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
is acknowledged
as not sellable

in dawn’s early light
our lack of power
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.