GOSPEL ACCORDING TO MARK
GOOD NEWS: LONE CRUSADER COMES FROM NAZARETH.
Commentary by Philip G. Roets STL SSL
MARK: A CURIOUS TEENAGER!
APOLOGIA” (Greek word for “reason/explanation”).
These notes on the gospel according to Mark start with a reference to a teenage boy who was present at the arrest of Jesus. The story is told only in Mark’s account of this arrest. Jesus was in the Garden with the eleven. Judas had come, leading the men who were to arrest Jesus. The eleven took off running out of fear. The teenage boy was in the approaching crowd. He was wearing only a linen cloth. They tried to grab hold of him for some reason but he took off and they kept his linen cloth. (Mk. 14:50-52)
No name is given to this boy. None of the other gospel writers makes mention of the incident. Many think it was Mark himself. I agree with this view. It fits the picture of what we are told about Mark later on.
Mark was a curious teenage boy. He was willing to take on big assignments, but when these same tasks demanded a lot of work he did not hesitate to leave. This happened when he went on the first missionary journey with Paul. About half way through the trip, the conditions were a little more than he had bargained for and Mark took off for home.
Mark was a cousin of Barnabas, the tall ever-constant companion of Paul. Mark showed up to go with them on the second trip. Paul said “Absolutely not! Mark didn’t complete the first trip. He will not go on the second trip!”
Barnabas was more understanding and forgiving. He pleaded for Mark. Paul said if Barnabas wanted Mark as a companion, he should take him. Paul took Luke, instead, and the two groups separated. (Acts 13: 13; 15:36-40).
Later, Mark became the companion of Peter and told the Gospel story as he heard it preached by the Peter, Prince of the Apostles. Peter was talking primarily to the Christians in Rome and its environs. The Gospel according to Mark was written in its present form before the others and may have been in existence before the death of Peter and Paul in 67 A.D.
We have another early writing called The “Didache ton Apostolon,” the “Teaching of the Apostles.” This, too, was a very short writing and was much like the “Kerygma” or “proclamation” that the new converts were to accept before they could be baptized. The “Apostles’ Creed” that most of us memorized as little children, is a summary of the teachings of the Didache. Mark’s gospel is much like this document.
“Be ready always to answer (APOLOGIA) those who ask you for the reason for the hope that is in you.” 1 PETER 3:15.
INTRODUCTION TO MARK. Mark 1:1-13.
TWO MEN, BENT ON CHANGING THE WORLD, MEET IN DESERT!
Mark tells us nothing about the origins of Jesus. He starts right off with the scene of John the Baptist at work, and Jesus coming to him at the Jordan River. For Mark, the Good News begins with Second Isaiah, the prophet at the time of Cyrus, King of the Persians, who was about to let all captives go back to their native lands. The people would still be captives, but they would be more productive in their own lands.
FORERUNNER: “METANOIA” - Greek word for “change of outlook/intention.”
The description is applied to John the Baptist. He “is the summation of the prophets” who were preparing for the coming of the Messiah. He is crying out to one and all about the need to prepare the way into their hearts by penitence, penance, and a complete change of outlook and intention. This was the “metanoia” that John Baptist stressed and the dispositions that would make the people ready to accept the Messiah and his teachings.
“HOLY BREATH” : 2nd CREATION.
John was immersing the people in the waters of the Jordan to signify their readiness to change. Jesus was to immerse the people in the “Holy Breath,” the breath of “cooperation and harmony.” Jesus comes and is baptized by John and as he came out of the water, the heavens opened. The Breath, like a dove, descended on him, and a voice said, “You are my Son, the Beloved. My favor rests upon you.”
This is the NEW CREATION. We have the NEW ADAM who received the new creative breath. The symbol is the dove, sign of peace, as it was after the flood waters subsided, and Noah could prepare to leave the Ark. (Gen. 9-11).
“FORTY DAYS IN DESERT” : TESTED.
This creative breath drives Jesus out into the wilderness to stay for forty days and be tested by the adversary. He was surrounded by wild beasts and the angels took care of him. The parallel between the stay of the Israelites in the desert and Jesus in the desert is obvious.
Mark dives right into the middle of the life of Jesus. He presupposes that the people either had a good picture of the Old Testament story or that it was not essential to understanding the picture of the New Covenant and the Messiah, Jesus.
CANVASSING GALILEE. Mark 1:14-7:23.
OPENING SALVO. ABOUT FACE AND BELIEVE. “BASILEIA” - Kingship.
HERALD PROCLAIMS: KINGDOM IS HERE. Mark 1:14-15.
