Passion 3: John 19:17-42
It is Finished!
What loose ends do you have in your life? In your week? What would you need to do so these tasks were completed?
A finished task. A goal accomplished. I am definitely a task-oriented person. I love to have a sense of closure on my "to do" list. I do feel better about my day when my job has a successful end.
Obviously life should not be lived just as series of conquests. But, everyone dreams the threads of life come together at the end to give one a sense of meaning. Jesus had this moment. And it changed everything from that point on.
16b The soldiers took Jesus away. 17 He bore th e cross alone, as he walked outside the city's wall to an area called the "Skull." 18 Then, the soldiers nailed Jesus to the cross, along with two others on either side of him.
19 Pilate had a sign written and put on the cross. It read: "Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews." 20 The sign was written in Hebrew, Latin, and Greek. Many of the Jewish leaders saw what was written, because Jesus was crucified close to the city. 21 The chief priests kept complaining to Pilate, "Don't write, 'King of the Jews.' Instead, write, 'That man claimed to be the 'King of the Jews.'" 22 Pilate told them, "What I've written, I have written!"
23 After the soldiers crucified Jesus, they separated his clothes into four piles, one for each of them. There was also a tunic. 24 But, the tunic was woven as a single piece of clothe and did not have a seam. So, they said to each other, "We shouldn't tear it. Let's gamble to find out who will get it!" In this way, the Bible verse came true:
"They gambled for my clothes and divided them among themselves."
So, that's what the soldiers did.
25 Some women stood beside the cross of Jesus. They were his mother, his mother's sister, Mary, the wife of Clopas, and Mary from Magdala. 26 Then, Jesus saw his mother and the follower he loved standing near by. He told his mother, "Look! Here is your son." 27 Next, he told his follower, "Look! Here is your mother." From then on, the follower took care of her like she was part of his family.
28 Jesus already knew that everything God wanted him to do was finished. So, after this, he said, "I'm thirsty." 29 There was a jar of cheap wine lying there. Someone filled a sponge with the wine, put it on a stick, and put the sponge up to the lips of Jesus. 30 After he drank the wine, he shouted "It's finished!" Then, he bowed his head and died.
31 It was the day before Passover. The Jewish leaders did not want the bodies to remain the crosses on they very holy day. So, they asked Pilate, "Have your soldiers break the legs of those criminals. They will die quickly. Then, their bodies can be removed and buried." 32 So, the soldiers went and broke the legs of the men who they crucified with Jesus. 33 But, when they saw Jesus had already died, they did not break his legs. 34 Instead, one of them thrust a spear into his side. Immediately, blood and water poured out. 35 (The person who saw this is a witness to what happened. What he says is true. He knows what he said is the truth, so you might believe what happened to Jesus.) 36 All this happened so the Bible verses could come true: "None of his bones will be broken." 37 and "They will look at the person they pierced."
38 After this, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate if he could remove the body of Jesus from the cross. (Joseph was a secret follower of Jesus, because he was afraid of the other Jewish leaders.) Pilate gave him permission. So, Joseph went and took the body down. 39 Nicodemus helped Joseph with a mixture of spices that weighed about one hundred pounds. (Nicodemus first went to talk to Jesus at night.) 40 They took the body of Jesus and bound it with linen strips and spices. This was the usual way Jews prepared a body for burial. 41 There was a garden close to the place Jesus was crucified. In the garden, there was a new, unused tomb. 42 They buried Jesus in the near-by tomb because it was the day before Passover.
Like the trial before Pilate, the death of Jesus formed a parallel ("chiastic") structure. The structure is:
1. The Crucifixion (19:16b-22)
2. Gambling for Clothes (19:23-24)
3. Jesus' Mother and the Beloved Disciple and the Death of Jesus (19:25-27, 19:28-30)
4. Soldiers Pierce the Side of Jesus (19:31-37)
5. The Burial of Jesus (19:38-42)
Scene 1: The Crucifixion
16b (The soldiers) took Jesus, 17 and, bearing the cross by himself, he went out (of the city) to the (area) called "Skull Place," which is called "Golgotha" in Hebrew, 18 where they crucified him, and with him two others on either end but Jesus in the middle. 19 Pilate also had the charge written and placed on the cross. (On it) was written: "Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews." 20 Many of the Jewish (leaders) read this charge, because the place where Jesus was crucified was near by. The (charge) was written in Hebrew, Latin, (and) Greek. 21 The chief priests of Jews kept saying to Pilate, "Do not write, 'King of the Jews,' but 'That man claimed, 'I am King of the Jews.'" 22 Pilate answered, "What I have written, I have written."
