Sunday, June 21, 2015

Mitch Reads... Mark 14

After all that apocalyptic rhetoric (or literal predictions of the future!), Mark continues his story two days before Passover.  The chief priests and religious leaders want to kill Jesus, but they need to be sneaky about it.  Jerusalem is packed during Passover and arresting such a popular figure may incite a riot among the rabble.

During this time, Jesus and his cronies are staying in Bethany at the house of Simon the leper.  Have we encountered Simon the leper before?  Is this someone we should know?  Was it one of the previous lepers that Jesus healed?  If so, a call back would be nice here, Mark.  Come on, man, help the reader.  Or is this a new leper we haven't met before?

Whoever this Simon is, we know he is a leper and he has a house.  I wonder if the house of this Simon still has its roof intact?  While at the house, a woman brings forth a jar containing extremely expensive oil.  She breaks open the jar and pours the ointment on Jesus' head.  That actually sounds rather unpleasant, like Jesus just got slimed.  Jesus, you can't do that on television!

But some of the folks there got upset, insisting the woman could have put that oil to better use.  She could have sold it and given the money to the poor.  I mean, come on, it was worth nearly a year's wages (that is crazy expensive stuff, dude!).  But Jesus rebukes the naysayers, insisting that they will always have the poor to care for.  But Jesus is only here for a little while, and this woman has just anointed his body for burial.

And then Jesus says something remarkable, "Truly I tell you, wherever the good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her."  And, in truth, 2000 years later we still read about and remember this story about the woman and the jar of oil.  Here's the thing, though, what was her name?  Jesus said this is a pretty momentous event that will forever be remembered, but no one bothered to record what the name of the woman even was?  Yet we know that the house belonged to Simon the leper?

This egregious failure inspired the title of Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza's book on feminist theology, In Memory of Her.  It seems very perplexing that Mark records Jesus saying that what this woman did will forever be "told in remembrance of her," yet Mark doesn't even bother to remember who she was!

Then Judas went to the chief priests in order to betray Jesus.  Well that was an abrupt transition, Mark!  Further, Mark doesn't provide a lot of character development for Judas, does he?  I think all the times Judas has been mentioned so far, all that is said of him is that he was the one that betrayed Jesus.  We're not really given much in the way of motivation either, other than that the priests promise to give Judas money for the betrayal.  But this financial exchange only appears to be brought up after Judas already decides to commit the deed.  Why, Judas, why?

Allow me to dive into some speculative fiction that, theologically, might not be worth much.  But it's fun and it is my bloody blog so I will indulge myself.  The idea exists out in the aether that Jesus and Judas were actually in cahoots with each other, unbeknownst to all others.  Judas' "betrayal" was actually fulfilling what Jesus asked of him.  Jesus knew he had to die to accomplish his mission, and the acts of Judas were a means to ensure this end.  According to this, Judas may have been the most faithful of all the disciples.  And why did Judas go to the priests after the unnamed woman that shall always be remembered dumped crazy expensive oil on Jesus' head?  Well, maybe she was in on this secret mission, too, and that was a super secret spy signal that it was time for Judas to act!

As intriguing as that sounds, I prefer a more down to earth notion that Judas was hoping for a different messiah and he increasingly became disillusioned with Jesus.  Perhaps it became more and more apparent that Jesus wasn't going to lead a violent revolution to overthrow the Romans.  Maybe the oil incident was the last straw if Judas was one of the ones that objected to the waste of something so valuable.  But, we are left to wonder, for Mark neglects to include any such details.

Moving on, Jesus tells his disciples to follow a man in the city and he will show them to an upper room where they may celebrate the Passover meal.  There, Jesus and his twelve disciples eat and Jesus informs them that the one who will betray him is among them.  Then he breaks bread and serves wine, stating that these are his body and blood, respectively.  Jesus, of course, is speaking literally, just like he has been throughout the course of this book.  Sarcasm aside, does anyone else find it interesting that, in general, Christian groups that take apocalyptic literature literally tend to take the Eucharist metaphorically?  Just an observation.

After supper, they head out to the Mount of Olives where Jesus says they will all desert him.  The Rock objects that he will never desert Jesus.  That is not how The Rock rolls.  But Jesus insists that The Rock will deny him three times before the rooster crows twice.  Do roosters normally crow twice?  I guess I don't know.  I never really lived on a farm.

They head to Gethsemane where Jesus tells them to wait there and stay awake while he goes off to pray.  Greatly grieved, Jesus prays a rather peculiar prayer asking God to change his plans and spare Jesus of his oncoming suffering.  But, if it absolutely must go down this way, Jesus will obey God's will.

Then he goes back and finds his entourage sleeping and he gets rather upset about this.  He goes off to pray by himself again, then returns to see they have fallen asleep again.  He wakes them up again to scold them before going out to pray some more.  When he returns a third time he finds that they have fallen asleep once more and this really bothers Jesus.  But it's not going to be an issue for long, for the time of his betrayal is at hand.

Judas shows up with a crowd armed with swords and clubs.  Judas kisses Jesus, signaling that Jesus is the one the crowd should arrest.  But one of the disciples fights back and cuts off the ear of the slave of the high priest.  As for Jesus, his only real protest is pointing out that he has been in the Temple day after day where they could have easily arrested him.  Why have they come after him at night?  Note that here nothing is done about the severed ear.  Jesus doesn't miraculously reattach it.  Of course, since this is Mark, it might have taken Jesus a couple of tries to get it right, so maybe he just didn't have time for that.  Since he was being arrested, and all that.

Then all of his disciples flee from the mob.  One certain young man was only wearing a linen cloth which the crowd tore off as he struggled to escape.  So the young man ran away naked.  Mark, for someone who fails often in providing any details, that was oddly specific.


The crowd takes Jesus before the high priests and scribes where he is accused of many things.  Now, the priests couldn't find anyone to actually testify against Jesus, so they gathered a bunch of people to provide false accusations.  But they were not well organized and much of these accusations actually contradicted each other.  During this time Jesus stays silent because, yeah, the bumbling of his accusers was providing a pretty good defense anyway.  Then the high priest asks if Jesus is the Messiah, to which Jesus replies that he is.  This seems very uncharacteristic of Jesus, especially the Markan Jesus, who has been so concerned with maintaining his Messianic Secret thus far.  But the crowd goes into an uproar at this apparent blasphemy.  They call for his death and blindfold him and spit on him and begin to beat him.

Meanwhile, The Rock is creeping in the courtyard outside, waiting for some outcome to these dire circumstances.  A servant girl notices him and asks if he is part of Jesus' entourage.  The Rock denies this and brushes her off as the rooster crows.  But the servant girl will not be deterred, and she starts mentioning to others that she thinks The Rock is with Jesus.  Again he denies this.  Unsatisfied, some of the people later ask him again, and this time The Rock lashes out, cursing and swearing an oath that he does not know this Jesus person.  Immediately the rooster crows a second time.

The Rock breaks down and weeps.

Thus ends the Fourteenth Chapter of the Gospel of Mark.

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