Short Ending: Mark 16:1-8

Day 40
Holy Saturday, Easter Eve in Holy Week,
March 31, 2018
“Resurrection?”
Mark 16:1-8
 
Today’s reading has become my favourite bit of Mark.

 The women go to do what is proper, once the Sabbath is over. They will anoint the body, a bit belatedly, as the unnamed woman did precociously a few days earlier. The body will smell better, as it goes the way of all flesh and is prepared to arrive purified in the next world, the world of God – leaving this world of ours. 

The morning after the Sabbath – Sunday morning, was the first day of the week as Saturday, the Sabbath, was the last day, when God and all of us rested after six days of work. 

The women are worried about rolling the stone from the mouth of the tomb – though Joseph had done it. But they see it is already rolled back. 

 Inside, they meet a young man in a white robe, sitting on the right side. They are alarmed. The figure tells them not to be alarmed – as it that ever works. 

He says the crucified Jesus is not there – he has been raised. The tomb is empty. No body. 

The figure gives them a job: go tell the disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee, and there you will see him, just as he told you. 

So they run – terrified and amazed.

 Did they do their job? 

No.

 Just like the disciples throughout Mark, they don’t get it, don’t do the right thing, and now are deserters, breaking their link in the chain of transmission. 

 And the gospel ends that way. 

 If you had no other gospel, only Mark, what would you conclude?

 If you’re hearing this version of the good news, you are in some community of faith, part of the Christian movement. Apparently the women’s failure to do what they were told to do was not fatal to the movement! 

What do you make of this account of worlds colliding, God’s and ours? 

What do you make of the disciples who don’t get it and don’t do the right thing in response – and yet somehow participated in the initial explosions of God’s world crashing in on this one? 

 How will you respond, in your turn? 

Tomorrow is Easter Day – and we are Easter people. 

What will that look like this year?


When the sabbath was over, 
 Mary Magdalene, 
and Mary the mother of James, 
 and Salome
bought spices, 
so that they might go and anoint him. 

And very early on the first day of the week, 
when the sun had risen, 
they went to the tomb. 

 They had been saying to one another, 
‘ Who will roll away the stone for us
 from the entrance to the tomb?’ 

When they looked up, 
they saw that the stone, 
which was very large, 
had already been rolled back.

 As they entered the tomb, 
they saw a young man, 
 dressed in a white robe, 
sitting on the right side; 
and they were alarmed. 

 But he said to them, 
‘Do not be alarmed; 
you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, 
who was crucified. 

He has been raised;
 he is not here. 

 Look, there is the place they laid him. 

 But go, tell his disciples
and Peter
that he is going ahead of you
 to Galilee; 
there you will see him,
 just as he told you.’ 

So they went out
and fled from the tomb, 
 for terror and amazement
 had seized them; 

 and they said nothing to anyone, 
for they were afraid.  

Adding Your Own Ending: Mark 16:9-20

Day 41
Still Easter Eve
March 31, 2018
“Post-Easter Patches”
Mark 16 (9-20?) longer endings

 There are a couple of endings tacked on to the end of Mark - a short one and a long one which appear in enough of the earliest manuscripts that each is printed in most current translations of the bible. 

Was the original gospel much longer, with lots of resurrection appearances and successful transition from the demoralized dumb deserters to the amazing apostles, founding a church? You can find that narrative in other gospels, in variations you’ll enjoy. We don’t have copies of such a long ending. 

We do have the short one – the women tell Peter, then Jesus sends them out across the world to spread the gospel. Happily ever after. 

We also have this longer one:
 • Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene – the one from whom he had cast out 7 demons (not in this gospel). She delivers the message, as the earlier women had not. 
• Jesus appears to a couple of them walking in the country, but the others don’t believe it
• Jesus appears to the eleven themselves at table, and yelled at them 

This sounds suspiciously like later echoes of Luke and John resurrection stories – and out of keeping with the tone of the ‘worlds colliding’ Mark style. 

The next add-on is weirder than Matthew’s ‘Great Commission’ – promises for the baptized, condemnation for those who refuse. The ‘real’ Christians get a promise of exorcist powers, speaking in tongues, handling of poisonous snakes, and healing. Many charismatic movements still claim these signs and gifts – not us. The final add-on is an ascension – Jesus goes up to sit at God’s right hand, to supervise and oversee the proclamation of the gospel everywhere…. 

 How will you write the next verses and chapter, in word or deed?

 [[And all that had been commanded them
they told briefly to those around Peter. 

And afterwards Jesus himself
sent out through them, 
from east to west, 
the sacred and imperishable proclamation
 of eternal salvation. ]] 

 [[Now after he rose
early on the first day of the week, 
 he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, 
 from whom he had cast out seven demons. 

She went out
and told those who had been with him, 
 while they were mourning and weeping. 

 But when they heard
that he was alive
and had been seen by her,
 they would not believe it. 

After this
he appeared in another form
 to two of them, 
 as they were walking into the country. 

 And they went back and told the rest,
 but they did not believe them. 

Later he appeared to the eleven themselves
as they were sitting at the table; 
and he upbraided them
 for their lack of faith and stubbornness,
 because they had not believed
those who saw him after he had risen.

 And he said to them, ‘
Go into all the world
and proclaim the good news
to the whole creation. 

 The one who believes
and is baptized
 will be saved; 

but the one who does not believe
will be condemned. 

And these signs
will accompany
those who believe: 

 by using my name
they will cast out demons; 
 they will speak in new tongues;
they will pick up snakes in their hands, 
 and if they drink any deadly thing,
 it will not hurt them;

 they will lay their hands on the sick,
 and they will recover.’ 

So then the Lord Jesus, 
after he had spoken to them, 
was taken up into heaven
and sat down at the right hand of God.

 And they went out
and proclaimed the good news everywhere, 
while the Lord worked with them
and confirmed the message
 by the signs that accompanied it. ]]  

Death & Burial: Mark 15:33-47

Day 39
Good Friday in Holy Week,
March 31, 2018
“Death and Burial”
Mark 15:33-47
 
From noon to three in the afternoon, we get darkness across the land. There’s a supernatural claim of divine intervention – the whole creation pauses. Later gospels will amplify that a lot. Like the baptism and the transfiguration, this exceptional moment frames Mark’s story.

 Jesus quotes a psalm, ‘why have you forsaken me’ in Aramaic – addressed to ‘Eloi’, bystanders thought they heard him calling for ‘Elijah’ 

They offer him a sponge with sour wine – another biblical reference, and another pain relief gesture – no word if he bit down on the sponge in Mark. Later, this will become hyssop, to emphasize the biblical allusion. 

He dies with a loud cry.

The curtain of the temple was torn in two.  That’s as likely as the darkness at midday – a cosmic claim, that the boundary between the holy of holies and the rest of the temple is no longer intact. Do you think that is historic and factual? I don’t. But I do believe it’s true.

Mark tells us lessons with actions, not just words. Do we get it yet? 

The centurion, Roman soldier, does, and affirms that Jesus was God’s Son.  Just as the demons recognized Jesus before the disciples, the goyim, the Gentile outsider, working for Rome, is still eligible to ‘see’.

Finally, linger to acknowledge the women. Mark’s version includes by name Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. What else do you know of these women from Mark? Me neither! Let’s not cheat and conflate them into tropes – or into trollops!

Salome is the name tradition gives to Herodias’ daughter, but Mark’s gospel doesn’t say so. Mary Magdalene is a name to which other gospels and long traditions attach many tales and characteristics, often misogynist and lascivious, but not in Mark. We also hear that lots of other women followed all the way from Galilee. 

Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the council, part of the body that approved Jesus’ lynching, gets his reputation back, another in a chain of characters inviting our empathy and identification. He asks Pilate for Jesus’ body. Pilate confirms the death, then Joseph wraps the body and places it in a tomb to begin putrefaction down to bones. He rolls a stone against the door of the tomb, and two of the women saw where the body was laid. 

No guards, a stone that one effete council member can move. That’s it. Later gospels will elaborate this story, too, eh?


When it was noon, 
darkness came over the whole land
until three in the afternoon. 

 At three o’clock
Jesus cried out with a loud voice,
 ‘Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?’ 
which means, 
‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ 

 When some of the bystanders heard it, 
they said, ‘
Listen, he is calling for Elijah.’ 