Mark presents the preaching style of Jesus as that of the herald who proclaims his message so that all may hear. The basic message is that the kingship (basileia) of God has arrived. Everyone is to effect a complete change of outlook (metanoia) and accept the Good News fully. Know the reason you believe and be ready to express it (apologia).
FIRST HELPERS CHOSEN. Mark 1:15-20.
The first four men chosen are all fishermen from the Lake of Galilee. They are two sets of brothers: Simon and his brother, Andrew; James and his brother, John - the Zebedee boys. Mark seems to indicate that Mr. Zebedee had a fleet of boats and fishermen to go with them, and he was the boss.
Additional information: All these chosen men were young - probably in their early twenties. Don't make them old men as much of art does. John was a young teenager, about age thirteen. The Greek word “Neaniskos,” teenager, is used to describe him.
NEXT STOP: CAPERNAUM. Mark 1:21-34.
Mark stresses that Jesus taught as a person who knew what he was talking about, and expected people to accept his authority. He backs up his teaching by curing a man who had seizures. The people were really impressed. Jesus did not just talk. He got things accomplished.
HOSTESS CURED, THEN SERVES GUESTS. Mark 1:29-31.
All five went directly to Simon’s house. His mother-in-law had taken to her bed with a fever. Jesus walked over, took her by the hand and the fever left her. She got up and became their hostess in her home.
WHOLE TOWN TURNS OUT. Mark 1:32-34.
Once the people saw what Jesus had done, they came flocking to him with all their sick. Jesus cured them but told all of them not to spread the word. He did not expect them to pay any attention to this command, but he also did not want to give a false notion of the role of Messiah. The people were expecting a magician who would overthrow the Roman authority and restore self-rule to Israel. Jesus did not want to foster this idea.
LEAVE CAPERNAUM; TRAVEL GALILEE. Mark 1:35-39.
Early in the morning, Jesus went into the uninhabited area, alone, to pray and think carefully on his plans. Simon and the other three went looking for him. When they found him, they told him everybody was looking for him. Jesus said, “Let’s go to other areas so that I can preach there too. That is why I came.” He went through Galilee, cured people and taught in their synagogues.
LEPER CURED. Mark 1:40-45.
Jesus cured a leper, told him to go show himself to the priests and then keep quiet. The man, however, went around telling everyone so that Jesus could not go openly into any town. He had to stay outside the towns and even then the people found him and flocked to him.
PARALYTIC CURED. Mark 2:1-12. “SINS ARE FORGIVEN.”
Jesus was in a house talking to the crowd. Some men had a paralyzed friend, a young man, and they wanted him cured. They couldn't carry him through the crowd so they went up on the roof of the building. They removed the cover of loosely woven stones and lowered the paralytic to the feet of Jesus. When he saw their faith, Jesus said, “Young man, your sins are forgiven.” The scribes sitting there were shaken by these words of seeming blasphemy. Jesus was claiming a power that belonged to God alone. But they said nothing out loud.
Jesus read their thinking and said, “Which is easier to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven’, or to say, ‘Arise and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has the power on earth to forgive sins, (here he turned to the paralyzed young man and) I say: ‘Young man, get up, roll up your bedding, and go home.’ The young man as told, and the crowd was surprised.
TAX COLLECTOR ACCEPTS INVITATION TO FOLLOW JESUS.
Mark. 2: 13-14.
Jesus was on the shore of the Lake of Galilee. The people came to him and he taught them. As he was walking along, he saw a tax collector, named Levi. He was at his work in the customs house. Jesus said to him, “Follow me.” Levi got up, left everything and followed Jesus.
This story is told the same way in Matthew and Luke. The man called Levi is the same as Matthew. It was quite common for men in public life to have both a Jewish name and a Greek name. This was especially true of men who worked for the Gentiles, such as a tax collector.
Tax collectors were a despised lot as far as the Jews were concerned. They collected the money from the Jews for the Romans. Their wages were a percentage of the money collected. The Romans did not really care how much the collector took in as long as they received their assigned amount.
WHO IS AT TABLE WITH JESUS. Mark. 2:15-17.
All the gospel writers state clearly and often that the sinners and the tax collectors were a big portion of the following of Jesus. Naturally, they invited him to eat with them and Jesus always accepted.
PHARISEES TOO GOOD FOR CROWD.
The Pharisees considered themselves above such a crowd and would have nothing to do with them. They were careful not even to brush against these people in public. They looked upon them as a contamination.
The Pharisees are impressed by the content and style of Jesus’ teaching. There is no doubt they would have liked it if he had been one of their group. This was true in the beginning when they saw how popular he was. Later, as they heard Jesus publicly condemn their conduct, they were glad he did not belong to their crowd and they wanted to see him put down.
