“They shall look on him whom they pierced”
The Continuation of the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ According to St. Mark is complemented by the lesson from Isaiah 50. 5-9. It is one of the four “Suffering Servant Songs” as they are called. An image in Isaiah about the suffering of Israel, a suffering which is seen to have a significance and a purpose, something redemptive, we might say, for the nations of the world, the intimacy and the character of the images of suffering have also been seen by Christians from the earliest times as ways of understanding the Passion of Christ.
Mark’s account of the Passion and this lesson in turn amplify our understanding of the lessons at the Offices of Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer from Isaiah 42. 1-9, the first of the Suffering Servant Songs, from Wisdom 2.1, 12-end about the betrayal of the righteous man by our human wickedness in “reasoning unsoundly” and acting wickedly, and the readings from the fifteenth chapter of John’s Gospel. That chapter presents us with one of the greatest of the so-called ‘I am’ sayings of Jesus where he says “I am the vine … ye are the branches … abide in me.” It signals the meaning of our life in Christ in and through his Passion. “Remember the word that I said to you,” Jesus says to us about service and about persecution. Even more, he commands us to “love one another” even in the face of the world’s hatred. Most tellingly, Jesus tells us that we his friends and that it belongs to friendship that we lay down our lives for one another. Sacrifice informs service and only so can we abide in love and discover joy. Strong words that help us in our “look[ing] upon him whom [we] have pierced.”
The continuation of the Passion focuses on the scene of Christ before Pilate, a further betrayal of justice as Pilate gives into the mentality of the mob and “delivers Jesus to be crucified.” But before his crucifixion we confront the equally hideous spectacle of Christ’s bring mocked and vilified. There is no end to human spite and viciousness, it seems, but how are we to understand it? Perhaps through the understanding of human evil that Wisdom identifies. It is about our hatred of the good, a mistake in reason to be sure since no one truly loves what is evil, it is always what we mistake to be somehow good, and yet Wisdom suggests to us a feature of our fallen humanity, namely, how willful we can be in our refusals of all that is right and true and good. We betray the very way in which we are made in the image of God. As Wisdom wonderfully notes “God created man for incorruption and made him in the image of his own eternity.” Envy is named here as one of the greatest forms of our betrayal of the image of God in us. “Through the devil’s envy death entered the world.”