This blog has been following the book of Genesis and the Gospel of Mark since 01/01.2015. The whole series may be accessed from my archive. The daily headlines are reminders of the world we live in.
16 And the soldiers led him away into the court which is called the praetorium, and they call together the whole band.
17 And they clothe him with purple, and bind round on him a crown of thorns which they had plaited.
18 And they began to salute him, Hail, King of the Jews!
19 And they struck his head with a reed, and spat on him, and, bending the knee, did him homage.
20 And when they had mocked him, they took the purple off him, and put his own clothes on him; and they lead him out that they may crucify him.
The casual brutality of the soldiers was amplified into almost a whole movie by Mel Gibson in the Passion of the Christ. Although this portrayal was sensationalised and stereotypical, it served to remind people that the time it takes to read a paragraph of the gospel is not the same as the time it takes to torture a human being.
Here the emphasis is on the mockery of Jesus by his torturers. Apparently professional torturers rarely do this, whereas amateur, occasional torturers like soldiers or prison staff often do so, as in the Serbian terror against Bosnians or in Guantanamo detention facility. There can be no measuring of greater and lesser insult when we reckon with a human mind and soul as well as a body being exposed to the deliberate cruelty of people who are immune to honour or pity. But unlike Gibson, Mark chooses not to horrify the reader with details, but to record with sober brevity what happened in this torture, knowing that it is not unique as torture, (which Gibson tried to make it), as the many human beings tortured as I write could attest, but rather unique as happening to this Jesus.
There’s no doubt that Mark had read the third and fourth “songs of the servant of God” in Isaiah chapters 50 and 53, both of which speak of the mockery, abuse and torture suffered by the servant. It is probable that Mark’s Jewish contemporaries interpreted the songs as referring to Israel as God’s suffering servant amongst the mightier nations of the world. Perhaps therefore, Mark is presenting Jesus as the true Israel, the one prepared to suffer for God’s goodness, who “walks in darkness and sees no light” even while God is near, bringing his “saving justice”. I suggested the other day that those who want to get the most out of Mark’s account of Jesus’ suffering should read it with Isaiah 53 open beside them. I think Isaiah 50 is just as relevant.
The irony of this mockery -and indeed of the verdict against Jesus as King of the Jews- is that for Mark and the communities of Christian believers, Jesus was reverenced as The Messiah, God’s anointed, the true king of those who had rejected him, and of those who mocked him with the sort of language used to praise their all-powerful Caesar.
In his brief account, Mark is quietly telling the story of how this crucified man wins his throne.