 And someone ran, 
filled a sponge with sour wine,
 put it on a stick, 
and gave it to him to drink, 
saying, ‘
Wait, 
let us see whether Elijah will come
to take him down.’ 

Then Jesus gave a loud cry
and breathed his last.

 And the curtain of the temple
 was torn in two, 
from top to bottom. 

Now when the centurion, 
who stood facing him, 
saw that in this way
he breathed his last, 
he said, ‘
Truly this man was God’s Son!’ 

There were also women
looking on from a distance; 
among them were Mary Magdalene,
 and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, 
and Salome. 

These used to follow him
and provided for him
when he was in Galilee; 
and there were many other women
who had come up with him to Jerusalem.

 When evening had come, 
and since it was the day of Preparation,
 that is, 
the day before the sabbath,

 Joseph of Arimathea, 
a respected member of the council, 
who was also himself
waiting expectantly
for the kingdom of God,

 went boldly to Pilate
and asked for the body of Jesus. 

 Then Pilate wondered
if he were already dead; 
and summoning the centurion, 
he asked him
whether he had been dead
for some time. 

When he learned from the centurion
that he was dead, 
he granted the body to Joseph. 

Then Joseph bought a linen cloth,
 and taking down the body, 
wrapped it in the linen cloth, 
and laid it in a tomb
 that had been hewn out of the rock. 

 He then rolled a stone
against the door of the tomb.

 Mary Magdalene
and Mary the mother of Joses
 saw where the body was laid. 
 

Mocked & Crucified: Mark 15:16-32

Day 38
Thursday in Holy Week,
March 29, 2018
“Mocked and Crucified”
Mark 15:16-32
 
Now we’re in another courtyard – not the religious one where Peter denied him, but the government one, where a whole cohort of Roman soldiers will play with him, with purple cloak and crown of thorns, saluting ‘king of the jews’. 

 They mock him with a reed staff, spit at him, kneel in mock homage, then strip the cloak off, and give his own clothes back, and lead him out to crucifixion. 

Simon of Cyrene - a north African – carries the cross. Tradition says that his sons Alexander and Rufus were leaders in the church in north Africa. 

They offer him at Golgotha something to numb his pain, but he declines it – they crucify him, and roll the dice to see who gets to keep his clothes. 

Nine in the morning, and he’s hanging – with a sign above him ‘The King of the Jews’ It is not yet ‘Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews’, in three languages, shortened to INRI on pulpits across Christendom since. Nor does anybody argue with Pilate about the inscription – as they will in later gospels. 

He hangs between two bandits, one on each side. 

 People mock him. 

Religious leaders mock him. 

The bandits mock him – but we don’t have a script from them yet, as we will in later gospels. 

This is a crucifixion of humiliation, today. 

 Other gospels will add more words, more eloquent serene sententiousness from Jesus – but not Mark. 

Mark just recites the misunderstanding by the villains of what is going on. 

I often say ‘go with the incompetence theory before the conspiracy theory’. 

Worlds collide here, and the leaders of religion and government just manage their work-flow and trivialize something sacred. There is, in truth, nothing unsacred – just the sacred and the desecrated.

 Don’t we all.

Then the soldiers led him into the courtyard of the palace
 (that is, the governor’s headquarters); 
and they called together the whole cohort. 

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 upon him, 
and knelt down in homage to him.

 After mocking him, 
they stripped him of the purple cloak
and put his own clothes on him. 

Then they led him out to crucify him. 

 They compelled a passer-by, 
who was coming in from the country,
 to carry his cross;
 it was Simon of Cyrene, 
the father of Alexander and Rufus. 

Then they brought Jesus
to the place called Golgotha
(which means the place of a skull). 

And they offered him
wine mixed with myrrh; 
but he did not take it. 

And they crucified him, 
and divided his clothes among them, 
casting lots to decide what each should take. 

 It was nine o’clock in the morning
when they crucified him. 

 The inscription of the charge against him read, 
 ‘The King of the Jews.’ 

And with him they crucified two bandits, 
one on his right and one on his left. 

Those who passed by derided him, 

shaking their heads and saying, 
 ‘Aha! You who would destroy the temple
and build it in three days, 
save yourself, 
and come down from the cross!’

 In the same way the chief priests, 
along with the scribes, 
were also mocking him
among themselves
and saying, 

‘He saved others; 
he cannot save himself.
 Let the Messiah, 
the King of Israel, 
come down from the cross now, 
 so that we may see and believe.’ 

Those who were crucified with him  
 also taunted him. 
 

Jesus & Pilate: Mark 15:1-15

Day 37
Wednesday in Holy Week,
March 28, 2018
“Jesus and Pilate”
Mark 15:1-15

Come morning, the religious leaders hand Jesus over to the Roman authorities – to Pilate.   Before they go, Mark makes sure to implicate the whole batch, chief priests, scribes, elders and the whole council. Nobody can blame a renegade, as politicians still blame a rogue aide, dismissing them by Twitter now. They all bind and deliver him. 

 Pilate asks, as the chief priest had, for confession: Are you King of the Jews? This time, Jesus is more ambiguous: ‘You say so’ – 

The religious leaders pile up charges, not specified, Pilate invites a defence, and Jesus stays silent – so Pilate is ‘amazed’ – that word again. If we don’t know the expected norm, can we appreciate the response of amazement?

Barabbas is introduced as the other prisoner, the insurrectionist. The crowd (how big a crowd, how unanimous, in your minds-eye movie?) asks for a holiday pardon – like Gerald Ford gave to Nixon, and Bush to Iraq war miscreants. Pilate offers them ‘King of the Jews’ Jesus. 

Mark credits Pilate with recognizing, not respecting, the motives of the religious leaders threatened by Jesus’ religious popularity. Like Herod who hesitated to kill the Baptizer, or the redeemable scribe, there is a hint of hope for Roman converts to Mark’s community that they may yet be saved.  Mark accuses the religious leaders of stirring up a crowd to ask for Barabbas instead. 

Pilate asks the mob what to do with Jesus - whom they call – (or rather Pilate calls) ‘King of the Jews’. 

The crowd shouts ‘crucify him’. 

 Pilate asks what harm he has done. 

The lynch mob just repeats their demand. 

Pilate has him flogged, and hands him over for crucifixion. 

 What’s missing in this version of the story, that you know from other gospels? Pilate’s wife? Herod? If you only had this one gospel, what might you conclude about culpability among us all?

 Where do you identify most in the story – who are we invited to feel empathy for and identification with?


As soon as it was morning,
 the chief priests held a consultation
with the elders and scribes and the whole council. 

They bound Jesus, 
led him away, 
and handed him over to Pilate. 

Pilate asked him, 
‘Are you the King of the Jews?’ 

 He answered him, 
‘You say so.’ 

Then the chief priests accused him of many things. 

 Pilate asked him again, 
‘Have you no answer? 
See how many charges they bring against you.’ 

But Jesus made no further reply, 
so that Pilate was amazed. 

Now at the festival
he used to release a prisoner for them, 
anyone for whom they asked. 

Now a man called Barabbas was in prison
 with the rebels who had committed murder
during the insurrection. 

So the crowd came
and began to ask Pilate
to do for them according to his custom. 

Then he answered them, 
‘Do you want me to release for you
the King of the Jews?’ 

For he realized
that it was out of jealousy
that the chief priests
had handed him over. 

 But the chief priests
stirred up the crowd
to have him release Barabbas for them
instead. 

 Pilate spoke to them again, 
‘Then what do you wish me to do
with the man you call
the King of the Jews?’ 

They shouted back,
 ‘Crucify him!’ 

Pilate asked them,
 ‘Why, what evil has he done?’ 

But they shouted all the more, 
‘Crucify him!’ 

So Pilate, 
wishing to satisfy the crowd,
released Barabbas for them; 
and after flogging Jesus, 
he handed him over
to be crucified.  
 

Peter's Denial: Mark 14:53-72

Day 36
Tuesday in Holy Week,
March 27, 2018
“Peter’s Denial”
Mark 14:53-72

From Gethsemane, the scene shifts in your mental movie to the high priests, with all the temple staff assembled. Is it historic, or structure to the story to put the blame on religious leaders next? 

Peter, hanging back, is by the fire in the courtyard outside, with the guards. 

There’s a form of trial, with lots of false testimony. The charge must be blasphemy – claiming too much for himself or too little for God. But the witnesses don’t prove the point, and confuse the matter. 