Now, following a coward’s manner of acting, they complain to the apostles rather than directly to Jesus. Jesus answers. He says that he has come to call the people who need salvation, the sinners. The Pharisees claim they are just or holy so they don’t need Jesus. This was irony or sarcasm at its worst and the Pharisees felt this worse than a simple rebuke.
WHY DOESN'T THE CRUSADER FAST? Mark. 2:18-22.
Fasting was an important action in the thinking of the Pharisees. They preached it to everyone. Many of the Jews followed their advice. Jesus did not say a word about it to his apostles and they did not observe the fasts.
REAL CHANGE - NOT RITUAL ACTS.
It was not because Jesus did not respect doing voluntary penance. However, he says explicitly, he wants a real change of conduct rather than some ritual practices that have no meaning in themselves.
WEDDING FEAST: TIME OF JOY.
Jesus takes three simple comparisons to emphasize his point. A wedding feast lasted for a full week or eight days. People who were invited were assured of food, drink, clothing, and lodging for the entire time. Naturally, they did not think of fasting at such a time and under such circumstances.
Secondly, Jesus says a person does not patch an old cloak with a new cloth. The new cloth will be too strong for the worn cloth. It will pull away from the old cloth and the tear will be larger than before.
NEW WINE IN NEW WINESKINS.
Finally, Jesus says they never put new wine in old wine skins. The bottles used at that time were mostly made of the innards of butchered animals or from fresh animal skins. The new wine was put in these containers and, as it worked and expanded and contracted, the skins did the same. Finally, the wine was seasoned and the wineskin bottles became hardened leather. If they put new wine into these hardened bottles, the process of working and maturing would break the bottles and all would be lost.
The application of these figures of speech is so clear that Mark did not bother making it. The teaching of Jesus is so different from that which was currently propagated. He did not join with any of the official teachers. Jesus started his teaching from scratch and relied solely on his own authority to get it accepted.
RIDICULOUS REGULATIONS. Mark 2:21-28.
The Sabbath had become the symbol of the Jewish way of life by the time of Jesus. When the Sabbath came, everything was closed and absolutely no work was allowed. The Jews were even told the exact number of steps they could take on the Sabbath. They had to prepare all their food the day before because they could not prepare it on the Sabbath. Many of the observances prescribed by the Pharisees were utterly ridiculous.
The Pharisees always called on the Torah as the source of their authority. This, of course, stopped any ordinary person from objecting. Jesus now takes the very Torah itself, and tells how David and his men broke the Law publicly because they were hungry. This was such a great deed that it was recorded for posterity.
SABBATH FOR MAN; NOT MAN FOR SABBATH.
Then Jesus drew his conclusion. First he emphasized that Sabbath rest was made for the good of man, not man for the good of the Sabbath. Secondly, Jesus claimed an authority greater than the whole Torah. He said he was master - even of the Sabbath.
The action in question was the picking of a handful of grain as they walked on the paths through the wheat field. This was perfectly licit. The objection was that they rubbed the grain in their hands to remove the hulls before they put the kernels into their mouths. This rubbing was a work forbidden on the Sabbath.
WITHERED HAND CURED. Mark 3:1-6.
It was the Sabbath again. Jesus went into the synagogue and there was a man with a hand withered by paralysis. The Pharisees were watching very carefully. They wanted to see if Jesus would heal the man on the Sabbath. Jesus brings the issue right out into the open. He has the man stand in the center of the crowd. Jesus asks, “Is it against the Sabbath observance to do good or to do evil on the Sabbath, to save a life or to kill?”
The Pharisees realized the tables were turned, so they said nothing. Jesus despised their cowardice and was very angry. He said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” When the man stretched out his hand, it was healed. The Pharisees left the crowd immediately and began to plot with the Herodians on how to destroy Jesus. This alliance and plotting was necessary because the Jews could physically harm Jesus only if Herod approved and got the approval of Roman authority.
CROWDS PUSH AND SHOVE. Mark 3:7-12.
Mark tells how the people came flocking from every direction. Everyone had someone who was sick or needed help. They tried to get as close to Jesus as possible. So Jesus had the apostles get a boat ready. He got into the boat, went out a short way from shore, and taught the people from the boat. At the same time, Jesus constantly told those who were cured not to talk about the miracle. He knew they would talk but he did not want to foster the shallow idea of the Messiah and his work. The people expected such a magician.
TWELVE APOSTLES. Mark 3: 13-19.
Jesus went into the hills with a handpicked group. He appointed the twelve as his special ambassadors to preach and to cast out devils. Then Mark listed these twelve by name. Both of Simon's name were given, but no explanation. John and James were called the "Boanerges" or “Sons of Thunder” because of their fiery dispositions. Judas Iscariot was always given the pejorative title of the “one who would betray him.” Ages of these men were late teens or early 20's.