19:17 "on either end" is literally "here and there."
19:18 "Pilate also had the charge written and placed on the cross" is literally "Pilate wrote the charge and placed (it) on the cross." Obviously, Pilate ordered the charge to be posted. Hence, he was its "author."
19:20 "The (charge) was written in Hebrew, Latin, (and) Greek." Why three languages? Some scholars speculate the charge could be read by the local people (Hebrew), the administrative officials (Latin), and by the general populace (i.e., non-Jews in Greek). Others speculate that a notice in multiple languages was only used for royalty. Hence, Pilate implicitly supported the Kingship of Jesus. The redundance of Pilate's answer in 19:22 seemed to support that view.
When we compare Scene 1 and Scene 5, Pilate received two requests from leading men in the community. In Scene 1, the leaders requested a change in the inscription of the charges. But, in Scene 7, secret followers requested the body of the Lord for burial. In both cases, Pilate gave his permission. The theme of royalty continued with the title of Jesus on the cross and the unused garden tomb (seen as a family crypt).
Beyond the parallels, the title acted as a bridge from the trial before Pilate to the Crucifixion. The title identified the name of the regent. And the multi-language inscription smacked of a royal decree. Pilate's answer to the leader's objections with the finality of a declaration from an official.
Jesus was declared King!
Scene 2: Gambling for His Clothes
23 When they crucified Jesus, the soldiers took his clothes and made his clothes into four piles, one pile for each soldier, and the tunic. 24 But, the tunic was without seam, woven as a whole throughout, out of a (single weave). But they said to each other, "We should not tear it, but we should throw lots for it (to see) whose it will be." So, the Scripture might be fulfilled [being stated]:
"They divided my clothes among themselves; and for my clothes they cast lots."
Indeed, the soldiers did these (things).
19:24 "the tunic was without seam, woven as a whole throughout, out of a (single weave)" A single piece tunic could be woven by a typical craftsman. So it was not out of reach for a poor person to possess such a garment. Whether it was an undergarment or overgarment can not be determined. The sentence itself has redundant elements.
"They divided my clothes among themselves; and for my clothes they cast lots." Psalm 22:18 as it appears in the Septuagint, a Greek translation of the Old Testament.
Scene 2 and Scenes 4 are held together by the activities of the soldiers and the fulfillment of Scripture. Much has been stated about the single-piece tunic. With the discovers of archeology and interest in the technology of weaving at the time of Jesus, the tunic's importance has been reduced from royal symbolism to a historical detail. The clothes support the verse from Psalm 22. John used this scene as shorthand to remind Jews in his audience about the import of that psalm. The king humbled before his enemies cried out for justice before God. In the end, God delivered his favor on the petitioner.
"My God, my God! Why have you forsaken me" goes the first line in the psalm. But this was not a song of despair, but one of hope for the shamed.
Scene 3a: Jesus' Mother and the Beloved Disciple
25 (Women) had stood beside the cross of JESUS: HIS mother, the mother of HIS sister, Mary of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 JESUS, having seen (HIS) mother and the disciple whom he loved standing alongside, said to HIS mother, "Look! Your son." 27 Next, he said to his disciple, "Look! Your mother." From that hour, the disciple took her into his own (house).
19:25 "his mother, the mother of his sister, Mary of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene." How many women were really mentioned? Anywhere between two to four. The following can help explain the problem:
Case for two: 1) his mother=Mary of Clopas and 2) his mother's sister=Mary Magdalene. In this case, John wrote in a parallel structure. The problem with this scenrio lay in the identity of "Mary of Clopas." Clopas was the name of a male, either the husband or son of this Mary. This man could have been the same man on the road to Emmaus, listed in Luke 24:18 (Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered him, "Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?")
Magdalene indicated an inhabitant of Magdala.
Case for three: 1) his mother, 2) his mother's sister=Mary of Clopas, and 3) Mary Magdalene. If we assume the name of Jesus' mother was Mary, two sisters would have the same first Mary. This was possible, but not likely.
The case for four women has the fewest problems: three different Mary's and the unnamed aunt of Jesus.
