The National Catholic Review
Purple was the color of the wealthy and of the highest nobility and royalty. This purple garment put on Jesus, together with the crown, woven for the occasion from thorn branches, witness to the fact that Rome has accepted ’kingship’ as the crime Jesus has made, a crime worthy of death. As one reviews the life of Jesus, one can find only two moments which might be interpreted as ’revolutionary’ in the political sense. First, there was the ride on a mule from the Mount of Olives to the city of Jerusalem, when crowds blessed Jesus as the one who comes in the name of the Lord and the association made with the coming of "the kingdom of our father David". Second, Jesus’ upsetting the tables of the money changer and the seats of those selling doves, even though an isolated event (and understood to be prophetic, even messianic), might be considered by Romans as a sign of attempted revolution. Moreover, though we have not read the story, Jesus was remembered twice (14, 58 and 15, 29) as ’about to destroy the Temple’. Still as the time of the Roman soldiers’ mockery indicates, Jesus is ridiculed as "King of the Jews". As the story indicates, there is no suggestion of the limit to which Roman soldiers can abuse a non-Roman prisoner already condemned. As Mark knows it, doing to Jesus what they did is in itself an abuse of an innocent man, and he is to be pitied, not only for his physical suffering, but for his humiliation. Worse is the lie which says he is not a king; Mark and his readers know Jesus to be the King, the one to judge the world. The cruel soldiers, contrary to their intentions, remind us by their games of the true identity of Jesus. How does the reader now understand ’Messiah’ and ’Son of God’? And how does he now understand discipleship, i.e. obedience to his Father? There existed in this time a rule that said that a Roman soldier, while on duty, could force any by-stander to help him carry his burdens so that the soldier may fulfill his duty. This rule is in effect here as the Roman soldiers forced Simon (of a Jewish conclave of the city of Cyrene, in Africa) to carry the cross beam; Jesus was simply too weakened to carry it the full distance (3/4 of a mile) to Golgotha. The mention of Alexander and Rufus is most likely, according to traditional interpretation, a reference to two future, well-known Christians who probably lived in Rome. A criminal was crucified outside the City, "in the wilderness". On northwest side of Jerusalem, on a small rounded rise appearing as a skull, stood a wooden piece of a tree; to this wood, placed vertically, would be attached the cross-beam horizontal and holding the crucified criminal. The criminal would be affixed on the ground to the crossbar by ropes and/or nails, then hoisted so as to be fixed to the wood already in place. Jesus was offered wine mixed with myrrh, so as to dull the senses of the person crucified; Jesus refused the offer. As was traditional, the soldiers got to take whatever of the criminal’s last possessions might be of value; so Jesus’ garments were distributed by lot. Nakedness, a final humiliation before all entering and exiting Jerusalem at this busy time. Mark notes that the time of crucifying began at 9:00am; this is probably a reference not to the actual time of the cross, but to an hour in which the liturgy of Rome, commemorating this event, began. Two others were crucified with Jesus this day; no doubt, the notice that they were revolutionaries means that Rome intends today to crucify three revolutionaries. Through the three hours of Jesus’ hanging on the cross and before his last moments, Mark notes only the taunting. Passersby, whenever they saw this spectacle, would taunt the prisoners. Here these passersby taunted Jesus with a reference to Jesus’ "destroying the Temple and rebuilding it in three days"; such a claim, they insist, suggests a power which Jesus could more immediately use to save himself. The chief priests and scribes, so prominent in this injustice, appeals to the Christian claim that Jesus is Messiah, the King. They cry to him to come down from the cross; then they will believe in him. Even those crucified with him taunt him. The passivity of Jesus throughout the Passion is noteworthy, as is the irony involved in the presumptions that he cannot come down from the cross. The disciple has much to learn from and about Jesus as he faces the will of his Father, much to learn from and about Jesus as Messiah and Son of God, into whose name the disciple has been baptized. John Kilgallen, SJ