Wednesday after the Fifth Sunday in Lent
It was nine o’clock in the morning when they crucified him. The inscription of the charge against him read, “The King of the Jews.” And with him they crucified two bandits, one on his right and one on his left. Mark 15:25-27
We often assume that Jesus was executed for blasphemy: that the religious authorities simply couldn’t tolerate his claims of divine authority. Two facts belie this assumption. For one, there was a punishment prescribed for blasphemy, and it wasn’t crucifixion. Crucifixion was reserved for enemies of the Roman state: those who had challenged the emperor’s supremacy. It was a public spectacle, an explicit threat to any would-be rabble rousers. Furthermore, as Mark notes in this passage, the accusation against Jesus read, “The King of the Jews.” Only the gospels according to Mark and John include a reference to the inscription of the charge against Jesus. While John tells us that the religious authorities objected, saying to Pilate, “Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews,’ but, ‘This man said, ‘I am King of the Jews,’” Mark allows the charge to stand on its own. In Mark’s gospel, in other words, Jesus was crucified, not for blasphemy, but because he was the “King of the Jews.” This is a subtle, but crucial distinction. Rome decided that Jesus needed to be destroyed not because he violated the Jewish tradition, but because he embodied it completely. Jesus did this by putting his whole trust in God’s saving power. This represented an existential challenge to the emperor’s supremacy, because it fundamentally disrupted the Rome’s ability to secure its position of authority. Most tyrannical regimes coerce obedience by threatening death. By putting his trust in God and going willingly to the cross, Jesus nullified the tyrant’s ultimate threat.
When Jesus is crucified, he demonstrates how the gospel frustrates the powers of the world. The gospel we proclaim is deeply and quietly subversive. It insists that those who claim worldly authority have no real power over us, because Jesus Christ has neutralized their ultimate threat. The season of Lent is an opportunity to acknowledge this truth and recognize that there is nothing we have to fear.
For none of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself. For if we live, we live unto the Lord, and if we die, we die unto the Lord. Whether we live, therefore, or die, we are the Lord’s. Amen.
The Rev. David F. Romanik
Church of the Redeemer, Bryn Mawr