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Today, as we prepare for Holy Week and Easter, I’m beginning a 14-part series of devotions based on the biblical Stations of the Cross. You may be familiar with the traditional Stations of the Cross, which are common in Catholic churches and retreat centers. But you may not know that in 1991, Pope John Paul II published another set of stations, each of these based on biblical passages related to the Passion of Jesus. These biblical stations take us through the last day of Jesus’s life, allowing us to contemplate what he experienced and why it matters so much.
The ending of the Gospel of Mark presents multiple mysteries. Most English Bibles print several options for the concluding verses of Mark 16, usually with notes that explain the curious manuscript evidence. The oldest manuscripts of Mark end with verse 8, the last words being: “because they were afraid” (ephobounto gar in Greek). The women who had been the first witnesses of the empty tomb and who had been told of the resurrection of Jesus by an angel kept the news to themselves out of fear.
The example of Joseph reminds us that there are times when we must act courageously in our faithfulness to Christ. Like Joseph, we may even have to risk our reputation or position if we’re going to acknowledge Jesus as our Lord.
Prayer and consistent reading of the scriptures are the perfect combination for growth. My spiritual life changed for the better once I looked at prayer and Bible reading in the proper context. Too often we read the Bible and pray because we buy into the superstitious ideal that neglecting to do these things will incur the wrath of God or result in a very bad day. However the power in these exercises is that they promote growth, by fine-tuning our ability to hear God.
If the Parable of the Sower is about how to listen faithfully, today’s Scripture is the foundational text of what we are to hear. Mark Roberts has written a series of Life for Leaders devotionals on Jesus’ quotation of this text and how it might relate to our work as leaders. I want to add to Mark’s reflections from my own perspective.
Psalm 65 is a great psalm for Californians in this season of ample rainfall. It celebrates God’s blessings, including God’s watering the land, filling streams with water, and drenching the furrows (65:9-10). Just like California these days, “The grasslands of the wilderness overflow; the hills are clothed with gladness” (65:12).
What enabled the women to remain faithful even at the risk of their own well-being? Why did they stick with Jesus while the men abandoned him? Mark does not answer these questions directly. But the text does suggest at least one reason why the women remained: they had each other.
Though the twelve who had followed Jesus most intimately abandoned him when he was arrested, many of his followers stayed nearby. These, according to Mark, were all women. “Some women were watching from a distance,” including “Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joseph, and Salome” (15:40). These women had been close to Jesus. Mark notes that they “had followed him and cared for his needs” (15:41). Additionally, “many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem were also there” (15:41).
What strikes me today as I reflect on this text, however, isn’t so much a matter of Christology as a matter of how God meets us at work. The centurion, in doing his job, had an unexpected encounter with God. This was probably the last thing he would have anticipated as he oversaw the crucifixion of Jesus. Yet, while doing his terrible job, there was God: God making himself known in suffering, God reaching out through the person of Jesus, God showing up when least expected.
Mark 15 recounts the events of Jesus’s crucifixion. In verses 24-26, Jesus is nailed to the cross, with a sign identifying him, ironically, as “The King of the Jews.” Then, “at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” (Which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”) (15:34).
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