The last acts of Jesus dominated this group of scenes. The high point was the appearance of his mother. The woman who was instrumental in the Lord's first sign of glory now stood before him in all his glory. Like many other details in John, the mother of Jesus was a symbol. She represented the "roots" of Jesus: his family and place in society, his traditions and ancestry as a Jew, his humanity. The family of Jesus had certainly ceased to be a powerful factor in the Church after the fall of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. Since the gospel was written some twenty years after that, John put greater concentration on the "Jewishness" and humanity of Jesus. So, the mother of Jesus was his connection to his religion and his birth. (Luke depicted Mary in the same way at the Annunciation.)
At the wedding feast in Cana, the roots of Jesus (i.e., his mother) pushed him into a moment of revelation. That began the public ministry of Jesus in John. Now, Jesus was revealed for all to see. At Cana, he objected that his hour had not yet come. Now, it had come. There was no need for his mother to speak.
His mother stood with his beloved disciple. Jesus' roots stood with the movement that would carry on his work. The two needed each other. But his own countrymen rejected the Nazorene movement in their midst. The Jewish believers had been excommunicated and sent out like the homeless. They needed a new home. Just as much as the Gentile neophytes needed their Jewish brethren for context and tradition. In a few words of love, he gave the old and the new to each other. His mother did have a home with the beloved disciple.
Scene 3b: The Death of Jesus.
28 After these (events), JESUS, already having known that everything (God sent HIM to do) had been completed, that the Scripture would be fulfilled, said "I thirst." 29 A container full of cheap wine was lying (there). A sponge full of the cheap wine on a hyssop (stick) they brought to his mouth. 30 When he took the cheap wine, JESUS said, "It is ended!" And, having bowed (HIS) head, HE gave (HIS) Spirit.
19:28, 30 "everything had been completed" (19:28) and "It is ended!" (19:30) The verb for "completed" and "ended" was the same. John used the verb from the Greek word "telos" to show Jesus was in control of the situation.
19:28 "I thirst" is from Psalm 69:22 ("...for my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink")
19:29 "cheap wine" was a vinegary, deluded wine favored by the common people (including soldiers).
"hyssop" This was a small, bushy plant in Palestine. This plant was not strong enough hold a sponge full of wine. Hence the addition of "stick." Even so, this addition does not solve the problem of the small plant.
This scene upset the symmetry of the parallel structure in the Crucifixion scene. It included a reference to Scripture but not the activities of the soldiers. So, it did not belong to Scene 4. But, because it stuck out, it was necessary. In these few verses, Jesus declared his life and ministry at an end.
The verb to "complete" or "finish" was mentioned twice, as the note above mentioned. Jesus was in control. He was the one to give over his Spirit. But, between these two verbs that expressed finality, he gave an image that reflected on Scripture. "I thirst" came from Psalm 69:22. Psalm 69 was like Psalm 22. Both were songs of lament and desperation, despite the declarations of faith. Both depicted the singer as one with troubles. Both looked to God for deliverance. The verbs of end that surrounded Jesus request pointed to a image of the Suffering Servant, the one who does God's will even to death.
The verbs require some context, however. When he said "it is finished," what was Jesus referring to? The scene of his mother and the beloved disciple. His last act was to bring the old and the new together, to bridge the divide between the Jew and the Gentile. In one sense, Jesus established the Johannine community in that moment. His work was complete with the foundation of his community. He could depart. His followers and his Spirit would continued the work.
Scene 4: The Soldiers Pierced the Side of Jesus
31 Since it was Preparation (Day), in order that the bodies might not remain on the cross(es) during the Sabbath, for it was the great day of that Sabbath, the Jewish (leaders) asked Pilate that (the soldiers) could break their legs and remove them (once JESUS and the thieves had died). 32 So, the soldiers came and they broke the legs of the first (one), then the other of the (thieves) having been crucified with HIM. 33 But, having come to JESUS, as they saw HIM already having died, they did not break HIS legs, 34 but one of the soldiers pierced a spear into his side, and immediately blood and water came out. 35 The (person) having seen has witnessed, and his witness is true, and that (person) knew that he spoke the truth, so that you might believe. 36 For these (events) happened, so the Scripture might be fulfilled, "A bone of HIS will not be broken." 37 And again another Scripture states: "They will see whom they have pierced."