RELATIVES FEAR CRUSADER UNSTABLE. Mark 3:20-21.
Jesus went back to his home country. The crowd was so great that Jesus did not have time to eat. His relatives were convinced that all this preaching and flattery had gone to his head. They knew the Jewish officials were opposed to him. Now they were afraid the Romans would come after him, and his whole family would be in trouble. So they tried to take him in tow, but failed.
SCRIBES SQUELCHED BY CRUSADER. Mark 3:22-27.
The Scribes get into the act. They accuse Jesus of being possessed by the prince of devils and all his power is a manifestation of Satan. Jesus merely makes them look foolish in front of the crowd. Jesus says: “If Satan is casting out Satan, then the whole kingdom is divided against itself and a divided household or kingdom can never stand.” The conclusion was obvious: YOUR ACCUSATIONS ARE STUPID!
THE UNFORGIVABLE CRIME. Mark 3:28-30.
The crime that cannot be forgiven is the crime against the Holy Breath - the breath that gives the community its life. These Scribes, by claiming that Jesus works by “an unclean breath,” were attacking the very heart or foundation of the community. There is no forgiveness for such destructive conduct.
THE FAMILY OF THE CRUSADER. Mark 3:31-35.
Jesus was in the midst of a large crowd. Word was passed up to him that his mother and his family were there looking for him. Jesus says, “This work is far more important than family ties.” He is not disputing his love for his family. It is just that his primary obligation, as an adult, is to follow his sense of responsibility and do the work that is before him. Jesus knows that his mother, if she were there, would understand what he was saying.
GOOD NEWS: LONE CRUSADER FROM NAZARETH:
STORIES DESCRIBE NEW KINGDOM. Mark 4: 1-34.
Mark gives us a short version of the parables on the Kingdom of God. The teaching or application is the same. The first parable is the story about the farmer who went out to sow grain in his field. The apostles did not get the drift of what Jesus was saying. So, when they were alone with him, they asked for an explanation.
FARMER - SEED - WORD OF GOD - PEOPLE.
Jesus tells them he is describing the people who hear what he has to say. The listeners, because of their dispositions, are like the different kinds of soil in which the farmer plants the seed. The seed is the Word of God as it is being taught and explained by Jesus. Some people never even let the word get a hold in their lives. It is gone! Others see the word as something wonderful but then they run into the problems of daily life and they, too, turn their backs and left. Finally, with the people that do accept this teaching of Jesus, there are varied results. Some are shallow and they produce a small harvest. Some are a bit better and their harvest is bit greater. Some really accept and live by Jesus’ teaching and their results are great beyond compare.
Jesus reminds the twelve that they are getting special treatment and explanations. The reason is obvious. They are the foundation blocks on which the whole community must rest when Jesus is gone. The strength of the structure will be as solid as the foundations on which it rests.
Mark has the parable of the lamp, the parable of the degree of cooperation, and the parable of the mustard seed. He also adds a parable that is found nowhere else. It is called the story of the seed growing by itself or on its own. This story emphasizes the intrinsic power of the seed itself. The farmer tosses the seed into the ground. The seed sprouts, takes root, grows and produces fruit all on its own. The farmer can give a little help but the seed must have an intrinsic life of its own to do its work. Such is the intrinsic power of the Word of Jesus in any person who will let it take root and grow.
STRANGE COMMAND. CALM DOWN. Mark 4:35-41.
This is one of the most dramatic stories in the whole of Testament. Mark suggests that there were other boats with them in the crossing. Matthew and Luke seem to say they were alone in the one boat.
Jesus and the twelve are crossing the Sea of Galilee to get away from the crowds for a while. The Sea of Galilee is beautiful but it is noted for its sudden storms and gigantic waves. Jesus is really tired from his work, and is resting in the stern sound asleep. The apostles were fishermen on this lake all their lives and they knew what to expect. Yet, they are scared that they are about to sink. They awaken Jesus. He sits up. He smiles at their fears and then he says two words in the Greek: “Silence! Quiet down!”
The storm subsides immediately. Then Jesus seems to have lain down again and ignored the whole business. The apostles were amazed. They couldn't believe that the whole storm had disappeared - as he had ordered.
In telling this story, be sure to keep the words of Jesus at a minimum. His words are the ones used by a parent who is trying to get a rest and the children are scrapping with each other. Jesus woke up. He didn't give a Ciceronian oration. He simply said: “Hey! Quiet!” And there was total silence. That’s the way this story is told in Mark. The Sea of Galilee is rebuked like a naughty bothersome child.
