A magazine I have subscribed to for a long time, and that I very much enjoy, is this one, Military History. Now you might find it rather odd that a man in my profession, publicly and professionally committed to making peace, would be so interested in strife, warfare, and things military. But I am. And one of the primary reasons is that I am fascinated by how people, men mostly, react to the extreme conditions of battle. There is very little room for posturing, pretense, false fronts when life and death are in the balance. And so you see what people are really made of: those who respond with uncommon courage and good sense like Joshua Chamberlain at Little Round Top during the Battle of Gettysburg, or General McAuliffe and the Americans at Bastogne in the Battle of the Bulge. And you also see a lot of cowardice, a lot of stupidity, and basic incompetence. A person’s true character is revealed in the extreme conditions of battle and war.
We have just heard the Passion of Our Lord according to Mark. There is a tremendous amount at stake in this story. It is every bit as much about life and death as any battle. It is certainly a case of extreme conditions. And so in the story people’s true character is revealed. The chief priests with their plotting and conniving and grasping at power; Pilate fearful and suspicious, pushed into a corner; Judas, greedy and a traitor; Peter full of braggadocio and revealed as a denier and a coward; the other disciples all just fair weather friends; the women, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of the younger James and of Joses, and Salome, and others, who hang in there, looking on from a distance, but still faithful; and Joseph of Arimathea, who “courageously went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus.”
Where do we see ourselves? In the retelling, we are there too. Am I with the crowd calling for blood?, with the Roman soldiers bored and indifferent, just another messy job?, with the disciples, afraid and frightened?, with the women, sorrowful and anxious?….
And then of course there is Jesus. His character is revealed in the story too. Knowing that the trial before the high priest, and later before Pilate, is just a kangaroo-court with a foregone conclusion, Jesus refuses to participate in the spectacle and largely remains silent. He does not play games.
Jesus rather reveals His character by his actions, by how he accepts and even embraces His death, in total trust of the Father’s care for him. And so, “When the centurion who stood facing him saw how he breathed his last he said, ‘Truly this man was the Son of God.’”
In His suffering and death Jesus reveals His true self. “Truly this man was the Son of God.”