Jesus is silent. The high priest asks Jesus if he is the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One. 

Jesus says ‘I am’, and quotes scripture predicting the son will sit at the right hand of God, and will come with the clouds – claiming the way prophets had construed their hope for a messianic figure by God’s side, coming to our side. 

 That amounts to blasphemy, according to the religious boss. He calls for the vote, and ‘so say all of us’. Now he’s open to physical abuse: spitting, blindfolding, striking, taunting, and beating. There’s the model of false justice, against which tribunals since are always measured. 

The remainder of today’s reading is Mark’s basic version of Peter denying Jesus three times, standing around the fire. It’s a servant girl of the high priest who names him as Jesus’ guy, one of the disciples, a Galilean – Peter denies each time, till the cock crows and the prediction is fulfilled. 

 It’s deceptively familiar, this story. 

Mark wants to pin the religious leaders first – even though they could not condemn Jesus to death. You can chase down the elaborations of the other gospels. 

You could try to visualize the scale of the trial… but is it factual, or rhetorical, this account by Mark? 
 Yes.


They took Jesus to the high priest; 
 and all the chief priests, the elders, and the scribes
were assembled. 

 Peter had followed him at a distance,
right into the courtyard of the high priest; 
and he was sitting with the guards, 
warming himself at the fire. 

Now the chief priests and the whole council
were looking for testimony against Jesus
to put him to death; 
but they found none. 

For many gave false testimony against him,
 and their testimony did not agree. 
Some stood up and gave false testimony against him, 
saying, 
‘We heard him say,
 “I will destroy this temple
that is made with hands, 
and in three days
I will build another, 
not made with hands.” ’

 But even on this point
their testimony did not agree. 

Then the high priest stood up before them
and asked Jesus, 
‘Have you no answer? 
What is it that they testify against you?’ 

But he was silent
and did not answer. 

Again the high priest asked him, 
‘Are you the Messiah, 
the Son of the Blessed One?’ 

Jesus said, 
‘I am; 
and “you will see the Son of Man
seated at the right hand of the Power”, 
and “coming with the clouds of heaven.” ’ 

Then the high priest tore his clothes
and said,
‘Why do we still need witnesses? 
You have heard his blasphemy! 
What is your decision?’ 

All of them condemned him
as deserving death. 

Some began to spit on him, 
to blindfold him, 
and to strike him, 
saying to him, 
‘Prophesy!’ 

The guards also took him over
 and beat him. 

While Peter was below in the courtyard, 
one of the servant-girls of the high priest came by. 

When she saw Peter warming himself, 
she stared at him and said, ‘
You also were with Jesus,
 the man from Nazareth.’ 

But he denied it, 
saying, 
‘I do not know
or understand
what you are talking about.’ 

And he went out into the forecourt. 
Then the cock crowed. 

And the servant-girl, 
on seeing him, 
began again
to say to the bystanders,
 ‘This man is one of them.’ 

But again he denied it. 

Then after a little while
the bystanders again said to Peter, 
‘Certainly you are one of them; 
for you are a Galilean.’ 

But he began to curse, 
and he swore an oath,
 ‘I do not know this man you are talking about.’ 

At that moment
the cock crowed
for the second time. 

Then Peter remembered
that Jesus had said to him,
‘Before the cock crows twice, 
you will deny me three times.’ 

And he broke down
and wept.  

Gethsemane Arrest: Mark 14:32-52

Day 35
Monday in Holy Week,
March 26, 2018
“Gethsemane Arrest”
Mark 14:32-52

 Off he goes to pray in Gethsemane. (It’s not a garden yet in Mark) 

 He takes the 3 insiders, who witness him getting agitated – he admits he is grieved to death – and tells them to stay sharp while he goes a bit further. Jesus prays, according to Mark, to be relieved of this fate – that God, Abba, remove this cup – yet not what I want, but what you want. 

 Now, he is all alone, eh, so how does Mark get the exact quote on this one? Again, this is the omniscient narrator building a story.

Then Jesus goes back to the 3, and finds them asleep – just as they were ordered and asked not to do – and just as they were predicted to do. Can’t you manage this much – pray you won’t come to such a time of trial – the connection is to the trials that they, and we in turn, face, as much as Jesus’. 

Another aphorism, a keeper: ‘the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak’. Jesus goes off and prays the same words.

 Again, he’s alone – so who does the transcript to prove it’s the same words in prayer? 

Again he finds the 3 lads sleeping – and finally a third time when he accuses them of taking their rest – enough, time’s up, the hour has come, the betrayer at hand – let’s go. They weren’t ready. They didn’t understand. They were not alert. It happened anyhow. Ain’t it ever so? 

Immediately – that Mark word again for picking up the pace – Judas kisses him – another follower draws a sword and cuts off the ear of a slave of the high priest – Jesus points out that they could have done this at the temple in public. Then everybody runs. 

 Notice how much is missing, that we hear in other gospels: Malchus’ ear is not healed – Jesus does not tell the disciples to stop fighting – he doesn’t speak directly to Judas about betraying with a kiss…. 

‘A certain young man’ wearing only a linen cloth runs off, but they grab his cloth and he has to escape naked. I have only recently slowed down enough to notice that the word for ‘linen cloth’ is the same as one at the tomb, translated as a ‘shroud’.  

This, tradition has said, was ‘Mark’, the naked escapee. The gospel does not say so… or much of the operatic heroism that we want.  Perhaps escaping with the skin of your teeth, giving up everything, is our participation route to live on another day, too!


They went to a place called Gethsemane; 
and he said to his disciples, 
‘Sit here while I pray.’

 He took with him
Peter and James and John,
 and began to be distressed and agitated. 

 And he said to them, 
‘I am deeply grieved, 
even to death; 
remain here, 
and keep awake.’ 

 And going a little farther,
 he threw himself on the ground
and prayed that, 
if it were possible, 
the hour might pass from him. 

 He said, 
‘Abba, Father, 
for you all things are possible; 
remove this cup from me; 
yet, not what I want, 
but what you want.’ 

 He came and found them sleeping; 
and he said to Peter, 
 ‘Simon, are you asleep? 
Could you not keep awake one hour? 

Keep awake
and pray
that you may not come
into the time of trial; 
the spirit indeed is willing, 
but the flesh is weak.’ 

And again he went away and prayed, 
saying the same words. 
And once more he came
and found them sleeping, 
for their eyes were very heavy; 
and they did not know
what to say to him. 

He came a third time
and said to them, 
‘Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? 
Enough! 

The hour has come; 
the Son of Man is betrayed
into the hands of sinners.

 Get up, let us be going.
 See, my betrayer is at hand.’

 Immediately, 
while he was still speaking, 
Judas, one of the twelve, arrived; 
and with him there was a crowd
with swords and clubs, 
from the chief priests, 
the scribes, 
and the elders. 

 Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, 
‘The one I will kiss is the man; 
arrest him and lead him away under guard.’

So when he came, 
he went up to him at once
and said, 
‘Rabbi!’ 
and kissed him. 

Then they laid hands on him and arrested him. 

But one of those who stood near drew his sword
and struck the slave of the high priest, 
cutting off his ear. 

Then Jesus said to them, 
‘Have you come out with swords and clubs
to arrest me as though I were a bandit? 

Day after day I was with you in the temple teaching, 
and you did not arrest me. 
But let the scriptures be fulfilled.’ 

All of them deserted him and fled. 
A certain young man was following him, 
wearing nothing but a linen cloth. 

They caught hold of him, 
but he left the linen cloth
and ran off naked.  

Last Supper: Mark 14:12-31

Day 34
Saturday,
March 24, 2018
“Last Supper”
Mark 14:12-31

Still in the burbs, anticipating the feast days, the disciples ask for a plan to prepare the Passover. As with the colt for the entry, Jesus sends the lads to town, predicting whom they will meet, and what they will say. They set up a Passover meal, in an upper room. 

 Once they were all eating, Jesus says – ‘one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me’. What a way to wreck a party! Each one denies, but he says it’s one who is dipping bread in the bowl with him, an intimate, one of the 12. It’s universal, and particular – we always fear the stranger and the other, and always risk more closer to home. So for Jesus – who warns it would be better for that one to have never been born. 

Here is the institution of the sacrament of communion. In this version, his words are brief over the bread, and long after the cup. 

Nothing here about forgiveness – but rather anticipation of resuming this eating and drinking together ‘on the other side’, in God’s world, now colliding with this one. 

