December 28, 2011

Hard Sayings XXVII: Perseverence Until The Bitter End

"They brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha (which means “the place of the skull”). Then they offered him wine mixed with myrrh, but he did not take it." Mark 15:22-23

"The soldiers also came up and mocked him. They offered him wine vinegar...” Luke 23:36

Jesus is thirsty and twice we see the episode of His merciless suffering in the Gospels and a desire to drink. We see it mentioned in Luke who refers to it as wine vinegar and in Mark where it is called wine with myrrh mixed in. Jesus was clearly thirsty and suffering, why didn't he take it?

Vinegar of biblical days actually was soured wine and as such as not very pleasant to the taste. Anyone ever try to drink vinegar? I did and it’s disgusting. It was the beverage of farmers and field hands. It was the beverage of the soldier (hence the soldiers at the foot of the cross having it readily at hand). In arid climates like Jerusalem, believe it or not, it quenched thirst. Prior to the 20th century it was added to military water supplies to act as a supplement to water supplies and as an antiseptic. Ironically, apple cider vinegar is rich in…potassium which would’ve postponed fatigue and or muscle failure. Can anyone say rehydrating sports drink? Would this have been enough for Jesus to stay alive longer rather than expire on schedule? Hmmm…maybe, but that’s unlikely considering Jesus “gave up His Spirit” (John 19:30)

Vinegar is mildly acidic (therefore bitter) and apparently may have proved to be a bacterial inhibitor, for it was used in the treatment of wounds and bruises. The uses of vinegar are endless. Mixed with clay, it is a poultice for swollen joints. It can be gargled for sore throat and an application for skin ailments. Any young mother or pet owner knows that the pungent odor of the soiled diaper (urine) may be prevented by submerging the diaper in water with vinegar. It can also be sprayed directly on a carpet to neutralize the ammonia in urine…without staining the carpet.

Many claim that Jesus didn’t drink it because it was alcoholic. Maybe, but this is improbable as this was most likely a diluted mixture, 20:1 ratio or less. I believe this speculation is driven by a failure to research and understand the historical/cultural context of 1st Century Roman soldiers and practices of the time. If it was the drink of others like Farmers and Roman Soldiers to sustain them in a dry or arid climate why wouldn’t Jesus at least have wet His palate to quench parched lips and what would’ve probably been a swollen tongue from dehydration?

So why did Jesus refuse this “wine”?

I believe Mark not Luke the Physician offers us the strongest clue when he writes that it was a wine mixed with myrrh.

In the 1st century there was an analgesic effect of “wine vinegar” that was mixed with myrrh (or frankincense, mandrake, or gall). It is quite probable that a vinegar wine that had been mixed with myrrh may have very well been mixed with the others especially gall as it is directly mentioned in Matthew 27:34…and this may be why we see the refusal by Jesus. Although the Gospel writers differ on the exact ingredients of the wine offered to the Messiah, there is an extremely high probability considering the practice of Roman soldiers of the time that it had multiple ingredients. This is why Mark is so diligent to note the myrrh in his passage and Matthew notes gall in his. By doing so Mark and Matthew essentially confirming that this “wine” was “spiked” or  not just wine but a narcotic cocktail. Gall (or bile) essentially comes from a poppy-like plant (a narcotic). In a combination with ἐσμυρνισμένον/ “having been myrrhized” or “having been blended tinctured with myrrh" we have a rather potent “deadener”

So let us think about what Jesus turned down here. Relief. Jesus turned down relief from excruciating torturous pain. A mortal pain or the pain of the dying. So…the next time you see a suffering or dying loved one already sedated with narcotics still writhing in pain…please understand it was vastly worse for Jesus Christ hanging mercilessly on a cross. I imagine there may have been quite a few witnessing Jesus’ crucifixion shaking their heads in disbelief when Jesus turned down this ancient “painkiller”. They probably figured he had already lost his mind from the pain. He turned it down twice (Mark 15:23 & 36). We also know as Christians that Jesus conversed in a cognizant manner with the thief on the cross and then willingly laid down His life in the bitter end. All the while He was completely coherent. I believe he turned down this drug cocktail so that His wits were with Him until he relinquishes His spirit.

The often pitiless soldiers in a form of marginally charitable mockery see Jesus as pathetic man near death and offer a “fix” to relieve the pain. Jesus refuses and endures until the end. Sorry folks, I couldn’t do this. For me, that is what makes this saying so hard. Being a compassionate man I have difficulty reliving the murderous and torturous death of my Savior knowing He suffered enormously. Jesus didn’t cut any corners, He trusted in God and  persevered until the end staying obedient to the will of God. Who are we to do any less if we call ourselves disciples of Christ?

Onward saints!

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