WHAT WERE PIGS DOING THERE? Mark 5: 1-20.
This incident is reported in both Matthew and Luke but Mark gives some graphic details that the others omit. The place has three different spellings in the manuscripts: Gadara, Gerasa, and Gergesa. Which one is correct, no one knows. The spelling makes no difference. The place was on the eastern side of the lake where few people lived. The man in this story was living out in the hills alone and was definitely a “mad man.” The people tried to tie him up but they could not, even with chains. He broke his way out of all captivity.
When Jesus comes, the man runs right up to confront him. Jesus recognizes this for the work of the devil so he commands the devil to leave the man. Jesus asks the demon his name and he says it is “Legion” because there are thousands of them in this man. They beg Jesus not to send them back to their home, but to let them go into a herd of swine that was in the area. Mark says there were 2000 pigs in this herd.
Jesus allows them to go and the pigs run wild. They head right for the sea. The bank is 30 to 40 feet above the water. The pigs run pell-mell off the embankment, into the water and drown. The people of the town are told what happened. They plead with Jesus to get out of their town. They want nothing to do with him.
Remember, the Old Law forbade the use of pork as “unclean.” What was this herd of 2000 pigs doing right across the Sea of Galilee from the Jewish towns? No doubt it was a profitable “black market” trade and these people did not want to see their affluent living upset. They were not impressed by the power of Jesus but by the financial loss he meant to their way of life.
The possessed man was completely cured of his malady. Jesus sent him back to his home town as a missionary of his ideas.
Application to present day:
This story has many an application in the world of today. Lots of people will accept Jesus and his ideas as long as they don’t have to change their ways. These are the “Sunday Morning” Christians. They get dressed in good clothes and head for church for an hour or less. Then they are back to their own world the rest of the week. They build big church buildings and make large donations but they don't really want the principles or the ideals of Jesus to spread. Like the people in this incident, they ask Jesus to move out of their area.
THE DEAD AND THE UNCLEAN. Mark 5:21-43.
Now we have one incident in which there are two main characters. One is a lady who has been suffering from a flow of blood for twelve years. She has gone to doctor after doctor. They took her money but they could do her no good. The other is a twelve-year-old girl, the daughter of Jairus, an official of the synagogue. She was very sick at home. Jairus came to ask Jesus to visit the girl and cure her. This action meant he believed in Jesus and was going directly against the attitude of all the other officials.
Jesus is on the way to the house of Jairus surrounded by his disciples and a large crowd. The lady with the flow of blood decides that if she can just touch his cloak, she will be cured. So she pushes her way forward and touches the hem of Jesus’s cloak and immediately she is cured.
Jesus says, “Who touched me?” The apostles, probably Peter in particular, look at Jesus in amazement and say: “Hundreds of people are pushing against you from every side, and you ask, ‘Who touched me?’ Anybody could have touched you.” Jesus insisted, “Power went out from me. Who touched me?” The lady came forward and told what she had done. Jesus praised her for her faith and said “It is your faith that healed you.”
They get to the house of Jairus. The people have already told him that the daughter is dead and they have already begun to mourn. Jesus expels the whole lot of them from the room. He takes Peter, James, and John and the parents of the girl with him. They go into the room and close the door. Jesus walks over and takes the girl by the hand. She gets up and walks around - perfectly all right. Jesus says, “Get her something to eat! And don't tell anyone about this incident.”
HOME TOWN REJECTS CRUSADER! Mark 6:1-6.
Matthew and Luke also tell of this event but Mark’s account is the richest in detail. Jesus came to his home town. The people had all heard about the teaching and actions of Jesus. They knew how well he was accepted. But they did not accept him. In fact they belittled his background and family. They saw Jesus as a “nobody” who was trying to make a big splash. Jesus himself was amazed at how opposed they were. Because of this refusal to believe, Jesus COULD work NO miracle there. Note that Mark explicitly says Jesus “could not” use any of his power there. If real “faith” is missing, even Jesus is helpless.
ARE THE TWELVE TO BE PUPPETS? Mark 6:7-13.
Jesus wants the twelve to get some supervised teaching and preaching practice. So he sends them out to do the work and report back to him. Clearly, they are to work exactly as he did.
KING HEROD IN QUANDARY! Mark 6:14-29.
Herod was a Jew. He had been picked by Roman authorities to be the reigning King of the Jews. This meant that he had sold out any ideals that he had as a Jew. It meant that he had bribed his way into the pagan system with a lot of money. It meant, most of all, that he must not displease the Roman authorities in any way whatsoever. Otherwise he would be ousted from power and put to death.