 They sing and head out to Mount of Olives, and Jesus warns them again that they will all fail him, and be deserters, scattering like sheep without a shepherd. 

Not only are they thick and stupid all the way through the gospel, now one is a traitor, and the rest are weak runaways. Great role models! At least, we can imagine fitting in to such company, eh?

 Jesus promises to go ahead to Galilee after he’s raised. Not before Mark ends! 

 Peter’s protest is brief – maybe those guys will desert, but not me! 

Jesus’ prediction is simple, and Peter objects. 

So do the rest of the disciples – who sure enough will prove Jesus right again.

On the first day of Unleavened Bread, 
when the Passover lamb is sacrificed, 
 his disciples said to him, 

‘Where do you want us to go
and make the preparations
 for you to eat the Passover?’ 

So he sent two of his disciples, 
saying to them, 
‘Go into the city, 
and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you; 
follow him, 
and wherever he enters, 
say to the owner of the house, 
“The Teacher asks, 
Where is my guest room
where I may eat the Passover
with my disciples?” 

He will show you a large room upstairs, 
furnished and ready. 

Make preparations for us there.’ 

So the disciples set out
and went to the city, 
and found everything as he had told them; 
and they prepared the Passover meal. 

When it was evening, 
he came with the twelve. 

And when they had taken their places and were eating, 

 Jesus said, 
‘Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me,
 one who is eating with me.’

They began to be distressed
and to say to him one after another, 
‘Surely, not I?’ 

He said to them, 
‘It is one of the twelve, 
one who is dipping bread into the bowl with me. 

For the Son of Man goes as it is written of him, 
but woe to that one by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! 
It would have been better for that one not to have been born.’ 

While they were eating,
 he took a loaf of bread, 
and after blessing it
he broke it, 
gave it to them, 
and said, 
‘Take; this is my body.’

 Then he took a cup, 
and after giving thanks
he gave it to them, 
and all of them drank from it. 

He said to them, 
‘This is my blood of the covenant, 
which is poured out for many. 
 Truly I tell you,
 I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine
until that day when I drink it new
in the kingdom of God.’ 

When they had sung the hymn, 
they went out to the Mount of Olives. 

And Jesus said to them, 
‘You will all become deserters; 
for it is written,
  “I will strike the shepherd, 
and the sheep will be scattered.” 

But after I am raised up,
 I will go before you to Galilee.’ 

Peter said to him, 
‘Even though all become deserters,
 I will not. ’

Jesus said to him, 
‘Truly I tell you, this day, 
this very night, 
before the cock crows twice, 
you will deny me three times.’ 

But he said vehemently, 
‘Even though I must die with you, 
I will not deny you.’

 And all of them said the same. 

 

Anticipation: Mark 13:32-14:11

Day 33
Friday,
March 23, 2018
“Anticipation”
Mark 13:32 - 14:11

We’re back once more to the refusal to schedule the collision of God’s world into this world, the coming of the Messiah – or second coming. We’re told nobody knows, not even the angels or the Son. So be alert. The world needs more lerts… 

The idea of surprise is illustrated – the cat’s away, the mice may play, but what if something happens, and you’re not ready – or worse. What if the watchman sleeps? What if the kids are having too big a party? Keep awake. 

It’s not only Jerusalem, but 2 days before Passover and the festival of Unleavened Bread. Historical fact, or a convenience in the story to match Jesus to Moses and Exodus, Jesus and the lamb whose blood on the doorposts saved Israel from the final plague of the death of the firstborn? 

Religious leaders still want to kill him, but don’t want a popular public fuss. They’d rather make him disappear - a too familiar tale in insurrections. 

Back in suburban Bethany, at the house of Simon the (former) leper, a woman anoints him with extravagant ointment. Usually you’d do this to a body before burial – that is, before putting it in a tomb for a year to rot down to bones you could put in an ossuary. 

Notice, slowly, what this is not – not Mary, not Mary Magdalene, not a prostitute using her hair. In this early version of the story, it’s not even exactly Judas who complains that the money was wasted and could have been used. 

Jesus’ line that ‘you will always have the poor with you’ gets lots of play.  Mark carries on in a less quoted bit, ‘and you can show kindness to them whenever you wish’.  The opportunity to anoint Jesus before his death was now or never. 

This is the first apostle - a woman, proclaiming by a gesture of generosity.  Remember her. 

Judas goes to sell out Jesus – fewer details in this bit than you remember?

‘But about that day or hour no one knows, 
 neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 

Beware, keep alert;
for you do not know when the time will come. 

It is like a man going on a journey, 
 when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, 
each with his work, 
and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. 

Therefore, keep awake—
for you do not know when the master of the house will come,
 in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, 
 or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. 

And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.’

 It was two days before the Passover
and the festival of Unleavened Bread. 

The chief priests and the scribes were looking for a way
 to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him; 
for they said, 

 ‘Not during the festival, 
or there may be a riot among the people.’ 

While he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, 
as he sat at the table, 
a woman came with an alabaster jar
of very costly ointment of nard, 
and she broke open the jar
and poured the ointment on his head.

 But some were there
who said to one another in anger, 

‘ Why was the ointment wasted in this way? 
 For this ointment could have been sold
for more than three hundred denarii, 
 and the money given to the poor.’ 

And they scolded her. 

But Jesus said, 
‘Let her alone; 
why do you trouble her? 

She has performed a good service for me. 

For you always have the poor with you, 
and you can show kindness to them
whenever you wish; 
but you will not always have me. 

She has done what she could; 
she has anointed my body beforehand
for its burial. 

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.’ 

Then Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve, went to the chief priests in order to betray him to them. When they heard it, they were greatly pleased, and promised to give him money. 

So he began to look for an opportunity to betray him.  


 

Long Foretelling: Mark 13:3-31

Day 32
Thursday,
March 22, 2018
“Long Foretelling”
Mark 12:3-31

Now that the topic of predicted disaster has been raised – four of the disciples ask privately for a timeline and the warning signs. Don’t we all convert apocalyptic description into millennialist prediction?

Jesus won’t deliver – and warns them about people who will purport to predict. Yep, this is the sequence, and this bad stuff comes now – like birth pangs of labour come before the birth of a child.
 
He does warn them about their own persecution, as they spread the word once it is no longer a big secret. Once they tell, they will suffer – and will be given words. They will be betrayed by those close to them. Perseverance pays.

He warns them of a ‘desolating sacrilege’ – likely a desecration of the temple – they should run for the hills, and not pause to prepare or pack. Pity those pregnant and nursing then – refugees – God forbid in winter.  Again, is this a Jesus quote, or a Mark restrospective?

There will be suffering. There will be false prophets. Hang in. Here is the ‘little apocalypse’ of Mark: dark sun, moon dark, stars falling, powers shaken – then, only then, ‘son of man coming in great glory’, gathering elect from all over. 

Here’s a disjointed reference – watch the fig tree budding, and you know it’s nearly spring – so when you see suffering disasters, the collision of worlds is coming near, son of man at the gates.
 
He claims this generation will not pass away until all this has happened – sure enough Jerusalem is levelled in that generation – but not the end of the world as we know it, or the second coming…

Here’s an un-Markan claim: ‘heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.’ That’s a pretty ‘high’ understanding of the person and work of Jesus, at least for this gospel – isn’t it?

When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple,
Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately,
‘Tell us, when will this be, 
and what will be the sign
that all these things
are about to be accomplished?’

Then Jesus began to say to them,
‘Beware that no one leads you astray.
 Many will come in my name and say,
“I am he!” and they will lead many astray.

When you hear of wars and rumours of wars, 
do not be alarmed;
this must take place, 
but the end is still to come.

For nation will rise against nation, 
and kingdom against kingdom;
there will be earthquakes in various places; 
there will be famines.

This is but the beginning
 of the birth pangs.

‘As for yourselves, beware; 
for they will hand you over to councils; 
and you will be beaten in synagogues; 
and you will stand before governors and kings
because of me, 
as a testimony to them.

 And the good news
must first be proclaimed
to all nations. 
When they bring you to trial
and hand you over, 
do not worry beforehand
about what you are to say; 
but say whatever is given you at that time, 
for it is not you who speak,
 but the Holy Spirit.

Brother will betray brother to death, 
and a father his child,
 and children will rise against parents
and have them put to death; 
and you will be hated by all
because of my name. 

