John 19: 16 – 24
So they took Jesus; and carrying the cross by himself, he went out to what is called The Place of the Skull, which in Hebrew is called Golgotha. There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, with Jesus between them. Pilate also had an inscription written and put on the cross. It read, ‘Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.’ Many of the Jews read this inscription, because the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, in Latin, and in Greek. Then the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, ‘Do not write, “The King of the Jews”, but, “This man said, I am King of the Jews.” ’ Pilate answered, ‘What I have written I have written.’ When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his clothes and divided them into four parts, one for each soldier. They also took his tunic; now the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from the top. So they said to one another, ‘Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see who will get it.’ This was to fulfil what the scripture says,
‘They divided my clothes among themselves,
and for my clothing they cast lots.’
And that is what the soldiers did.
In the previous passage the High Priests had managed to frighten Pilate into agreeing to put Jesus to death. The first verse in this passage then marks the handover of Jesus from the Judeans and the High Priests to the Romans. The soldiers, who were happy to beat and mock Jesus before Pilate sentenced him are not stopped from escalating this.
John 19: 19 – 20 explains why some pictures or sculptures of Jesus have “INRI” written on them. This is an acronym of the latin: “Iesus Nazarenus, Rex Iudaeorum”, or INBI which is the same in Greek. There is scholarly debate about why the High Priests question Pilate’s wording: on the one hand they do not wish to legitimise Jesus’ teaching, but on the other in previous verses they were prepared to act against their customs in order to ensure that Jesus would be killed.
There was no method of death more terrible than crucifixion in the ancient world. Originally conceived by the Persians, using it to ensure that that the ground the body stood on would not be defiled, it was passed to the Babylonians and then the Romans. It was not permitted for Roman citizens to be crucified, and was only permitted for killing slaves and criminals.
John writes Jesus crucifixion in a brutal way, what must have been a laborious and time consuming process planting the cross deep enough to ensure that it would not fall is all contained in a six word clause, with the tense suggesting the action has already happened.
The lack of empathy from the soldiers, although not surprising, is a stand out moment in the passage. They have no sooner erected Jesus’ cross than they are squabbling over who gets to take home his fashionable (?) seamless tunic. It is unclear why Jesus was carrying any extra clothes at this point, as he had effectively been a prisoner since the garden scene, some time ago.
Read Psalm 22, a favourite of mine, which is the scripture that the last verse refers to. While somewhat premature, as we read the death of Jesus tomorrow, the first two lines of Psalm 22 are what the Synoptic gospels describe Jesus as saying on the cross. Can we understand those words to shed a more positive light on the events unfolding if we keep the message of Psalm 22 close to hand?