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.