Mark 15 gives us much to think about. It is a sober chapter.
Consider Jesus’ parable of the sower (Mark 4:1-20). We have more examples of the some of those soil types. The soil along the path shows up in the form of the chief priests, bringing accusations against Jesus and stirring the crowds to call for his crucifixion.
The soil among the thorns is present as Pilate recognizes something in Jesus – and that Jesus’ accusers were up to no good – and yet reluctantly declined on changing course in the face of the crowds. Pilate was distracted by the cares of this world.
And, of course, the good soil is present. The women were there all the way to the end. And so was a surprising man – Joseph of Arimathea.
The only soil-type missing, I suppose, was the rocky soil. But the disciples were long gone by this point. Will they show up later? Mark wants us to think about that one!
You’ll notice the pace of the narrative slows down to one where the hours tick by methodically. It’s much different than the earlier parts of Mark’s Gospel, where things moved quickly – “immediately.”
Jesus was savagely mocked as he hung on the cross. He was mocked by people passing by. He was mocked by the chief priests. He was mocked even by the criminals who hung alongside him. It was a vocal moment.
And Jesus’ response to this wasn’t a reply to the crowds, but it was vocal. It was a prayer. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” But we know the Father loves the Son. This prayer was answered. Jesus died on the cross. He was not abandoned to this sinful generation. He was reunited with his Father. “But the one who endures to the end will be saved” (Mark 13:13).
The temple curtain was torn in two. The barrier was removed between the Holy of Holies where God’s presence dwelt and the rest of the temple. Access to God was granted. This happened just after Jesus’ own garments – the same ones that were made blazing white on the mountain during the transfiguration? – were divided up among the Roman soldiers. Now, nothing separates God and humanity.
The people had been wondering whether the prophet Elijah would come and rescue Jesus from the cross. They wondered whether Jesus would get some help in coming down from the cross. Moments earlier, after all, someone had helped the battered Jesus carry that very cross – to get up on it. Elijah did not come. The Suffering Servant remained in his weakness.
Simon of Cyrene caught my attention as I read this chapter. Mark notes Simon had two sons, Alexander and Rufus. Mark’s readers must have known these men. I assume they knew them because they were Christians. The apostle Paul, in his letter to the Roman church, made note of a certain Rufus. He asked the church, “Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord …” (Romans 16:13).
Church tradition has connected Paul’s Rufus to the Rufus of Mark’s Gospel. And why not? The church quickly became an interconnected family after Jesus’ resurrection. Its members were linked through their common faith in Jesus, and their connection spanned thousands of miles and multiple continents. These were brothers and sisters in the faith. This was the family of God.
I suppose Rufus could have been there with his father on that day in Jerusalem, watching his father be conscripted into service by the Romans – to carry a man’s cross up the hill to Golgotha. It certainly would have been something a person never would have forgotten. And perhaps this “chosen” one investigated the backstory of the man who hung on the cross that day and later became a believer. Maybe he even found his way to Rome.
This is speculation, of course. And we need to be careful with speculation. But it is clear from the text that Mark’s original audience likely knew of Alexander and Rufus.
We had church on Sunday. The usual suspects came – our brothers and sisters in Christ. You know them all. They are family. There were some who weren’t there, and we missed them. And, we trust they missed us!
I suppose the mention of Alexander and Rufus – and Paul’s friendship with that conspicuous Rufus in Rome – made me think about the church family. It made me think about the fact that Jesus went to the cross to build his church. He hung there to create a community of the born again – people who are full of life and the Holy Spirit and who have the fullness of hope in their hearts.
We may not know Simon of Cyrene or Alexander and Rufus like Mark’s early readers must have. But we know each other. And we know other brothers and sisters around the country and around the world. This is the family of God.
We can rejoice in that today.
A question for your day: What can you do for your church family today?