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Death of Jesus (Mark 15:33-41)

Analysis and Commentary

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Jesus Crucified

Jesus Crucified

    33 And when the sixth hour was come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. 34 And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani? which is, being interpreted, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? 35 And some of them that stood by, when they heard it, said, Behold, he calleth Elias.
    36 And one ran and filled a spunge full of vinegar, and put it on a reed, and gave him to drink, saying, Let alone; let us see whether Elias will come to take him down. 37 And Jesus cried with a loud voice, and gave up the ghost.
    38 And the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom. 39 And when the centurion, which stood over against him, saw that he so cried out, and gave up the ghost, he said, Truly this man was the Son of God.
    40 There were also women looking on afar off: among whom was Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the less and of Joses, and Salome; 41 (Who also, when he was in Galilee, followed him, and ministered unto him;) and many other women which came up with him unto Jerusalem.
    Compare: Matthew 27:32-56; Luke 23:26-49; John 19:17-30

Jesus’ Last Words

Jesus’ death was not only foretold, but depicted as a necessary step in God’s plan for humanity. There was never any choice in the matter — Jesus didn’t choose to take on this task and didn’t choose to die. It was God’s will, not his own, that all of this happen. This is the essence of the “good news” of Christianity: if God wants you to suffer horribly and die for the sake of some greater cause that you’ll never be able to understand, then that’s exactly what you are going to do.

Quite a vision of morality and love, isn’t it? Jesus apparently begins to realize just how awful the situation is, but only right at the end when his life is about to leave him: he cries out to God, asking why God has forsaken him now at his time of greatest need. It’s certainly a justified question, given how much faith Jesus has placed in God thus far.

Some have argued that this quotation should not be taken so negatively because it is a quotation of the beginning of Psalms 22, a chapter that starts in despair but ends in vindication and praise. There is some merit to this position, but the fact is that Mark has been depicting Jesus as an increasingly isolated and forlorn figure — extreme despair and hopelessness would not have been out of place at this point.

It’s worth observing that Mark makes no effort to draw our attention to the fact that Jesus is quoting Psalms 22, not even a vague reference to “as was foretold by the prophets.” Did he expect listeners to already be familiar with this text — and, if so, would they be familiar with it because of their Jewish heritage or because of heavy use of it by early Christian communities?

It is interesting that authors of both Matthew and Luke almost certainly knew about this passage of Mark, yet despite that fact, they attribute different words to the dying Jesus. Is this because they considered Mark to be unreliable on this point and used some other, more reliable source? Hardly — otherwise they wouldn’t have used so much of Mark the rest of the time.

The other gospel authors attributed different words to Jesus because they needed different words to explain what they thought the death of Jesus meant. Mark was doing the same thing and it’s reasonable to think that the other authors knew this. If they thought that they were dealing with an actual quote which Jesus had really, truly spoken, it’s implausible that they would have ditched those words entirely in favor of something else.

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