The National Catholic Review
Jesus was on the cross three hours; this thought makes us realize that Mark has chosen to tell his readers only a few moments of that terrible time: the taunts against him by passers-by who recall his statement about ’destroying the Temple’, and by the chief priests and scribes who call for a show of power ’so that we may believe’ (as if they had not seen enough miracle-working already) and ridicule Jesus as savior and King of Israel, and by the criminals crucified with Jesus and their abusiveness. Now the time has come for the end. Mark paints the picture black, with an ominous darkness that blocks out the noonday sun for three hours and cannot by presage a divine presence. Near the end of the day, Jesus cries out prayerful words of Psalm 22, 2; here the Psalmist had asked God (’My God’, ’My God’) why He has abandoned him. Jesus repeats these words, so as to express the absence of God and ask the reason for it. He does not say that God has forever left him; rather, he wants to understand why God has abandoned him at this moment. Jesus is trying to understand the God who, Jesus knows, loves him: how explain a sense of abandonment by a person who will never stop loving Jesus. The effect on the reader should be a sense that Jesus shared the suffering that a persecuted Roman Christian can feel under official Roman oppression. The point is not that God has forsaken Jesus, but that the explanation for suffering is not easily forthcoming. In short, Jesus still knows God loves him, but asks why he must suffer the absence of consolation from the One who loves him. Jesus uses the wording Elo?, meaning My God; the sound of the word makes bystanders think Jesus is calling to Elijah. Someone offers Jesus a bit of wine, something of a brief palliative so that Jesus may speak or pray more clearly. Indeed, may it be that Elijah, arguably the greatest of Israel’s prophets, may take Jesus down from the cross? The loud cry of Jesus, his final breath, has often been interpreted as a shout of victory; perhaps that is the meaning Mark intends here, for he has done his Father’s will. The Temple had two veils, one at the entry to the Holy Place (the middle room) and one at the entry to the Holy of Holies (the western or most intimate room); it is not clear of which veil Mark speaks. Possibly, the total rending of the Temple veil(s) is to be interpreted in light of the next verse, that which speaks of the Centurion, the pagan. The Centurion is a symbol of the opening to the Gentiles, now possible after Jesus’ death; the tearing of the veil(s) would suggest, then, that the Temple is open to ’all nations’. It is remarkable that of all possible candidates, it is a pagan who confesses Jesus to be Son of God. The very title Mark intended to explain from the beginning of a story about Israel is first and finally spoken by the world outside Jerusalem. The Centurion cannot be said to know the full, divine meaning of ’Son of God’, but he does underline the filial character of what he can only conclude to be religious obedience to God. Mark now immediately prepares for the revelation that Jesus has been raised from the dead. Women were at a distance from the place of crucifixion, among whom were Mary of Magdala (a town on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee) and Mary and Salome; these, along with many other women, had, contrary to all propriety, ministered to Jesus in Galilee and had come with him to Jerusalem. These are the three who will find the tomb of Jesus empty. It falls to the women to prepare the body of Jesus for burial. We are brought to the bitter conclusion of Jesus’ obedience to his Father – Jesus who defines by his life and death the meanings of Messiah and Son of God. John Kilgallen, SJ