Mark 14, 66 – 15, 15 no. 45 Dec. 12

Jesus has blasphemed, according to the Sanhedrin; thus, he is destined for death. He is guilty of no capital crime so as to move the Romans to kill him, but the charge that merits that penalty will soon come. But first, Mark as a good writer, brings to completion what he had begun at the Last Supper. Here, Jesus had predicted Peter’s denial of Jesus; Peter had insisted he would never do such a thing – and Peter had the last word. But here Mark has us hear the very denial Peter thought was impossible for him. That Mark tells us the details of three denials underlines the fact that Peter denial is firm and not a sudden decision. Mark never tells us why Peter was in the courtyard of the High Priest or in the outer court of this palace; are we to suppose Peter was drawn out of loyalty to, or sympathy for Jesus, his Lord and companion of many months? The contrast between Peter’s following and his denial suggests the mystery of human good will and failure. That Peter was recognizably Galilean, a northerner, comes from the fact that a Galilean pronounced Aramaic, the common language of Israel, differently from a person living in the south, in Judea. Was Peter afraid of these ordinary servants? In any event, Peter had been told he would deny Jesus ’before the cock crowed three times’. At the second crowing of the cock, Peter remembered – and wept bitterly. John’s Gospel will finish with a story in which Peter is forgiven, indeed given charge of Jesus’ beloved sheep, because of love for Jesus. Clearly, the crucifixion of Jesus was a terrible time of turmoil for everyone. Who will survive it? If Jesus was accused of blasphemy during a meeting at the High Priest’s palace, it was in the morning light that the Sanhedrin again met to formally charge Jesus with capital crime. Then they brought Jesus before Pilate. Pilate, as a gentile, lived most of the year in Caesarea-by-the-Sea, a town (and port) built by Herod the Great for gentile use; only at the three major feasts of Israel did Pilate come to Jerusalem. Here, Pilate had his Jerusalem residence, today pointed out by most scholars at the northern city limit of Jerusalem. Pilate was answerable, in the first instance, to the Roman envoy in Syria; he was one of a number of Procurators appointed by Rome for Israel after the removal of Herod Archelaus, son of Herod the Great, in 6AD. Mark gives us one charge, a charge of great interest to the Romans: "He is king of the Jews". Only Rome should be called ’King of the Jews’. Jesus does not deny the title; rather, he suggests that the title, as Pilate understood it, is inappropriate, wrong. Pilate then heard many claims against Jesus; no doubt they were all meant to prod Pilate to see Jesus as an instigator of rebellion against Rome, and then to condemn him to death. Jesus did not defend himself; the one who knew the mind of God better than anyone else, who defeated enemies by his wisdom – this one now is silent. Again we sense the presence of the will of his Father affecting Jesus’ comportment. And we realize the fuller meaning and implications of the title, Messiah, and of obedience to our Father. Pilate, amazed at Jesus’ silence in the face of such serious accusations, now asks if all those in his hearing, the Sanhedrin and ’a crowd’, would be satisfied if he released Jesus in accord with the tradition that Pilate would release one Jewish prisoner in honor of the Passover Feast. The chief priests stirred up the crowd; this ’stirring up’ suggests that the crowd, whatever its size, was unsure whether or not to press Pilate to kill Jesus. Indeed, envy was a motive for the chief priests’ attack on Jesus, and on their felt need to have the crowd vociferously on their side. Pilate, like most Roman magistrates, knew that peace, even if it meant injustice to one person, was preferred; certain Roman officials had been removed from their offices precisely because they could not control crowds. So Jesus, known to Mark and to his reader as Messiah and Son of God, ends up less desirable than Barabbas, a known rebel and murderer. What DOES Messiah and Son of God mean?, asks Mark. Pilate decrees in favor of the chief priests and their crowd. Jesus is taken away, to be scourged; scourging here is meant to weaken the prisoner, lest he ultimately hang on a cross for too long a time. Because of this scourging Jesus was not able to carry the cross-beam of his cross all the way to Calvary. John Kilgallen, SJ
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