Meditations on Mark: The Soldiers’ Cynicism

Meditations on Mark_cvr_wing_c

Mark 15:16-20

One wonders what prompted the soldiers in this passage to act like they did. Why are they so mean and hateful towards Jesus? This is their first interaction with him. They’ve had no stake so far in the controversies surrounding him, no reason to hate him. What’s their motivation? Obviously, we cannot know for sure. These characters make a brief cameo appearance in this scene and then promptly exit the stage without telling us what’s going on inside their minds. But we can speculate.

I imagine that being a Roman soldier is a hard life. It’s a meager existence, economically speaking. You aren’t paid much, you are stationed far from home, you are surrounded by hard circumstances in a world defined by violence, and somewhere in the back of your mind you know that you are just a cog in a giant machine called Empire. The end result is that you become a cynic. You are hardboiled, edgy, crusty. You trust no one, you don’t expect anyone to have your best interests in mind, and you certainly don’t look for things like truth and beauty. You just want to survive.

Then along comes some poor chap named Jesus who has been accused of something or other against the Empire. You don’t care about the details. They don’t matter. You see this sort of thing all the time. It’s just another day on the job. You might as well have a little fun and relieve your boredom.

“Hey, let’s stick a crown of thorns on this one’s head,” says someone. That ought to get a laugh.

I know I am speculating, but I don’t think I am too far afield. It doesn’t take a well-developed imagination to recognize the negative power of cynicism. Cynicism is a defense mechanism. It protects us from the need to make ourselves vulnerable in a world that would be all too happy to take advantage of us.

But that protection comes at a great cost, for it closes us off to the possibility of encountering real truth and real beauty when we see it. I’ve heard it said that a cynical mind is a lazy mind, for it refuses to spend the effort and energy needed to process the world in an authentic way. Cynicism immediately writes everything off as being not worth the trouble.

I write these words partly as confession. I know myself well enough to know that I have a tendency towards cynicism. It is easy for me to drop into that hard-edged, crusty attitude and close myself off. And I imagine the same is true for most everybody reading this. It’s easier to take the path of least resistance than it is to stay open to the possibilities of love and life and transformation.

The Son of God—Truth and Beauty Incarnate—was standing right before the soldiers, and they couldn’t see it. Let’s not make the same mistake.

Lord Jesus, keep my mind and my spirit open and receptive today. Give me the grace to refuse the temptation to become cynical and closed. Reveal your truth to me. In your name I pray, Amen.

Meditations on Mark_cvr_smOriginally appeared in Meditations on Mark: Daily Devotions from the Oldest Gospel by Chris Cadenhead.

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