But the one who endures to the end
 will be saved.


‘But when you see the desolating sacrilege
set up where it ought not to be
(let the reader understand),
then those in Judea must flee to the mountains;
someone on the housetop must not go down
or enter the house to take anything away;
someone in the field must not turn back to get a coat.

Woe to those who are pregnant
and to those who are nursing infants in those days!

 Pray that it may not be in winter.

For in those days there will be suffering,
such as has not been
from the beginning of the creation that God created
until now, 
no, and never will be.
And if the Lord had not cut short those days,
 no one would be saved;
but for the sake of the elect, 
whom he chose, 
he has cut short those days.

And if anyone says to you at that time,
“Look! Here is the Messiah!”
 or
 “Look! There he is!”
—do not believe it.

False messiahs and false prophets will appear
and produce signs and omens,
to lead astray, if possible, the elect.

But be alert; 
I have already told you everything.

‘But in those days, 
after that suffering
 the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light, 
and the stars will be falling from heaven,
and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.

Then they will see
 “the Son of Man coming in clouds”
 with great power and glory. 

Then he will send out the angels, 
and gather his elect from the four winds, 
from the ends of the earth
to the ends of heaven.

‘From the fig tree learn its lesson:
as soon as its branch becomes tender
 and puts forth its leaves,
you know that summer is near.
So also,
 when you see these things taking place,
 you know that he is near,
at the very gates.

Truly I tell you, 
this generation will not pass away
until all these things have taken place.

Heaven and earth will pass away,
but my words will not pass away.


 

Shema-ish: Mark 12:28-13:2

Day 31
Wednesday,
March 21, 2018
“Shema-ish”
Mark 12:28 – 13:2

There’s a vernacular usage these days, where a person (usually younger than I am) adds “ish” to an affirmation, to qualify it – as it to say, ‘more or less’.

The shema is the ritual daily prayer of Jewish piety: Hear O Israel… So why does Jesus get it wrong, with 4 terms rather than 3 – and different from one gospel to the next? Then he adds the other Torah term from Leviticus: love your neighbour as yourself. This is straight rabbinic wisdom from those who created Torah while Christians were writing this testament.
 
A scribe sycophantically agrees and echoes back – prioritizing an praise and an ethical religion over a ritually correct one. Jesus gives him a passing grade – but others are scared off, afraid to ask questions. Was it so hard?  Apparently even a scribe is redeemable.

Next, without provocation this time, Mark says that Jesus taught in the temple, and declined to subordinate the Messiah to David. He argues that David called the messiah Lord. The crowd loves the reasoning…since David is tied to and claimed by the temple. On the other hand, David started his rule in the north, and only later claimed authority in the south – sound like Mark’s Jesus?

Now he’s warning you of religious leaders who walk around in fancy outfits, and get called fancy names in public, and get the best seats at worship and at feasts. He objects to their affluence, in the face of the poor widows who pay into the temple budget. He also objects to their long prayers. He promises them their condemnation in the end…

To reinforce the thing about poor people funding a rich organization, Mark tells the story of Jesus watching a widow donate her all, and others contributing more, but from their spare abundant wealth. The ‘widow’s mite’ means more.

Finally, today, a disciple marvels at the temple’s massive stone works – and Jesus says ‘not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.’ Sure enough, by 70AD, the Romans have razed the whole thing, leaving only the wailing wall for us to imagine the rest today. Was this Jesus’ prediction – or Mark’s realization?


He sat down opposite the treasury,
and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury.
Many rich people put in large sums.
A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, 
which are worth a penny.

Then he called his disciples and said to them,
‘Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more
than all those who are contributing to the treasury.
For all of them have contributed out of their abundance;
but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, 
all she had to live on.’

As he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him,
‘Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!’
Then Jesus asked him,
‘Do you see these great buildings?
Not one stone will be left here upon another; 
all will be thrown down.’


 

Disputations: Mark 12:13-27

Day 30
Tuesday,
March 20, 2018
“Disputations”
Mark 12:13-27

Next opponents up are a mix of Pharisees and Herodians. The former are a step removed from the temple, building the synagogue Judaism of Talmud and Torah for the diaspora. The latter are collaborators with Roman rule. It’s different opposition than temple defenders, but allied in interest in defence of the status quo.

Their challenge to trap Jesus is about taxes. They begin with flattery, then ask if we should pay taxes to the emperor of Rome. Their own answer is ‘yes’, given their partisanship. But they’d love to have a ‘wedge’ issue with his populist base who hate the Roman rule.

Jesus does another sidestep.  He asks for a coin, asks whose head is on it – then says give to Caesar what is Caesar’s – and to God the things that are God’s. How do you interpret that? Our tradition varies on whether God’s stuff is all spiritual, never material, or government must be legitimate – or even Christian – to claim a moral right to tax us.  We can hardly imagine a time before Christendom, nor have we reworked our moral reasoning for our post-Christendom times.

Next come the Sadducees to challenge, a crowd denying resurrection – a bit like our own secularists denying the metaphysics of heaven above, and deriding ‘The God Delusion’. They try to make fun of the vision of heaven, with a story of a woman seven times widowed by brothers, each in turn with a duty to marry their brother’s childless widow. In heaven, whose will she be? 

Jesus says they lack knowledge of scripture and of the power of God. He argues that resurrected, they are like angels, neither married nor marrying. Then he cites the burning bush from Torah, that God is God of the living. We don’t really get the rabbinic logic – and resist the loss of human identity in this version of resurrection – how do you imagine the population of the hereafter? 

Critics: Mark 11:27-12:12

Day 29
Monday,
March 19, 2018
“Critics”
Mark 11:27 – 12:12

Mark seems to frame this as Jesus parked with hosts in Bethphage, and commuting into Jerusalem. Each day, as he gets to ‘the office’ or the temple, religious leaders challenge him. By what authority is he acting? Says who? 

Jesus doesn’t answer, according to Mark – but asks them to commit first: was the baptism of John of divine or human origin? They know John was popularly recognized – and that John was killed, by Herod. It’s a no-win question – so they wimp out, permitting Jesus reciprocal relief and de-escalation of their conflict.

Here comes another long parable, about the wicked tenants in a vineyard. The tenants get a well-established vineyard, but refuse to pay rent to slave delegates sent by the landlord, so he sends his son to get respect. Instead they see the heir, want to steal the whole ownership, so they kill the son.
 
This is a pretty clear analogy to the prophets sent by God to ask that people hold up their end of the covenant. Finally, even the son of God is rejected. If this is an allegory, the religious are the rebellious tenants.  However, if it’s a mashal, perhaps it provokes wider talk of what’s fair: absentee Roman rulers demanding tribute?

What will the landlord do? Destroy the tenants, not the vineyard. The vineyard can be leased to a new people. There’s a bad tradition of reading this as the evil Jews replaced by a new people, Christians, us superseding them, as their divine punishment. Who is next proven evil, having forgotten our submissive role?  Muslims replacing Christians, or Ba’hai rising above us all?  What would God do?  What would Caesar do?  Are you sure?

Aphorism: “the stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is amazing in our eyes…”  The saying is tied to the story – but I think it belongs on a separate ‘post-it note’ source bit.

The religious authorities take all this, appropriately, as a shot against them. Given their complicity with Herodians,  as elites supporting the status quo, they don’t like either of my readings above.  They want to arrest him, but fear the populist crowd – so far – and go away. 


Again they came to Jerusalem.
As he was walking in the temple,
 the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders
came to him and said,
 ‘By what authority are you doing these things? 
Who gave you this authority to do them?’

 Jesus said to them,
 ‘I will ask you one question; 
answer me, and I will tell you
by what authority I do these things. 

Did the baptism of John come from heaven, 
or was it of human origin? Answer me.’

They argued with one another,
‘If we say, “From heaven”, 
he will say, 
“Why then did you not believe him?” 

But shall we say, “Of human origin”?’—
they were afraid of the crowd,
 for all regarded John as truly a prophet. 

So they answered Jesus,
 ‘We do not know.’ 

And Jesus said to them, 
‘Neither will I tell you
by what authority I am doing these things.’

Then he began to speak to them in parables.
‘A man planted a vineyard, put a fence around it,
dug a pit for the wine press, and built a watch-tower;
then he leased it to tenants and went to another country.
When the season came, he sent a slave to the tenants
to collect from them his share of the produce of the vineyard.