Herod already had one serious problem. He had taken his brother’s wife, Herodias, and they were living publicly as husband and wife. John Baptist had rebuked him publicly and Herod was in a real quandary. He wanted to shut John up but he was afraid of the crowds who liked John. Herodias saw John as a real threat to her position so she insisted that Herod do something. Herod tossed John in prison.
Herod’s birthday came and he hosted a big party. He had guests from everywhere. In the middle of it, Salome, daughter of Herodias, came in to dance a provocative dance or display. Herod and all the guests were well into their drink and all were delighted with what they had seen. So Herod stood up and told Salome to ask for anything she wanted and he would grant it - even up to half of his kingdom. Salome was a bright girl. She went right to her mother and sought advice. The mother was a conniving woman. She said, “Get John the Baptist's head on a platter.”
Salome went back and made her request publicly. Herod was caught. He had made the promise publicly. He could not renege and so the order was given. John the Baptist's head was brought into the banquet hall. They gave it to Salome and she took it to her mother.
John the Baptist was the source of many a nightmare for Herod. Now he heard all the stories about Jesus’ teachings and actions. Everybody was trying to label Jesus. Herod believed Jesus was John whom he had beheaded and who had come back from the dead to haunt him.
CROWD FED IN DESERT. Mark 6:30-44, 8:1-10.
There are two accounts of this incident in the life of Jesus. The details are somewhat the same and yet different. Did Jesus perform this miracle twice, or was the story told so often that the details were gradually changed? There are opinions and reasons on both sides. I don't know the answer. I simply tell the stories, then show the application, and move on. The other details will have to wait until you can ask Jesus himself.
The main point of the story in both cases is that Jesus feels sorry for the people who have followed him such a distance. He can’t just send them home as they may faint or even die on the way. He has a responsibility for them. He gathers up the few loaves and fish that the apostles have with them. He looks up to heaven, gives them a special blessing, and then hands them to the twelve apostles to distribute.
Everybody eats. In the first incident, there are 5000 men plus all the women and children. In the second incident there are 4000 people total. In the first incident, there were five loaves and two fish. In the second incident there were seven loaves and a few fish. When all were finished eating, there were twelve baskets of leftovers in the first incident and seven baskets in the second.
There is no special meaning or symbolism to the numbers in the stories. So the basic fact is clear. The details need some clarification.
CRUSADER WALKS ON WATER - WITHOUT BRIDGE. Mark 6:45-52.
Matthew, Mark and John tell this story. Luke says nothing about it. Matthew and Mark have about the same content and details. John is a bit different although it is the same incident.
After Jesus had fed the people in the desert, he put the twelve in the boat and sent them to the other side of the lake. He, himself, stayed to dismiss the crowd and get them on their way home. After everybody was gone, Jesus looked out to sea. He could tell first that the sea was very rough, the apostles were worn out from rowing, and they were frustrated. Jesus walked out on the water toward them. It looked as if he were going right on past. They thought it was a ghost and they were terrified. Jesus calmed them and got into the boat. Mark says simply, “They had not seen the meaning of the miracle of the loaves because their minds were closed.”
Mark is careful to point out that the apostles took a lot of convincing before they were converted. In fact, when they run off at the very end, it is because they do not believe. As we read this detail, we can almost hear Peter preaching in Rome. Peter stresses how necessary is a sincere faith and then points out what happened in their lives just a few years before because of this lack of faith.
JESUS DOCKS. Mark 6:53-56.
After this incident at sea, they dock at Genesareth. The details are different in each account. The important point is that the people recognize Jesus. They surround him again to get help for their sick relatives and friends.
“KORBAN”: RUSE FOR SELFISH. Mark 7:1-13.
The “TRADITIONS” of the Pharisees! -- Jesus really lashes out at these so-called “traditions” of the leaders, especially the Pharisees. They had almost unlimited details about the washing of themselves and the dishes before they could eat. Jesus says they are concerned for the outside of the pot or the cup but the inside is full of dirt of every kind.
One of their big obligations was this so-called “Korban.” In Aramaic, the word means an offering only made to Yahweh. The Law also said they were supposed to help their parents and the poor. However, the Pharisees said that if the money was in “Korban” it could not be given to anyone else. The money was “dedicated” and sacred as a result. This meant that their coffers were filled with “untouchable” money. Jesus adds, “And you do many another thing just like this.”
CLEAN OR UNCLEAN? HOW DECIDE? Mark 7: 14-23.
This is a follow-up on the previous incident. Jesus treats the whole idea of “clean and unclean” again because the apostles had failed to understand. Jesus gives the basic principle: It is not what a man eats or takes in from the outside that makes him unclean. All food goes into the digestive system and the waste matter is passed off into the sewer system.
