brains only know
you’re in-pod or out

to leave is to die
or is it to thrive

one choice too far
leaves one to die in place

Asking for advice when you already know what you are going to do is one of the worst of lies. Everyone loses.

This is the third time “king of the Jews” has been used in relation to Pilate. First, looking for Jesus’ response to that title (15:2). Second, asking the crowd about releasing Jesus (15:9). Third, asking the crowd about a disposition of Jesus (15:12).

What we don’t hear in most English translations is that signal word, “palin” or “again”. This helps hold the three uses together and see them as a technique of ruling used by Pilate and many others—framing the encounter in such a way you get what you want without being responsible for it.

Perkins720, reflects on responsibility for Jesus’ death:

Responsibility for the death of Jesus lies at the feet of those who participate in the deceit and power politics that permit the casual sacrifice of innocent persons. Such phenomena have not vanished from our world…. The Barabbas incident suggests [a] severe consequence of the corruption introduced by power politics: People can no longer distinguish the guilty and dangerous person from the innocent. They may not even care whether a person is innocent or guilty.

In a season of deliberate lie upon deliberate lie and continual accusation of “fake news”, we find ourselves in the crowd pressing toward Pilate and being used even as they get what they purportedly want—the release of Barabbas.

Whether the issue is Peter’s limited vision of Messiah, the presence of G*D, Judas orchestrating an arrest, or the orchestrated theatre of Pilate and chief priests with bit players of Crowd, Barabbas (father’s son) and Jesus (father’s son), we are in a lose-lose situation. Everybody falls into someone else’s trap.

The only out is not to be like leaders everywhere; to be a servant.

Mark 15:11

But the chief priests incited the crowd to get Barabbas released instead.

do they have to do
all the work around here
those poor bishoprics
so put upon

defending faith all day long
with extra sessions
all through the night
lest something slip through

able to finally decide
yet another is to die
it’s only what you say
doing is no mitigation

now to hold to their word
Herod has nothing on them
there is an unruly herd
to wrangle into their image

Triangled relationships have been around for a long time. Here we have Pilate, chief priests, and crowd. Pilate and the chief priests find themselves speaking to one another through the actions of a crowd.

Pilate, knowing the envy of the chief priests, has teased them by baiting the crowd—asking if they want Jesus released. This raises the hackles of the chief priests and they respond to Pilate by stirring the crowd to clarify that they want Barabbas released, not Jesus.

This continues to this day as leaks to the press become a way to stir the masses to send a message through their predictable reactions.

A savvy politician will expect a reaction from their sparring partner and be able to take advantage of it. Mark does not record Pilate washing his hands to proclaim his innocence regarding the disposition of Jesus. However, in egging on the crowd, and thus the chief priests, it appears that the crowd has the last word—free Barabbas; kill Jesus!

The history of the church has borne this out. Pilate is innocent; all Jews are guilty. Anti-Semitism has been and still is all too alive and active within the church. This, in turn, justifies the state to disadvantage Jews on an almost predictable cycle. When they are not the ones being fired at, other minority groups take their turn. This makes it all too possible to begin blaming multiple groups for the anxiety loose in a society.

While still in the middle of an episode with Barabbas, it is helpful to remember how Mark puts a story within a story. Mark’s initial audience has literally seen insurrectionists like Barabbas lose the Temple. Mark could have moved from verse 5 to 15b but needed to give a warning about a choice of ways—Jesus’ or Barabbas’.