So they took Jesus; 17and carrying the cross by himself, he went out to what is called The Place of the Skull, which in Hebrew* is called Golgotha. 18There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, with Jesus between them. 19Pilate also had an inscription written and put on the cross. It read, ‘Jesus of Nazareth,* the King of the Jews.’ 20Many of the Jews read this inscription, because the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew,* in Latin, and in Greek. 21Then the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, ‘Do not write, “The King of the Jews”, but, “This man said, I am King of the Jews.” ’ 22Pilate answered, ‘What I have written I have written.’ 23When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his clothes and divided them into four parts, one for each soldier. They also took his tunic; now the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from the top. 24So they said to one another, ‘Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see who will get it.’ This was to fulfil what the scripture says,‘They divided my clothes among themselves, and for my clothing they cast lots.’ 25And that is what the soldiers did.
Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, here is your son.’ 27Then he said to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’ And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.
28 After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said (in order to fulfil the scripture), ‘I am thirsty.’ 29A jar full of sour wine was standing there. So they put a sponge full of the wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth. 30When Jesus had received the wine, he said, ‘It is finished.’ Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
31 Since it was the day of Preparation, the Jews did not want the bodies left on the cross during the sabbath, especially because that sabbath was a day of great solemnity. So they asked Pilate to have the legs of the crucified men broken and the bodies removed. 32Then the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first and of the other who had been crucified with him. 33But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. 34Instead, one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once blood and water came out. 35(He who saw this has testified so that you also may believe. His testimony is true, and he knows* that he tells the truth.)36These things occurred so that the scripture might be fulfilled, ‘None of his bones shall be broken.’ 37And again another passage of scripture says, ‘They will look on the one whom they have pierced.’
38 After these things, Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, though a secret one because of his fear of the Jews, asked Pilate to let him take away the body of Jesus. Pilate gave him permission, so he came and removed his body. 39Nicodemus, who had at first come to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds. 40They took the body of Jesus and wrapped it with the spices in linen cloths, according to the burial custom of the Jews. 41Now there was a garden in the place where he was crucified, and in the garden there was a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid. 42And so, because it was the Jewish day of Preparation, and the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.
Interestingly enough, when the fourth Gospel tells us “So they took Jesus…” the they to which it refers are the Jews, not the Romans soldiers, unlike the impression left by the Gospels of Matthew and Mark. The Romans just provided the legality – and really couldn’t care less. They didn’t hate Jesus nor did they fear him. They thought it was all a ridiculous intramural battle within the religious community.
Each of the four Gospels is, in its own way, a valid portrayal of Jesus. And if that’s the case then we cannot avoid the fact that none is complete, that the perspective of each evangelist is just one perspective among several. Those who want literal, historical accuracy free of contradiction they will have to look someplace other than the Canonical Gospels. That’s important to remember as we revisit the crucifixion and burial story as presented in the Gospel of John. It embellishes things that are omitted or barely mentioned in Matthew, Mark and Luke. It omits things that have become part of our recollections since we first heard the story as children.
For instance, there is no mention of Simon of Cyrene and only a brief reference to the criminals crucified with Jesus. There is nothing of the mockery of Jesus by the crowd, the Jewish leaders or the two criminals. Jesus’ heart rending cry “My God, My God, Why have you forsaken Me?”; the three hours of darkness; the torn veil of the temple or the testimony of the centurion are not to be found in the fourth Gospel.
The inscription placed on the cross by Pilate has an important place in the Gospel of John. It’s a highly visible sign and this Gospel is replete with signs. Pilate takes the opportunity to rub the noses of the Sanhedrin in this thing about Jesus being King of the Jews. He has it posted in three languages so that all passersby would read it.