However, what comes out of a man’s mouth in words and ideas is what makes him unclean. From the heart come all sinful attitudes: idolatry, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, malice, deceit, indecency, envy, slander, pride, foolishness of all kinds. All these proceed from the inner convictions of a person and these are the factors that make a person unclean.
According to Mark’s presentation, Jesus now completes his work in Galilee and heads for other areas. At one time we spent a lot of time trying to line up all these details of geography and time. Now we realize that this is a characteristic of western history but not of the Semitic history. The Semitic mind wants to know what the details mean or teach. The chronological order of the details is unimportant.
THE BREAD OF THE CHILDREN. Mark 7:24-30.
Jesus is heading northwest to the area of Tyre and Sidon. He goes into a house and does not want anyone to know that he is there. A non-Jewish woman learns of his presence and comes to him. She begs him to cast the devil out of her little girl.
Jesus sounds very harsh. He says that the bread of the children should not be given to the dogs. This woman’s faith was strong enough for the insult. She answered, “Yes, sir! But even the dogs are allowed to eat the crumbs that fall from the table.” Jesus is amazed at the depth of her faith. He tells her so. He says, “Happy are you because you have believed so strongly. Your daughter is well.” The lady went right home and found her daughter perfectly well.
We can certainly see how this point was emphasized in the early days of the Church. The Jews were well aware that they were the Chosen People. They were to receive the Messiah and then bring salvation to the whole world. The Jews that became Christians tended in some instances to carry this sense of superiority over into their Christian Faith. They looked upon Gentile as converts second-class citizens of the Kingdom. Jesus counteracts that directly in actions and words as in this incident.
GOOD NEWS: LONE CRUSADER FROM NAZARETH:
DEAF MAN HEARS. EPHPHATHA. Mark 7:31-37.
This is a story that has become important to the Christian Deaf Societies in this country. In fact, the Gospel story is read in the liturgy during August and that Sunday is referred to as “Ephphetha” Sunday because of the story. The word is Aramaic and means “Be opened.”
Jesus and the apostles were coming back from the area of Tyre through the Decapolis area toward the Sea of Galilee. A deaf man was brought to Jesus. The man also had a speech impediment so that he could not talk either. Jesus put his fingers in the man’s ears, spit on his tongue and the man was cured.
The people really admired him deeply for this work. The reason was probably because a deaf person was always considered to be mentally deficient in ancient society. In fact, this attitude is not too uncommon in our own society. So Jesus’ act of kindness and power had a special effect on the people around him.
NO SIGN IS GIVEN. Mark 8:11-13, Mark 8:14-21.
The Pharisees came up and asked for a sign from heaven to prove that he was authentic. Jesus was disgusted. He said simply and firmly that no sign would be given.
Jesus draws a conclusion from the previous incident for his apostles. He tells them to be on their guard against the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod. The apostles missed the whole point. They had not brought bread with them and they thought he was telling them of their failure or forgetfulness.
Jesus gets blunt. He asks them if they cannot understand even the simplest of ideas. “Think back to the way I fed the people in the desert. So I don’t have to worry if you brought food or not.”
Then he told them to think about what he had said. Jesus had spoken of leaven. Leaven is a bit of the raised dough kept over from the previous baking. It is kept in a cool place so that the fermentation process is halted. Then when a new batch of bread is to be made, the dough is readied and the leaven is placed in the mixture and causes the dough to rise.
Here Jesus is talking of the leaven of the Pharisees and Herod. He is using the term figuratively. He is talking about their ideas and teachings. They are insidious and if they are allowed to take hold in the minds and hearts of the apostles, they will destroy Jesus work.
THE BLIND MAN CAN SEE. Mark 8:22-26.
Jesus cures a blind man in Bethsaida. He touched his eyes and asked the man if he could see. The man said he had hazy vision. Then Jesus put his hands on the man’s eyes again and he could see clearly. Jesus sends him home and tells him explicitly not to go into the village.
PETER BELIEVES. HOW LONG? HOW MUCH? Mark 8:27-30.
Jesus and the apostles are walking to Caesarea Philppi. This was an area to the northeast, on the other side of the headwaters of the Jordan, above Lake Huleh. As they walk along, Jesus asks who people think he is.
This is a very important question for Jesus. He realizes how out of harmony his ideas are with the official teaching of the leaders of the Jews. He realizes that his opposition makes him hated by the leaders, but he is curious as to the attitude of the ordinary people.
Peter answers: He says that the opinions of the people are varied. Some see him as John the Baptist returned from the dead. Others see him as Elijah who is to return. Others just see him as one of the prophets. Then Jesus says: “Who do you think I am?” Peter pops right out with the answer: “You are the Messiah!” Then Jesus tells them very strictly to tell this to no one.