19:31 "during the Sabbath, for it was the great day of that Sabbath" While this phrase might sound redundant, the Passover was celebrated as a Sabbath day. The "great Sabbath" occurred when such a holiday as Passover fell on the Sabbath, as it did in 33 A.D. Whether John referred to such an event is a matter of speculation.
19:36 "A bone of HIS will not be broken." This was either a reference to the purity of the Passover Lamb (Exodus 12:46 and Numbers 9:12) or to the righteous man the Lord oversaw (Psalm 34:20). In the context of John's gospel, the reference to the Passover Lamb is preferred.
"They will see whom they have pierced." This was a loose variation on Zechariah 12:10. This verse was a reference to the Day of the Lord, the judgement time when Judea and its capitol would be vindicated.
Unlike Scene 2 where the soldiers and the Scripture passages came from a common tradition, Scene 4 was distinctly John's. Leaving the bodies of the executed on display offended the religious sensibilities of the populace. So, the leaders asked Pilate to speed their deaths. In response, Pilate sent out his soldiers to complete the task. This lead to another image full of symbolism.
When the soldiers plunged the spear into the side of Jesus, there was three results: water and blood, the eyewitness, and the fulfillment of Scripture. Water and blood had sacramental overtones: water for Baptism and blood for Eucharist. These poured out of his body (almost as gifts); the scene seemed to portray the source of the rituals.
The eyewitness verified not only the veracity of the report, but its underlining reason for relating the scene. The eyewitness retold the scene as a reason for others to believe. In other words, his witness justified the belief that Baptism and Eucharist did celebrate the death of the Lord. Both came from his side.
The eyewitness also bridged the scene with the fulfillment of Scripture. As the notes above tell us, John used the Exodus/Numbers verse to connect Jesus with the image of the Passover Lamb, one of his themes (see John 1:29). He used the verse from Zechariah to portray the context of the scene and the symbol of the Passover Lamb. The death of Jesus was both Messianic and eschatological. John saw the cross as a sign of God's Chosen One and of his judgement.
Scene 5: Jesus is Buried
38 After these (events), Joseph of Arimathea, being a disciple of JESUS but having been one in secret because of fear of the Jewish (leaders), asked Pilate so that he might remove the body of JESUS (from the cross); and Pilate gave (him) permission. Then he went and removed the body of JESUS. 39 Nicodemus also went (along), the (one) having first come to HIM at night , bearing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about one hundred pounds. 40 They took the body of JESUS and they bound it in linen strips with the spices, as it was the custom of the Jews to bury (a body). 41 (There) was a garden in the place where he was crucified, and in the garden, a new tomb in which no one as yet had been placed. 42 Because of the Preparation (Day) for the Jews, because the tomb was near by, they placed JESUS there.
19:38 "remove" is literally "lift away," the same verb used by the chief priests in 19:15.
19:39 "about one hundred pounds" The word for "pounds" is literally "liters." The Greek word "litra" was a Roman pound, a measure of weight (11 ½ ounces).
"spices" is literally "aromatic oils." The spices of myrrh and aloes could have been mixed with a vegetable oil base to form a mixture for burial preparation.
John ended the Crucifixion with the appearance of two disciples from the religious leadership. Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus hid their status, until the moment of his death. Joseph was a secret follower; Nicodemus came to Jesus at night in private. In ancient cultures of the region, any activity in secret, at night, or in private was suspect. Both, in a sense, lived in the dark. With the death of the Lord, both could now reveal themselves as followers. Both were in the open, in the Light.
Unlike their peers who condemned the death of the Lord in a way to keep the Law (while violating its spirit), Joseph and Nicodemus fulfilled the spirit of the Law by burying Jesus before the Passover. For the sake of the people, these men made themselves unclean (by touching the dead), so others could partake in the feast. They also performed a "righteous deed," an act of social mercy. Their unclean state stood in sharp contrast to those who damned the innocent in haste, so they remain ritually pure.
But the scene was not finished. The body had not been completely prepared. This preparation would have to wait for another day. The day after the Great Sabbath.
What scene from the Crucifixion struck you? Which resonated with your heart? Why?
John presented Jesus in his death as the victorious King. As God would be. With his death, the old and new became one. Those in the dark would walk in the Light. But, the story was not complete. Until then, we wait.
Imagine that you stand at the tomb, just after the burial of Jesus. From that vantage point, look back upon your Lent. What have you accomplished? What is still undone? What are your successes? Your failures? How can you leave them at the tomb? How will you wait for the Lord in Easter?