Sympathy for the mocking Roman soldiers
The soldiers mocked Jesus for being a false -- and in their eyes, laughably pathetic -- king. Jesus stirred up this kind of trouble when he rode into town on Palm Sunday in a fashion that mimicked and symbolized both King Solomon and King David. New Testament scholar Craig Evans writes,
Such an event suggested in unmistakable terms that Israel's king was Jesus, not Caesar. Thus, from the very moment of entry into Jerusalem, Jesus was set on a collision course with Roman authority. (The Last Days of Jesus, p. 6)Evans also points out that many of the soldiers' actions held specific meaning.
"And they clothed him in a purple cloak; and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on him. And they began saluting him, 'Hail, King of the Jews!' They struck his head with a reed, spat on him, and knelt down in homage to him." (Mark 15:17-19) The mockery of the soldiers is modeled after the homage paid to Caesar. The crown of thorns, meant to resemble a wreath of laurel worn by Caesar, is part of the mockery of Jesus. This mockery includes a purple cloak, a reed (symbolizing the scepter), and being addressed as a king (Mark 15:18-19). The offer of spiced vinegar to the dying Jesus is also probably part of the ongoing mockery (Mark 15:23; Luke 23:36), in that this drink mimics spiced wine, often served to kings. (pp. 25-26)I have always been disgusted by the Roman soldiers. Their actions are revoltingly heinous. And yet, today I have to ask: are we so different from them? Any time we say we will obey Jesus as king but don't really mean it, we are essentially offering him what the soldiers did. They paid verbal homage to Jesus but actual homage to Caesar. Likewise, we proclaim "Hail, King Jesus," but we have never really surrendered control of important parts of our lives like career, romance, money, revenge, and so on.
On this Good Friday, let us be courageously honest and admit that we are all too ready to give Jesus false homage. We find ourselves in the company of the villainous Roman soldiers. But let us remember that Jesus went to the cross to save even villains like us (Rom 5:10).
Good Friday is a good day for humility.