But they seized him, and beat him, 
and sent him away empty-handed.
And again he sent another slave to them;
this one they beat over the head and insulted.

Then he sent another, and that one they killed.

And so it was with many others;
some they beat, and others they killed.

He had still one other, a beloved son. 
Finally he sent him to them, saying,
“They will respect my son.” 

But those tenants said to one another,
“This is the heir; come, let us kill him, 
and the inheritance will be ours.”
So they seized him, killed him, 
and threw him out of the vineyard.

What then will the owner of the vineyard do?
He will come and destroy the tenants
and give the vineyard to others.

Have you not read this scripture:
“The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;
this was the Lord’s doing,
 and it is amazing in our eyes”?’

When they realized that he had told this parable against them,
they wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowd
So they left him and went away.


 

Challenge Talk: Mark 11:12-25

Day 28
Saturday,
March 17, 2018
“Challenging Teaching”
Mark 11:12-25

OK – it’s the commute into the city in the morning. You know what mood you’re in, coming from home to work. He’s hungry. You get it. There are some meetings ahead that don’t appeal much. You’ve been there. He sees a fig tree – a snack place. Nothing! He curses it – never again! This is another Markan sandwich – we will cut to the temple now, but will be back to the fig tree before today is over.

The testy mood of Jesus on this day continues – driving the money-changers out of the temple – defending the ritual purity of the temple, just when we began to read him as anti-kosher. What’s he mad about? Low blood sugar? They’ve made the temple a den of robbers – 

OK, now it’s clearer why the religious leaders will be mad at him – he likes the church, but not the staff. I know the feeling. You’ve heard the tune. They want to kill him – they are afraid of him. I hope that’s not a standard clergy response to critics – I hope it’s not mine. But people do listen…

And off we go like commuters, at the end of a day doing your business, Jesus and the disciples head back out to Bethany. The next morning, on the commute back into town, they pass yesterday’s fig tree – withered to roots. Peter says – hey, look, the snack bar you cursed is out of business!

Mark gives us Jesus saying that you can do anything with faith – apparently including curses in which you have faith. This power to call in air strikes from God is scary – remember the movie “Bruce Almighty”? Rent it, if you don’t.
 
If that bit scared you – ‘with great power comes great responsibility’ – then thank God for what Mark tacks on next: when you are praying, instead of calling in an airstrike with a curse, forgive. If you forgive, God may forgive you. God knows we need it! 


On the following day, 
when they came from Bethany,
 he was hungry.

Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf,
he went to see whether perhaps
he would find anything on it.

When he came to it, 
he found nothing but leaves,
for it was not the season for figs.

He said to it, 
‘May no one ever eat fruit from you again.’

And his disciples heard it.

Then they came to Jerusalem.

And he entered the temple
and began to drive out
those who were selling
and those who were buying
in the temple,
and he overturned the tables
 of the money-changers
and the seats
of those who sold doves;
and he would not allow anyone
 to carry anything through the temple.

He was teaching
 and saying,
 ‘Is it not written,
“My house shall be called
a house of prayer
for all the nations”?

But you have made it
 a den of robbers.’

And when the chief priests
and the scribes
heard it,
they kept looking
for a way to kill him;
 for they were afraid of him,
because the whole crowd
was spellbound by his teaching.

And when evening came, 
Jesus and his disciples
went out of the city.

In the morning as they passed by,
they saw the fig tree
withered away to its roots.

Then Peter remembered
and said to him,

‘Rabbi, look! 
The fig tree that you cursed
has withered.’

Jesus answered them,

 ‘Have faith in God.

Truly I tell you,
 if you say to this mountain,
“Be taken up
 and thrown into the sea”,
and if you do not doubt
 in your heart,
but believe
 that what you say
will come to pass, 
it will be done for you.

So I tell you, 
whatever you ask for in prayer,
believe that you have received it,
 and it will be yours.

‘Whenever you stand praying, 
forgive,
if you have anything
against anyone;
so that your Father in heaven
may also forgive you
 your trespasses.’
 

Blind Bart: Mark 10:46-11:11

Day 27
Friday,
March 16, 2018
“Blind Bart”
Mark 10:46 – 11:11

Don’t skip the proper nouns – place Jericho on a map. We’re nearly there, eh? Yesterday, the followers are dragging feet, hanging back, amazed and afraid. Today, the crowd has grown again, enough that a blind man can tell.

I like to voice ‘blind Bart’ as Bart Simpson – demanding, rude, in your face. Jesus gives him a reaction – he’s been named, as only demons and finally Peter at the Transfiguration have been able to name him. Bart Jumps up, and asks for vision – and Jesus says ‘you got it – it’s your faith that did it.’

This time, this guy, follows Jesus on the way, even though Jesus said ‘go’. This has not been the pattern – he’s not heading out to tell the secret – Jesus didn’t even tell him to keep the secret – the story is developing!

Closing the gap again: Bethpage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives. WE know about suburbs! We’re in the Jerusalem orbit, and the lads are being sent to town to get some transport. This is a sign, for those who know their prophets – not the need of a lazy man. Jesus already walked from Syria!

Jesus is getting prescient in detail now – go get this colt at this place – and when challenged, say that. Sure enough, it happens – and the challengers folds and lets them go with the colt. Here we go – Palm Sunday, a week early (the passion takes up more than a week’s worth of text, we need 2 weeks – other gospels have even longer passions – especially John’s speeches)

Many people are now naming Jesus and his messianic role – not just the demons, not just the beneficiaries, more than the disciples: the crowds.

Like many suburbanites, Jesus just drops into the city to look around at the temples – then returns to the bedroom commuter community, Bethpage, with the 12, not the crowds or mobs. 


They came to Jericho.

As he and his disciples
and a large crowd
were leaving Jericho,

Bartimaeus
son of Timaeus, 
a blind beggar,
 was sitting by the roadside.

When he heard
 that it was
 Jesus of Nazareth, 
he began to shout out
and say,

 ‘Jesus,
 Son of David,
 have mercy on me!’

Many sternly ordered him to be quiet,
 but he cried out even more loudly,

‘Son of David, 
have mercy on me!’

Jesus stood still and said,
 ‘Call him here.’

And they called the blind man, 
saying to him, 
‘Take heart;
 get up,
 he is calling you.’

So throwing off his cloak,
 he sprang up
and came to Jesus.

Then Jesus said to him, 
‘What do you want me to do for you?’

The blind man said to him,
 ‘My teacher, let me see again.’

Jesus said to him, 
‘Go; your faith has made you well.’

Immediately he regained his sight
and followed him on the way.

When they were approaching Jerusalem,
 at Bethphage and Bethany,
near the Mount of Olives, 
he sent two of his disciples
and said to them,

‘Go into the village ahead of you,
 and immediately as you enter it,
you will find tied there a colt
that has never been ridden;
untie it and bring it.

 If anyone says to you,
 “Why are you doing this?” 
just say this,
 “The Lord needs it
and will send it back here
immediately.” ’

They went away
and found a colt
 tied near a door,
 outside in the street.

As they were untying it, 
some of the bystanders said to them, ‘
What are you doing, untying the colt?’

They told them what Jesus had said; 
and they allowed them to take it. 

Then they brought the colt to Jesus
 and threw their cloaks on it; 
and he sat on it. 

Many people spread their cloaks on the road,
 and others spread leafy branches
 that they had cut in the fields. 

Then those who went ahead
 and those who followed
 were shouting,

‘Hosanna! 
Blessed is the one
who comes
 in the name of the Lord!

Blessed is the coming kingdom
of our ancestor David!

Hosanna in the highest heaven!’

Then he entered Jerusalem
and went into the temple; 
and when he had looked around
at everything, 
as it was already late,
 he went out to Bethany
with the twelve.


 

Last Leg: Mark 10:32-45

Day 26
Thursday,
March 15, 2018
“Last Leg to Jerusalem”
Mark 10:32-45

We’re closing in on the city and on the passion. Jesus leads, and the lads hang back and drag their feet. The next ranks were amazed. The back ranks were scared. Who, ‘marches off to Armageddon’?

Here’s another prediction, third and last, privately, to the 12, of the script for the passion. Compared to the first two, in chapters 8 and 9, it’s a bit more detailed. Jesus fingers the religious leaders for the betrayal, and Gentile power for assault and murder. There’s no attribution of who does the resurrecting – nor a ‘Messianic secret’.

