The Passion According to Mark: Session 3 (15: 1 – 20) The Roman Trial

Points made by Raymond Brown in A Crucified Christ in Holy Week (p. 28-29)

  • Moving from the Sanhedrin Trial to the Roman Trial, the issue is immediately shifted from the religious to the political:  “Are you the King of the Jews?” – a question about a title hitherto never used for Jesus by friend or foe, and therefore presumably reflecting the interests or fears of the Romans.
  • In Mark’s portrayal, the chief priests, having failed to move Pilate to condemn Jesus, are more successful with a crowd that has come to ask for the release of a prisoner on the feast.  
  • “Why, what evil has he done?”, serves to underline how outrageously Jesus is treated by those who might have been expected to be enthusiastic for their “King.”…The impression, then, is not one of the favorable Roman and the hostile Jew – rather it is of a Jesus who had no support on any side…Disciple, Jewish leader, and Roman leader all have a share of guilt.   

Why does Mark tell the story in such a way that Jesus is so deserted?  M. Powell theorizes that the disciples of Jesus (heroes of the church) had nothing to commend themselves other than the fact that they had been chosen by Jesus.  It is Jesus who calls them and gathers them into his family.  He offers them the secret of the kingdom and sometimes provides them with private explanations of his teaching.  He empowers them for mission.  He does all this in spite of the fact that they seem obtuse and self-obsessed and show few signs of improvement.  Despite their failings, Jesus keeps them as his disciples.  Discipleship is a relationship established by the call of Christ and defined by his own faithfulness, not by any merit that can be attributed to the disciples themselves (Introducing the New Testament, p. 143).

We know very little of Barabbas, only that he was in prison with other rebels for killing someone.  In Matthew’s Gospel, he is noted as “[Jesus] Barabbas.  The footnotes in NAB St. Joseph Edition say, “It is possible that the double name is the original reading; Jesus was a common Jewish name, but it is perhaps omitted here for reverential reasons.  The Aramaic name Barabbas means “son of the father”, the irony of the choice offered between him and Jesus.  Matthew titles him as a notorious prisoner and John as a bandit. 

Reflection Questions

  1. Verses 6-12 refer to several different leaders: Pilate, the Roman governor; Barabbas, an insurrectionary leader; the “King of the Jews” – a term applied by Pilate to Jesus; the chief priests who reportedly “stirred up the crowd.” What elements of leadership do these leaders seem to represent? Are any of these elements or aspects of leadership part of Jesus’ Lordship? Are any of these leaders similar to Jesus in any ways, do we think? How are they different from Jesus? What does any of this tell us about leadership? About Jesus?
  2. What do you think Jesus’ lack of responsiveness should teach us today?
  3. A cohort at full strength would comprise 600 men. What does this reveal about Pilate’s concern over crucifying Jesus?
  4. Much mystery stays with Barabbas.  Was he the actual murderer?  Was he fighting for justice against the Romans?  Did he profess his faith in Jesus after this incident?  If you were due to hang and someone volunteered to hang for you, how would you feel?  

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