Singing the part of the crowd in St. Mark’s Passion on Palm Sunday as Jesus was mocked for saving others while he could not save himself really made me think about what I was singing. If Jesus could destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, then getting himself off the cross would be a cinch. And surely if Jesus was the Messiah, he could free himself of his predicament with no trouble. Such mockery hurts when one is reminded of one’s powerlessness. It hurts even more if Jesus did have the power but chose not to use it. Did Jesus have that power?
The Gospel of Mark starts out with Jesus casting out demons and curing serious illnesses right and left by exercising an authoritative power over both. At the climax of his ministry, Jesus feeds the crowds of four thousand and five thousand. Such exercises of power would suggest that Jesus did indeed have the power to bring himself down from the cross. If that is true, why did Jesus not do it? Let’s take another look at Jesus’ power.
Starting at roughly the midpoint of his Gospel, Mark switches from describing acts of authoritative power to stressing Jesus’ weakness. What kind of weakness? Not a weakness in healing or delivering or feeding, but a weakness in getting the crowds or even (or especially!) his disciples to understand what he was really about. Perhaps the acts of power were contributing to the misunderstanding. Right after Peter declared Jesus to be the Christ, Jesus explained that being the Christ meant being handed over to the chief priests and the scribes to be killed. Being the Christ meant denial of self and taking up one’s cross. This is a far cry from giving demons the boot. Jesus repeats his expectation of being handed over and killed two more times and the misunderstanding only gets worse. The disciples fight over who is the greatest and bargain for the best seats when Jesus comes into his glory. After a triumphal entry into Jerusalem, Jesus does not perform more healings and exorcisms of the type he did in Galilee. Rather, Jesus seems to be trying a more fundamental exorcism of violence through parables such as that of the evil workers in the vineyard. Far from being exorcized, the Pharisees and chief priests only strengthen their resolve to commit the violence of killing Jesus.
It isn’t long before Jesus is hanging on the cross, dying. Do those mocking him really think Jesus has the power to shrug himself off the cross and use his power to send some lightning bolts against them to teach them a lesson? That is the sort of thing a real “god” would do, isn’t it? If the mockers really thought Jesus had this power, they probably would not have been quite so bold in mocking him. They see Jesus as weak, even crying out in anguish over being forsaken, so obviously Jesus is not the Messiah, not the Son of God or anything of the sort. If anybody is mighty and powerful, it’s God. But Mark’s Gospel has shown that acts of power do not bring on the kingship of God. What about weakness, weakness even unto death on a cross? Will Jesus’ death in weakness bring anything about?