We are one chapter short of finishing the Gospel of Mark. Since each one of the gospels gives an account of the whole earthly life of Christ, that means we’re in a pretty dark place. Mark 15 (link) gives us the narrative account of Jesus’ trial at the hands of Roman authorities and His crucifixion and burial.
This chapter is ripe for the picking when we consider injustice in this world. Here are a few examples:
1. Mark 15:7 tells us that Barabbas had been imprisoned with the insurrectionists who had committed murder in an insurrection. Not that he’s specifically guilty, but the round up of the usual suspects had gotten him a spot due for execution. The other Gospel accounts do find the Barabbas was likely guilty of something, but Mark’s account makes one wonder: Why is he in prison, really? Prison is a place for the proven guilty—not a storehouse for the unwanted.
2. Mark 15:6 give a hint why Pilate may have been okay with rounding up more than the necessarily guilty: every year he releases at least one prisoner at the request of the crowd. Guilty, innocent, political prisoner—it apparently does not matter. This is not justice: the guilty going free or the innocent sitting in chains to watch it happen. This leads to a capricious system: Pilate could ensure that he executed anyone he didn’t want out the day before. Just in case, you know, the crowd wanted that person.
3. Mark 15:10 clues us in about the system: it’s not about guilt or innocence anyway. It’s about politics. And if that does not show it, then Mark 15:15 shows it. Justice is perverted when truth is not the goal—if power and control is the end-goal, then it is not about justice.
Yet in the midst of this, we have not considered the greatest injustice present in the situation. God is the author of life, the sustainer of the universe—these things we find throughout Scripture. Pilate is not able to walk from one end of the Praetorium to the other without the providence of God enabling it. Yet he sits, in judgment, determining the fate of Second Person of the Trinity, Jesus Himself.
Here sits a man in judgment of his Maker. The idea that Pilate or the Sanhedrin or Caesar himself would have the ability to judge whether or not God Almighty is guilty of something staggers to the top of human arrogance. Pilate is nearly legendary for this even to the modern age: a man who thought it his place to judge God.
Certainly many of us would think that we would do no such thing, so let’s visit the other three examples of injustice and consider our actions in regards to these first:
1. Ever pulled out the extra-wide paint roller to paint that “guilty” mark on people? Where you have assumed that they were guilty simply because of who their parents were or where they were born? Many of us think we’re far too sophisticated for that, but we’re really not, unfortunately. We show a preference for those whose backgrounds are similar to ours and an awe for some whose backgrounds appear grander. Else why do we consider the election of Bill Clinton an anomaly when he graduated from the University of Arkansas? Even around here, there’s almost a need to apologize and point out his Rhodes Scholar days.
Folks, we may not quite auto-judge a skin color like once happened, but we are often as guilty of pre-judging someone as guilty as the Romans had done here. If you think that’s not true, compare the reaction the next time someone in a turban or kaffiyeh leaves a car running by a tall building and the next time you do.
2. We also have this tendency to want justice to roll in our favor. If the person was probably guilty but not “one of us” then we’d just as soon leave them locked up or fired or blacklisted. On the other hand, if there’s the possibility of any doubt, if maybe aliens did it or were responsible and the person is “one of us” then we want grace or a little pardon, notwithstanding the circumstances.
Oftentimes, we are worse about this with non-legal crimes rather than with legal issues. We don’t want anyone, including friends, to get away with murder under any circumstances. But we’ll let our allies commit a little character assassination while ripping our opponents for the slightest impugning of character. When our candidate does it, it’s just politics, but let the other guy do it and it’s dirty pool. Sure, when my theological camp lobs arrows, we’re justified but when theirs does it, their very salvation is in question.
3. Then there’s power and control. Too much of our lives are about gaining and keeping those two things. As Christians, our lives are to be about God’s truth: not about our own power or control. The last thing we should be seeking is to control anyone else. We should seek to first control ourselves to the glory of God and then to speak, act, and lovingly demonstrate what being controlled by God looks like. Then, let God deal with others.
Finally, we come back to sitting in judgment of God. We don’t do that, right? We don’t determine that we do not like His ways and so find loopholes around them, do we? We don’t determine that we do not like His holiness, His righteousness, His truth, or His grace and so try to explain these attributes into nothingness, do we?
Most of us as Christians would never admit that we do such a thing. We’d never really consciously do it. Yet we do it just the same. We apologize for the hard truths of Scripture. We keep God’s grace and love to ourselves. We judge that our way is better than His.
In this, we’re no better than Pilate.
Yet Jesus died for sinners like us. Let us recognize the grace inherent in that truth and commit ourselves ever forward to live for Him.
Today’s Nerd Note: Not very nerdy, but keep in mind that Simon of Cyrene (Mark 15:21) was likely a dark-skinned North African man. After all, he’s from North Africa. So, anyone who prefers to judge by skin color alone, keep in mind that the soldiers with the nails likely looked more like Europeans and the man pressed into service to carry the Cross of Christ was an African.
Also, while I just have not had time to seek it out today, the reference to Simon as father of Alexander and Rufus likely indicates that these two young men became important in the church in the years ahead. Mark is likely writing about 30 years after this happens, so these could be leaders in the church. We see in church history that North Africa is an important center of Christianity for the first 600 years. It is possible that Simon, Alexander, and Rufus were involved in the opening stages of that.