Matthew lists the women at the cross: Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joseph and the mother of Peter and John. Mark adds Salome to that list. The Gospel of John has a list too, but it’s different. The text reads “his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.’ Depending on where you place a comma the list could be ether three women or four. But what is most significant is that only this Gospel tells us that Jesus sees his mother standing there. It is to his mother and his disciple the Jesus speaks for the first time: “Mother, there is your son; and to the disciple, ‘there is your mother’. “
The Gospel of John intentionally relates the story so that the Scriptures are fulfilled. Up until the middle of chapter 12 the Scriptures are simply cited with the comment “… it is written”. However, in the second half of the Gospel, and particularly in the passion narrative the Scriptures are often cited with the claim … ‘This was to fulfill the Scriptures’. Fulfillment is an important theological theme for our evangelist. Scripture is not just a prop. Directly and indirectly Old Testament references are used to show again and again that Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of all that had been promised through the ages. This material is woven into the narrative in a way which is totally consistent with its theological and christological perspectives. Jesus is the creative Word who was present at the creation of the world, the one who interacted with the great figures of Salvation History, and who now gives new life to the world.
The discussion among his executioners about this clothing and shooting craps for his tunic was told to fulfill the scriptures, specifically Psalm 22. The text says that Jesus spoke a second time. He said “I thirst” and even that was in fulfillment of scriptures. John identifies the rod used to hold the sour wine filled sponge as hyssop in an unmistakable reference to Exodus 12:22 and the first Passover.
Jesus speaks a third time. “It is accomplished” he says and the next sentence says: “He bowed his head and gave up his spirit.”
The tradition followed by the synoptics acknowledges that this all took place on the day of preparation for the Passover but only the Gospel of John tell us how anxious were the Jews that the bodies be taken down before night fall. This Gospel makes certain we know that unlike the two crucified with him, Jesus’ legs weren’t broken to accelerate his death. This was in fulfillment of the scriptures. The evangelist tells us that he was pierced with a lance and we are told of the blood and water that flowed from his side. And the text quickly says that this was vouched for by an eyewitness whose evidence is to be trusted…so that you may believe; for this happened in fulfillment of the scripture that ‘no bone of his shall be broken.’ And they shall look on him whom they pierced’ referring to Exodus 12:46 and Zechariah 12:10. None of that makes it into the synoptic Gospel tradition.
Our Gospel introduces new players in the story, Joseph of Arimathaea and Nicodemus, both stealth followers of Jesus. They took Jesus’ body and together wrapped it, fully intact, in linen cloth with myrrh and aloes according to Jewish custom. No women were involved in the preparation of Jesus’ body. Not in the Gospel of John. Working together, these two men accomplished something that none of Jesus’ family or disciples could achieve—they had access to Pilate and were able to gain possession of Jesus’ body. The two men came with a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds. 40They took the body of Jesus and wrapped it with the spices in linen cloths, according to the burial custom of the Jews. Then these two men laid Jesus’ body in tomb that was conveniently nearby. What a story. Two men come through when no one else could. Our Gospel doesn’t tell us that again scripture was fulfilled – but it was. It’s found in the suffering servant passage of Isaiah 53. The role that Scripture plays in the composition of this Gospel is a role that goes beyond the text. The ‘real Jesus’ is not in the texts but beyond the texts.
These last few weeks, being more fully immersed in the Gospel of John, my understanding of Jesus as the long awaited Jewish messiah has matured. The account given in this Gospel, starting as it does with Jesus being identified as the creative Word of God, present from creation itself, put the life and ministry of Jesus is a wholly different light. The expectation of the Jews was that the Messiah would be a simply a human being, not a divine character masquerading as a human. They couldn’t imagine a divine character divesting its self from divinity and becoming singularly human. But so it was with Jesus. Jesus lived and died as one of us, sensing all the emotions, facing all the conflicts that we meet in our lives. In Jesus’ last few moments we see a son seeking to discharge his obligations to his mother. In these last few minutes we see Jesus wrestling with the feelings of being rejected and abandoned even while he is suffering the most excruciating physical pain that could be devised by humankind. He mourned, and rejoiced just like us. And he died.
The first to take Jesus were the Temple police who took him into custody. Then Pilate took Jesus and tried to release him. Next it was the Jews, the religious and economic leaders who took Jesus – to execute him. Then it was these two stealth disciples, Joseph and Nicodemus who took Jesus, they took him to bury him. And now it’s up to us – we’ve got to decide if we are going to take Jesus – and what we intend to do with him.
The good news is that his heavenly father, from whom Jesus had departed to experience humanity first hand, didn’t leave him that way. But that’s next weeks message.