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The Rev. Stephen McKinney-Whitaker The Rev. Stephen McKinney-Whitaker

The Rev. Stephen McKinney-Whitaker is pastor/head of staff of United Presbyterian Church in Peoria, IL

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Presbyterian Church (USA)

Representative of:

United Presbyterian Church, Peoria, IL


Isn't It Ironic

April 20, 2011

 

Take a moment and read Mark's Passion Story-Mark 15:1-47

As Christians, we say and believe a lot of things that don't appear to be true, don't appear to match up, but given time or given the gift of revelation they are found to be true.  It's how revelation works. Mark tells us this.  It is not given to everyone to know.  The vast majority of the characters in Mark's Passion narrative; the religious authorities, the political authorities, the soldiers in charge, the crowds present, and even convicts contribute to a collective denial of what readers of Mark's gospel have known to be true about Jesus since the first words of Mark's story. Flip back to the beginning, the very first words of the book. Mark writes, "This is the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the son of God" (Mark 1:1).  At the very beginning is the confession of faith. It's at the beginning for all to know.  Isn't it ironic that the truth is there for us in the beginning, but absent from the hearts, minds, and lips of everyone at the end. In Mark, even the two thieves crucified with him taunt Jesus. Mark even ends without a confession about the resurrection. Mark 16:8 ends with the women leaving the tomb in fright and silence; they said nothing to no one, as the literal Greek puts it.

Jesus is the son of God.  We know this.  Readers of the gospel know this to be true from the beginning and continue to know this to be true even upon the humiliation and death of Jesus on the cross.  While readers grasp the identity of Jesus, they are the only ones at the foot of the cross who do.

The chief priests, scribes, and elders ask the question, "Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed one?" (Mark 14:61).  They ask the question that many of us here have asked. Isn't it ironic though, that they did not ask to find out the truth, they did not ask because they truly wanted to know?  Isn't it ironic that those who were put in charge of the religious welfare of God's chosen people Israel, the people who have been waiting for the Messiah to come for years and years; isn't it ironic that when the question is asked, it is not asked with sincerity?  Isn't it ironic that the question that could and should change these religious leaders lives, the question that can change the fate of a people, a nation, and a world, was not asked in order to discover the truth but was asked in order to secure a verdict?  It is ironic because Jesus answers a dishonest question honestly.  "I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of power and coming with the clouds of heaven"  (Mark 14:62).

Isn't it ironic that Jesus gave the answer Israel had been waiting to hear for hundreds of years, but it was received as the answer the Sanhedrin had been waiting to hear ever since Jesus started stirring up Jerusalem?  It was the answer the Sanhedrin wanted to hear to condemn him for blasphemy.  They wanted to hear that answer, but then, ironically they didn't, for they believed it to be blasphemy, and they tore their clothes and mourned.  And yet the mourning didn't last long, for it was soon replaced by scorn and anger.  The religious leaders, the leaders of the temple, those well versed in Scripture, God's law and will, began to spit on God's son, and beat him, and mock him.  Jesus was mocked three times from the time of his arrest, and the first was by the supposed representatives of God to God's people.  Isn't it ironic?

Three times Jesus is mocked; mocked for the truth people thought was a joke, or something much more sinister.  The second time was by soldiers in the courtyard of the palace.  The soldiers called over all their friends to see this supposed "king" and "messiah."  They put a purple cloak over his shoulders; purple is the color of royalty.  Now they did not do that to honor him, it was to mock him, it was a sarcastic and ridiculing gesture.  Isn't it ironic that Christ was clothed in purple to ridicule his supposed kingship, when he truly was and is a king?  Isn't it ironic that he was clothed in purple to mock his power before he died, but we are clothed in Christ (Gal. 3:27) by his power so we may not die?  Isn't it ironic?

Then the soldiers twisted some thorns into a crown and they put it on Christ's and they began saluting him, "Hail, King of the Jews!" and knelt down in homage to him. Isn't it ironic that they crowned him just in time for his coronation, for it was on the cross that Christ was lifted up and exalted?  And isn't it ironic, that they mocked him saying "Hail, King of the Jews," and bowed down before him, but one day every knee truly shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.

And they took Jesus to be crucified and nailed him on a cross.  On a placard above Jesus' head on the cross read "King of the Jews," mocking his "royalty."  "Yea, right, you're a king, you're a king!"  Isn't it ironic, not only is Jesus really the king of the Jews, he is king of the world?  And the crowd mocks Jesus,  "If you are the Son of God save yourself!" and they laugh at his helplessness. "Go ahead, save yourself." They tell him to come down off the cross to save himself; he saved others but he can't save himself!

Isn't it ironic, they ask him to come down from the cross save himself, and instead stays on the cross to saves them and to save us? 

         There are no kind words to Jesus in Marks Passion story, only words of ridicule, from soldiers, from the crowd, from the religious authorities, from the two convicts being crucified with him, and finally from the centurion. Sharyn Dowd notes that the centurion's 'confession' on the level of the story, "is a sarcastic comment on the lips of a jaded professional executioner who has just watched one more Jewish peasant die calling on his God."[1]  At least that is what the truth appeared to be. Jesus has been mocked and taunted as "the King" from his arrest to his crucifixion, and the centurion simply continues this sequence of taunts.  Brian Blount writes, "Facing the tortured and limp body of Jesus hanging from the cross, the centurion adds an exceptionally bitter taunt: "Truly this man was God's son."  In continuity with the preponderance of irony in Mark's crucifixion narrative that we have discussed, what the centurion 'confesses' as farce we know to be as true now as when we first heard it in Mark 1:1."[2]

         Isn't it ironic, the mocking of a king who is truly a king?  The mocking at Christ to save himself when he didn't so he could save us?  Isn't it ironic that the final words about him were meant to be a sarcastic slap in the face, but those words have been read as an amazing confession of face for hundreds of years?  It's ironic because while the centurion may have meant it as a taunt, what he said was true, and what he said is true, and what he said will always be true. Jesus Christ is God's son. 

         Why does this matter? Why does it matter whether the centurion was sincere or sarcastic? What's the point? The point is this; the evidence would seem to be on the centurion's side.  Here was a man who looked powerless, who looked like a joke with a crown of thorns, beaten and battered.  Here was a man who looked just like the other two criminals, plain and ordinary.  This man died screaming to God like so many others.  So, yea right he was the Son of God.  Often the evidence may suggest one thing, but the truth may be something else.  The cross may seem like foolishness to many.  Why would God suffer and why would God die? Paul writes, "For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God" (1 Cor. 1:18). It may seem that death is still victorious, we still bury our dead and we still mourn, but the truth is that death has lost its sting; because if we are united to Christ's death we are also united to his resurrection.

Isn't it ironic that through death there is life, isn't it ironic that in order to find life we must die to ourselves?  Isn't it ironic that in order to be free we must become a slave of Christ?  Isn't it ironic that the first shall be last and the last shall be first? Isn't it ironic that the cross, a sign of roman torture and imperial power a sign meant to instill fear and submission to millions, has become a symbol of life and hope? 

         I love irony, because it reminds me that the truth isn't always what it appears to be.  "Yea right, this was God's son!"

         "Yea.... Right..... this IS God's son."

 


[1] Sharyn Dowd, Reading Mark: A Literary and Theological Commentary on the Second Gospel (Macon, Ga: Smyth & Helwys, 2000), 162.

[2] Brian K. Blount and Gary W. Charles, Preaching Mark in Two Voices (Louisville, Ky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2002), 242.

 


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