So James and John, in the echoes of the prediction, ask a favour. ‘Godfather, please grant me this favour.’ It’s also an echo of the daughter of Herodias, and Herod offering here ‘whatever she wants, up to half his kingdom’. We’re wincing already, at the presumption. They just don’t get it – yet. Do we?

Jesus invites them to name their desire, and they put it on the table: right and left hand in glory – thus ‘right hand man’. Like John’s gospel, Mark redefines glory in the mouth of Jesus: drink the cup I drink, be baptized with the baptism I get. He’s going to drink the cup and be baptized by the baptism of humiliating death. 

No problem, they blithely, glibly say, ‘yes, we can’ (as Obama used to say). Wryly, ruefully, I think, Jesus says, yep, ‘yes, you will’. They too will suffer. Time enough for that. But the payoff is not his to deliver – it’s a given – is that predestinarian, or fatalistic, or saying God is in charge, and not Jesus?

The 10 get wind of the 2 ambitious brothers – and get mad at them. Jesus chastises all 12:  that’s how Gentiles lead – not so among us. Remember Monday’s stuff on ministers? Remember yesterday’s stuff on last and first? How dense can they be? How slow can we remain?

Need a role model on this sacrificial, self-giving thing? Look no further than this Jesus. Give as a ransom for many – must it be blood atonement, the great credit card in the sky? I don’t think so… self-giving hostage volunteer?  Perhaps just the kenosis of God restraining Godself to make room for us to respond –and Jesus’ passion simply re-presenting God’s own risk and results.


They were on the road,
 going up to Jerusalem,
and Jesus was walking ahead of them;
they were amazed, 
and those who followed were afraid.

He took the twelve aside again
and began to tell them
what was to happen to him, 
saying,

‘See, we are going up to Jerusalem,
and the Son of Man will be handed over
to the chief priests and the scribes,
and they will condemn him to death;
then they will hand him over
to the Gentiles;
they will mock him, 
and spit upon him, 
and flog him, 
and kill him;
and after three days
he will rise again.’

James and John, 
the sons of Zebedee,
came forward to him
and said to him,

‘Teacher,
 we want you to do for us
whatever we ask of you.’

And he said to them,
 ‘What is it you want me to do for you?’

And they said to him, 
‘Grant us to sit,
 one at your right hand
and one at your left,
in your glory.’

But Jesus said to them, 

‘You do not know what you are asking.

Are you able to drink the cup that I drink,

or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?’

They replied,
 ‘We are able.’

Then Jesus said to them,
 ‘The cup that I drink you will drink;
and with the baptism with which I am baptized, 
you will be baptized;
but to sit at my right hand or at my left
 is not mine to grant,
but it is for those
for whom it has been prepared.’

When the ten heard this, 
they began to be angry
 with James and John.

So Jesus called them
and said to them,
You know that among the Gentiles
those whom they recognize as their rulers
lord it over them, 
and their great ones
are tyrants over them.

But it is not so among you;
 but whoever wishes to become great
among you
 must be your servant,
 and whoever wishes to be first
among you
must be slave of all.

For the Son of Man came
not to be served
 but to serve,
and to give his life
 a ransom for many.’


 

Responsive: Mark 10:17-31

Day 25
Wednesday,
March 14, 2018
“Responsive”
Mark 10:17-31

Jesus is traveling in Judea now, no longer Galilee.  A recruit asks ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ It’s connected with Monday’s threat and Tuesday’s hope.
 
Jesus distinguishes himself from God: ‘only God is good’. So much for a Jesus without sin, or a ‘high Christology’ where Jesus knows he is really God, like John’s Jesus.

Can you list the 10 commandments, let alone claim to follow them? Jesus cites numbers 6-10, then number 5. He cites the second tablet, not the first – and then the hinge. Remember, Mark has no Christmas story, and starts with guys abandoning their parents to follow, and Jesus denying his family!

Anyhow, the lad says he follows all those commandments – so Jesus says give up all your stuff in this world, for treasure in heaven. The guy is shocked, and goes grieving. Grief for what he will give up? Grief that he can’t comply, so will be denied admission to heaven? Can’t we be good and affluent? Not today, according to Mark.

To follow up, sounding almost like Luke’s gospel, Mark gives us the moral of the ‘camel through the eye of a needle’, then the figure itself. You really get warned about trying to get from here to there with all your stuff.
 
So who can be saved? We all got stuff – our generation in this place, lots. Bottom line – you can’t save yourself – but God might….

Peter tries to self-justify, claiming to have given up everything. Jesus counters that anything and anybody you give up for Jesus and the gospel, will get a hundredfold now in this age – including persecution – and oh yeah eternal life. Not much altruism if the bet is that safe, the payoff guaranteed now and later. It’s ‘Pascal’s wager.’

Another aphorism to end the day: 
many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.


As he was setting out on a journey,
a man ran up and knelt before him, 
and asked him,
‘Good Teacher, 
what must I do to inherit eternal life?’

Jesus said to him,
‘Why do you call me good? 
No one is good but God alone.

You know the commandments:
You shall not murder; 
You shall not commit adultery;
You shall not steal; 
You shall not bear false witness;
You shall not defraud; 
Honour your father and mother.”

He said to him,
 ‘Teacher, 
I have kept all these since my youth.’

Jesus, looking at him, 
loved him
and said,
‘You lack one thing; 
go, sell what you own, 
and give the money to the poor,
and you will have treasure in heaven; 
then come, follow me.’

When he heard this,
 he was shocked
and went away grieving,
for he had many possessions.

Then Jesus looked around
and said to his disciples,
‘How hard it will be
for those who have wealth
 to enter the kingdom of God!’

And the disciples were perplexed
at these words.

But Jesus said to them again,
‘Children, 
how hard it is to enter
the kingdom of God!

It is easier for a camel
to go through the eye of a needle
than for someone who is rich
 to enter the kingdom of God.’

They were greatly astounded
and said to one another, ‘
Then who can be saved?’

Jesus looked at them
and said,
‘For mortals it is impossible,
 but not for God; 
for God all things are possible.’

Peter began to say to him,
 ‘Look, we have left everything
and followed you.’

Jesus said,
 ‘Truly I tell you,
 there is no one who has left house
or brothers or sisters
or mother or father
or children
or fields,
for my sake
 and for the sake of the good news,
who will not receive a hundredfold
now in this age
—houses, brothers and sisters, 
mothers and children, and fields, 
with persecutions—
and in the age to come
eternal life.

But many who are first will be last, 
and the last will be first.’


 

Duty to Little Ones: Mark 10:1-16

Day 24
Tuesday,
March 13, 2018
“Duty to Little Ones”
Mark 9:24-37

If Jesus was out in the 705, 905, 519, today the itinerary heads into the 416, the heartland, centres of power including the capital and the temple. The push-back to the buddies ‘from Nazareth in Galilee’ is like ours ‘from Cornerbrook in Newfoundland’, ‘Goin’ Down the Road’

Pharisees try him on divorce: Moses let a man divorce a wife. Jesus won’t make it a good thing, but a concession to hard-hearted humans. The aspiration is cited as Genesis – centuries of marital pain has followed, given the realities of human relationships.

The argument continues, with Talmudic rabbinic reasoning from Torah. Nobody would take one rabbi’s word as definitive, including Jesus’ – but his take would be balanced with others’, like Hillel balanced with Shammai, typifying soft or hard line interpreters.

In the company of his disciples, Jesus (according to Mark) ups the ante, by saying that serial monogamy, so common amongst us, is adultery.  More significant his analysis applies equally to women and to men trying to shed their socio-economic burdens.

What’s your take on divorce? Why are others stricter against it, or more lenient toward it, than you are?

People are bringing children, and just like yesterday, we read it with a Victorian sentimentality. What did it mean to recognize and resist children, who were brought to be touched by the holy man?

The disciples are ‘stern’ and Jesus is ‘indignant’. What’s driving the emotion in this story? The social codes and mores may not be ours. Something, however, about the humility of being like a child is being affirmed…

After yesterday’s threats of hell to those who mess with others’ salvation, he’s more encouraging about one’s own childlike or childish progress in the faith. Who’s the 'he': Jesus or Mark?

He left that place
and went to the region of Judea
and beyond the Jordan.

And crowds again gathered around him; 
and, as was his custom,
he again taught them.

