Introduction: Chapter fifteen in Mark’s Gospel contains a series of “handing over.” “Jesus is handed over to Pilate by the duplicitous chief priests, elders, and scribes (15:1). Later . . . the crowd asks Pilate to hand over the prisoner Barabbas (15:11), a longstanding [Roman] tradition of political appeasement (15:6). Pilate asks the crowd if they want him to hand over Barabbas, a convicted murderer, or this Jesus. The crowd tells Pilate to hand over Barabbas for freedom and to hand over Jesus for execution. So, Pilate hands over Jesus to be ridiculed and tortured. Then the soldiers hand over Jesus to be crucified (15:12-15). Meanwhile, the soldiers hand over the crossbar for Jesus’ execution to Simone of Cyrene (15:21). While hanging from the cross, the crowd hands over drugged wine for Jesus to drink (15:36). After he has breathed his last, Pilate hands over the body of Jesus to Joseph of Arimathea for burial (15:42-7)” (Blount/Charles, Preaching Mark in Two Voices, pp. 232-233). The one person who hands over Jesus twice in this chapter is Pilate – first to be crucified and next to be buried.
The voice you will hear today is the voice of one who twice handed Jesus over.
You think I wanted to be in Jerusalem? You think it was a prime political position to be stuck in that stinking town? Who, in their right mind, would want to be in Jerusalem during their Passover carnival? Jews came from everywhere and taxed every service in the city. We were constantly breaking up fights, not between Roman forces and occupied Jews, but between Jewish pilgrims visiting the city for this stupid holiday. Hours were spent on crowd control and the crowd was often out of control.
When reports came to me about a coronation parade with a poor Galilean clown riding on an ass, I laughed so hard that it hurt. The centurion told me about a huge crowd gathering at the edge of the city as they awaited a parade from Bethany. When the crowd saw their fearless, ass-riding leader, they shouted, “Hosanna,” which in their tedious, backwards language means, “Save us.” I had to laugh again.
Wild stories about this Joshua/Jesus/whatever his name had already crossed my desk. He had built quite a following among the gullible Jews, but I suppose to be a Jew is to be gullible. This ass rider had impressed quite a few, and more than a few were convinced he would save them from Rome. I had to laugh even harder.
I have been in politics long enough to know that you can fool some people all the time and this clown had done so with regularity. So be it. What could I really care? Yes, I was curious about the clown, but I had more than enough on my plate. He got my attention, though, when he decided to come to Jerusalem, and at all times, during Passover. Just when I thought the city could not be more chaotic, this clown came riding into town.
I should not complain too much because dealing with such matters was not new to me, especially with this group. It soon became clear, though, that this situation was different. While some Jews in town tossed palm branches before him as if he were a new king to replace me or even Caesar, the religious leaders did not reach for palms. It took no wizard to see that they had less use for this clown than I did.
It took several days but he finally stirred things up so much in their Temple that something had to be done. So, late one night, their pretend police arrested him.
After they had tried him, convicted him and nearly beat the life out of him, they became loyal Roman subjects for two seconds and handed him over to me. Evidently, they had listened better than I thought. I had made it clear on more than one occasion that they were occupied and had no real power. I would allow them to carry on with their quaint religious practices, but they were to leave capital law to me.
When they dragged this man into the room, I could not resist having a little fun. I asked the clown who had ridden an ass into town and now stood before me beaten and bleeding man, “So, you are the king of the Jews?” You’ll have to forgive me, but I could hardly contain myself. I looked around and not one of the holy prigs even cracked a smile and the bleeding clown gave me a non-answer, something like, “You say so.”
The truth squad from the Temple filled the air space, ticking off a long list of charges against the man, so I asked him, “Don’t you have something to say for yourself?” He did not. He never again opened his mouth.
Now, I had little interest in Jews and their little laws, but I saw nothing about this man that was a threat to anyone, certainly not to Rome. Just when I was about to toss the whole motley crew out on their ears, the crowd started demanding that I do what I often did at their Passover. To tame the crowds, I would release a prisoner of their own choosing, as a gesture of Rome’s benevolence. That is when I had the brilliant idea.
I asked the crowd, “Do you want me to release for you this King of the Jews?” When they shouted that I should release the insurrectionist, Barabbas, I knew I had underestimated the situation. They were out for blood and they would have me deliver it. At this point, I was losing my humor and asked one last question with sarcasm dripping from my lips. I asked them, “Then what would you have me do with the man you call king of the Jews?”
Have you ever found yourself in a crowd that had gotten too large or were too drunk or were dead set on getting exactly what they want? I had no quarrel with this clown and I found no reason to execute him, no reason but one. When I asked them what I should do with him, not one of them shouted, “Hosanna.” Every last one shouted, “Crucify him.” They started chanting it and the volume got so loud that I did what any prudent governor would do. I gave the fools what they wanted and handed over the mute clown to be crucified.
He died sooner than most do and when the loud-mouthed Joseph from the Temple asked for his body, I handed it over to him. There is really nothing more to say.
What I am about to say may make no sense to you at all. I cannot say it makes a great deal of sense to me. Even now, I wonder if I was the one who handed him over at all. I know I did in the plain sense of things. That is obvious. Without my word, the centurions would not have tortured him, stripped him, and driven nails into him. A gruesome business, this crucifixion.
No, what still haunts me is whether this whole spectacle was something more than me exercising my authority to send someone to his death, something I did with some regularity. Now, I am not a particularly religious man. I cannot help but wonder, though, if the God these Jews cannot stop talking about used me that day. Is it possible that it was not so much me, but this God of the Jews who handed over this clown to be crucified? Is it possible that the reports of an empty tomb are true? Is it possible that not even death could end this parade?
Enough of this nonsense. Excuse me. I have work to do.