What the… For Christ’s sake!
This reflection was offered at Lee Memorial United Methodist Church on Good Friday, April 3, 2015. Throughout the Lenten Season, we will be reading through the Gospel of Mark. To find our 40 day reading plan, click here.
Reading: Mark 15:1-39
Gracious God, in the moments to come, give me the words to speak and they the ears to hear that together, we might be inspired to not only speak but to live your Word in the world starting today. It’s in that most holy Word’s name—Jesus the Christ—we pray. Amen.
He had stationed himself at the foot Jesus’ cross. As the Centurion, the commander of the century, a detail of 100 soldier, the soldiers under him had done all the dirty work, nailing the prisoners to their crosses and lifting them up. It was a gruesome display, but it made a clear point. Step out of line or else your death will be slow, painful, and humiliating too. This wasn’t his first song and dance. He had crucified hundreds of people before, but this Jesus figure, was different. Most crucifixions were not the spectacle this one had become.
He had heard nothing of this Jesus before he showed up in Pilate’s court, dragged there by the religious leaders who had already, it appeared, given him a good verbal and physical beating. He, the Centurion, was the one who took Jesus, almost as if rescuing him from the hands of the chief priests, to Pilate. Pilate found nothing wrong with Jesus. But, the religious leaders were unrelenting. So Pilate kept him in custody.
Now it was Pilate’s custom to release a prisoner during the season of Passover. It was a public display of goodwill that seemed to, for the most part, keep the people at bay. The time had come for the people to choose. Pilate had the centurion bring Jesus and Barabbas, the scumbag who had killed, murdered three of his men in an uprising, before the crowd. Pilate called out to the crowd, who shall I release? The Centurion was angered, furious when they chose Barabbas. But Pilate was a man of his word. He released Barabbas and had Jesus taken away to be beaten and crucified.
The Centurion relayed the news to his men of Barabbas’ release. They were just as upset as the Centurion; and, they took their anger out on Jesus, beating and mocking him. They were so angry that they barely stopped in time. Their job was to beat Jesus just enough to weaken him so that the crucifixion itself could be as painful as possible, but in their anger, they nearly went too far. Jesus was hurt so bad, he couldn’t even carry his own cross. So the Centurion recruited a random farmer, coming in from the countryside, to carry Jesus’ cross (see Mark 15:21) for him. It was a long walk to the place where the crucifixion would take place. The crowd stayed in stumbling step with Jesus. They never seemed to let up, mocking him every step of the way, as the soldiers led Jesus to Golgotha.
After his men had fixed Jesus to the cross and lifted it up, the Centurion posted one of his men to stand guard. He was looking forward to enjoying the afternoon festivities. But, when the chief priests and other people who thought themselves a bit too important began taunting Jesus and pushing closer to his cross, he decided to stand guard himself. He relieved the underling and stationed himself at the foot of Jesus’ cross. His presence didn’t deter their jeers. Jesus remained calm, the Centurion, not so much. Losing his composure, he screamed, “For Christ’s sake, leave this poor man alone.”
For Christ’s sake.
It was about noon. No sooner than those words had left his mouth, the afternoon sun went dark. The jeering stopped. The centurion turned toward Jesus. His head lifted a little as if to say thank you.
For Christ’s sake. He hadn’t meant what he said. It was a shout of frustration meant to mock those jeering Jesus. It was a shout of desperation for Jesus who had endured much ridicule and scorn with valor and honor. It was a shout of frustration, not a prayer…or was it? For Christ’s sake: if only those words could, if only for a moment, ease the pain of Jesus.
For Christ’s sake.
While we, like the Centurion, often say it in frustration, I wonder if we don’t mean it. For Christ’s sake.
“When the world condemns us, when wrong is done to us, when we carry the weight of things that are too much to forgive” for Christ’s sake forgive and be forgiven.
“When we are weighed down by sin and separation, a world that is not at peace, people who are not whole” for Christ’s sake work for peace and reconciliation.
For Christ’s sake, writes Peter in his first letter to the Church, “get rid of all ill will and all deceit, pretense, envy, and slander. Instead, like a newborn baby, desire the pure milk of the word. Nourished by it, you will grow into salvation… You were called to this kind of endurance, because Christ suffered on your behalf. He left you an example so that you might follow his footsteps. He committed no sin, nor did he ever speak in ways meant to deceive. When he was insulted, he did not reply with insults. When he suffered, he did not threaten revenge. Instead, he entrusted himself to the one who judges justly. He carried in his own body on the cross the sins we committed. He did this so that we might live in righteousness, having nothing to do with sin. By his wounds you were healed” (1 Peter 2:1-2, 21-24, Common English Bible).
Tonight we bear witness to the brutality of the cross. Don’t hide your eyes. Look: for Christ’s sake. Look at where our God forsakenness leads: for Christ’s sake.
For Christ’s sake.
No sooner than those words had left the Centurion’s mouth, the afternoon sun went dark. From noon till three, it seemed as if the whole world was dark. Then Jesus spoke, breathed his last breath and died. For Christ’s sake, thought the Centurion. Then he looked up and saw the setting sun behind Jesus and he whispered to himself, “This man was certainly God’s Son” (Mark 15:39, Common English Bible).
The Centurion is the only one express such faith in all of Mark’s Gospel. Others have been healed due to their faith. Peter has professed faith in Jesus as the long awaited Christ, but the centurion stands alone is speaking words that up to this point, in Mark’s Gospel, have been spoken only by God: “This is the Son of God.”
Although the centurion represents the enemy who is forced to acknowledge the superiority of the oppressed, his confession supplies the real title that should be written on the cross: “Son of God.” The fact that the centurion’s confession stands at the end of Mark suggests that the whole story of Jesus must be heard, the crucifixion must be seen, before one knows what it means to confess “This is the Son of God.”
It was in witnessing the crucifixion that the Centurion was able to understand and eventually profess faith. So for Christ’s sake, let us this night bear witness to the cross of Jesus, the Christ, the Son of God. For Christ’s sake: let us profess our faith that this is the Son of God who takes away the sins of the world. And my the Lord, have mercy on us.
Holy God, some of us have heard the story so many times that we fail recognize its meaning. For Christ’s sake, O God, open our eyes this night to bear witness to bear witness to your Son’s agony on the cross. For Christ’s sake, help us to see in the cross the revelation of your love; through Jesus the crucified, to whom with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, be honor and praise, now in the darkness and into the light of eternity. Amen.
 “Mark 15:21-41: Reflection, 1,” in The New Interpreter’s Bible: A Commentary in Twelve Volumes, vol VIII (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1995), p724.