Some Pharisees came, 
and to test him they asked,
‘Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?’

He answered them,
‘What did Moses command you?’

They said,
‘Moses allowed a man
to write a certificate of dismissal
and to divorce her.’

But Jesus said to them,
‘Because of your hardness of heart
he wrote this commandment for you.

But from the beginning of creation,
 “God made them male and female.”
“For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother
and be joined to his wife, 
and the two shall become one flesh.”

So they are no longer two, but one flesh.
Therefore what God has joined together, 
let no one separate.’

Then in the house the disciples a
sked him again about this matter.

He said to them, 
‘Whoever divorces his wife and marries another
commits adultery against her;
and if she divorces her husband and marries another,
she commits adultery.’

People were bringing little children to him
 in order that he might touch them;
and the disciples spoke sternly to them.

But when Jesus saw this, 
he was indignant
and said to them,
‘Let the little children come to me; 
do not stop them;
for it is to such as these
that the kingdom of God belongs.

Truly I tell you, 
whoever does not receive the kingdom of God
as a little child
will never enter it.’

And he took them up in his arms,
 laid his hands on them, 
and blessed them.
 

Stumbling On: Mark 9:30-49

Day 23
Monday,
March 12, 2018
“Stumbling On”
Mark 9:30-49

Now the ‘Messianic Secret” seems to be justified by the predictions – he knows he will be betrayed and killed – and 3 days later will rise. So says Mark, now – but do you think Jesus really said that to the disciples, or later, folks put those words in his mouth? Whatever he said, they didn’t get it… or tell others… till later.

There’s another riff of the stupid disciples, quibbling about which of them is top in the pecking order.  Jesus seems critical of such climbing – but isn’t he the one that took 12 out of the crowd, and took 3 up to the transfiguration? What does it mean to be called or set apart – to be set above?

It’s a great pair of aphorisms:
• Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all… that’s where we got the word ‘ministers’ from… at last among the disciples, we aspire to a servant leadership
• Whoever welcomes on such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me… is this really Victorian sentimentality about children?

From one misconstruction to another – John is stopping other exorcists who claim to act in Jesus’ name – since they would not subordinate themselves to the 12 disciples. From the beginning, we’d rather be in charge than make alliances with other friends of Jesus.

Jesus’ strategy, at least according to Mark, is to let it go – since the others, once claiming his name, can’t easily speak evil of him. Another pair of aphorisms are tacked on, in Mark’s arrangement:
• Whoever is not against us is for us
• Whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward…

Resisting alliances is bad, but putting stumbling blocks before the little ones who believe is worse.  Cut off the parts of you that offend, lest you go to hell – some kind of ‘gentle Jesus’, eh? This sounds like a set of threats to me  - at least to our competitive individualism.

Salt – with fire… Salt, without saltiness… salt, in you, peace among you…  So is salt good?  Is this just faith as a bit of enhancement to the flavour of life?  In this context, it suggests something closer to curing food with salt, transforming it, than sprinkling a bit later:

They went on from there
and passed through Galilee.
 
He did not want anyone to know it; 
for he was teaching his disciples, 
saying to them,

‘The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands,
and they will kill him, 
and three days after being killed, 
he will rise again.’

But they did not understand
 what he was saying
and were afraid to ask him.

Then they came to Capernaum; 
and when he was in the house he asked them, ‘
What were you arguing about on the way?’ 

But they were silent, 
for on the way
they had argued with one another
about who was the greatest. 

He sat down, 
called the twelve, 
and said to them, 
‘Whoever wants to be first
must be last of all
and servant of all.’ 

Then he took a little child
and put it among them; 
and taking it in his arms, 
he said to them, 

‘Whoever welcomes
one such child
in my name
 welcomes me,
 and whoever welcomes me
welcomes not me
but the one who sent me.’

John said to him,

‘Teacher, 
we saw someone
casting out demons
 in your name,
and we tried to stop him, 
because he was not following us.’

But Jesus said,

‘Do not stop him; 
for no one who does a deed of power
in my name
will be able soon afterwards
to speak evil of me. 

Whoever is not against us is for us. 

For truly I tell you,
 whoever gives you a cup of water to drink
 because you bear the name of Christ
 will by no means lose the reward.

If any of you put a stumbling-block
before one of these little ones
who believe in me, 
it would be better for you
 if a great millstone were hung around your neck
and you were thrown into the sea. 

If your hand causes you to stumble, 
cut it off; 
it is better for you to enter life maimed
than to have two hands
and to go to hell, 
to the unquenchable fire. 

And if your foot causes you to stumble, 
cut it off; 
it is better for you to enter life lame
 than to have two feet
and to be thrown into hell., 

And if your eye causes you to stumble,
 tear it out; 
it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye
than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell, 
where their worm never dies, 
and the fire is never quenched.

For everyone will be salted with fire. 

Salt is good; 
but if salt has lost its saltiness, 
how can you season it? 

Have salt in yourselves,
 and be at peace with one another.’

Healing: Mark 9:17-29

Day 22
Saturday,
March 10, 2018
“Healing”
Mark 9:17-29

Somebody from the crowd tells Jesus his problem: a possessed son, and the disciples failed to exorcize him while Jesus was off up the mountain with the 3 disciples who start the team line-up. 

Jesus snarls at the ‘faithless generation’ – how long do I have to put up with it? What a grumpy guy, this Jesus of Mark’s gospel!  He is mad at everybody, not just the disciples now – nobody gets it, this collision of God’s world and our world – the latter world looking bad.

The spirit responds to Jesus, by throwing the possessed boy onto the ground in a fit. Jesus asks if this is new – the father says it’s not just in reaction to Jesus, but is a lifelong chronic pattern – the spirit is always casting him into fire and water, into pain.

‘If you can do anything’ – Jesus snaps ‘IF?’ – if I can do it? How about if you believe it? The father stops blaming and confesses: ‘I believe, help my unbelief!’

So Jesus calls out the spirit – and calls it out and sends it off – and what’s left of the boy looks dead to folks. But Jesus lifts up the weak invalid, who can then stand…

Pause, and compare the story to others in the first half gospel.  This one can’t hear or speak – but it is an exorcism, not a healing with Jesus’ spit.  This father is not as confident in Jesus as was Jairus about his daughter – but this kid too looked dead when Jesus acted.  Is our disposition a matter of cognitive belief, or of trust, or is it (remember?)  ex opera operata?

Cut away, in ‘the movie between your ears’ to a private tutorial with the disciples, away from the crowd. Like the interpretation of the parables, the disciples want a ‘Coles Notes’ explanation of how they had failed and how Jesus succeeded. 

‘This kind can come out only through prayer’… Is this addressing the 12 in real Jesus time – or the early church or Mark’s church – and us? Are our exorcism skills and results a bit wanting? How are we failing? Do we pray? How, for what? Again, we hear that he taught, but not what or how. Now what, for us?

Someone from the crowd answered him,
‘Teacher, I brought you my son; 
he has a spirit that makes him unable to speak;
and whenever it seizes him, it dashes him down;
and he foams and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid;
and I asked your disciples to cast it out,
but they could not do so.’

He answered them, 
‘You faithless generation,
 how much longer must I be among you?
How much longer must I put up with you?
Bring him to me.’

And they brought the boy to him.
When the spirit saw him,
 immediately it threw the boy into convulsions,
and he fell on the ground and rolled about,
 foaming at the mouth.

Jesus asked the father,
 ‘How long has this been happening to him?’

And he said,
 ‘From childhood.
It has often cast him
 into the fire
 and into the water, 
to destroy him;
but if you are able to do anything, 
have pity on us and help us.’

Jesus said to him,
 ‘If you are able!—
All things can be done
for the one who believes.’

Immediately
the father of the child cried out,
‘I believe; 
help my unbelief!’

When Jesus saw
that a crowd came running together,
he rebuked the unclean spirit,
 saying to it,

‘You spirit
that keep this boy
 from speaking and hearing,
I command you,
 come out of him, 
and never enter him again!’

After crying out
and convulsing him terribly,
 it came out,
and the boy was like a corpse, 
so that most of them said,
 ‘He is dead.’

But Jesus took him by the hand
 and lifted him up, 
and he was able to stand.

When he had entered the house, 
his disciples asked him privately,
‘Why could we not cast it out?’

He said to them,
 ‘This kind can come out only through prayer.’