At first, this seems a bit naive or miscalculating. But in the popular opinion, the Messiah was to be a great military liberator. He would overthrow the Roman legions and give Israel physical dominance in Palestine again. Jesus did not want to foster this idea. He saw his mission as one of teaching and conversion to a whole new way of life.
CRUSADER, AFRAID OF DEATH TO COME. Mark 8:31-33.
Jesus knew the outcome of the course he had taken. He was in total opposition to the Jewish leaders and teachers. They opposed him but he could stay on the run for a while and be safe. Sooner or later they would catch him and then it would be death. However, Jesus foretells that he, the Son of Man, will be raised from the dead on the third day.
Peter was not about to buy this “death” idea and he told Jesus in so many words. Jesus corrects him sternly. He tells him that he is thinking not according to God’s mind but according to the ideas of man. The resurrection on the third day was certainly a conviction that Jesus had because of his interpretation of the story of Jonah.
CRUSADER OFFERS NO BED OF ROSES. Mark 8:34-9:1.
This is a compact and strong statement of why people should accept and live according to the teachings of Jesus. Anyone who claims Jesus as a leader must take up his cross and follow him. The cross was the symbol of the most dire punishment that could be imposed on a person. So Jesus emphasizes that following him is not intended to be an easy way of life.
Then Jesus puts it the other way. If you don’t accept the way of life offered by Jesus, what good will you get for yourself. If you don’t follow Jesus, the Son of Man, in this life, he will deny ever knowing you at the judgment scene in front of everyone.
Then comes the statement that created a problem for many of the first Christians. They were convinced that the good news would be brought to the whole world in a short time. Everyone would hear the challenge and make their decision. Then would come the judgment and those who had chosen Jesus Christ would be saved. Those who had chosen against him would be lost. This would happen while some of the people now present would still be alive.
Jesus clearly presents Christian life as a constant choice of his ideas and ideals. Loyalty to the principles of Jesus in all of life is the price of salvation and victory at the end.
WHO IS THIS CRUSADER? Mark 9:2-13.
This scene, called the Transfiguration, is the dividing point in the public life of Jesus. His public life began with the baptism in which Jesus is presented as the servant who is the Messiah. This picture had come from Isaiah 40-55 and the famous Servant Songs. Now that the apostles have accepted this idea, Jesus can go on to show them that he is the Son of Man who will become king by his death.
Jesus takes Peter, James and John on top of a high mountain. We are given no name. His clothes become brilliant white. Elijah and Moses appear on either side of him. Elijah was the symbol of the prophets and Moses the symbol of the Torah. The three talk back and forth.
The three apostles were stunned and Peter, as usual, began to talk. He wanted to build three shrines on the spot and turn this into a place of pilgrimage. When the people came, the three apostles could tell them what had happened. While he is still talking, a cloud comes, and out of the cloud comes the voice which says, “This is my beloved Son! Listen to him!”
Then just as suddenly as the apparition had come, it was gone. They looked around and there was only Jesus in his ordinary garb. As they were walking down the mountain Jesus warned them they were to tell no one about this incident until after his resurrection. The three apostles talked about the happenings among themselves and they could not figure out what “rising from the dead” meant.
Then they asked Jesus why they were told that Elijah was to come first. Jesus confirmed that Elijah was to come. In fact, he had already been there and had been mistreated. He referred to John the Baptist and his imprisonment and death. Jesus reminds them that he himself is to suffer and die according to the same scriptures.
SEIZURES GONE. EPILEPTIC CURED. Mark 9:14-29.
When Jesus and the trio came back to the group, they found them surrounded by a crowd of people. Obviously something was wrong. The apostles were on the spot. Some man had a boy who was attacked by epilepsy and these attacks were usually the Grand Mal type. The boy would fall into fire and water and anything else that was around.
The father brought the boy to the apostles but they were unable to help him. Jesus blamed it on lack of faith but the Dad protested that he did believe and pleaded for help to make his faith stronger.
Then Jesus commanded the spirit: “Deaf and dumb spirit, come out of that boy and never go into him again.” With that the boy had a violent attack of Grand Mal and when it was over he lay there as if dead. The people were all saying, “He is dead!” But Jesus walked over, took the boy by the hand, and he was able to stand.
When they came inside, the apostles asked why they were unable to cure. Jesus said: “This is the kind that can be driven out only by prayer!”
CRUSADER WORRIED AND HESITANT. DEATH NOT EASY. Mark 9:30-32.
Jesus left the crowd and headed for Galilee. He did not want anyone to know that he was around because he was giving special instructions to the apostles. He told them again that he was going to be handed over to the leaders. He would be put to death, and on the third day he would be raised from the dead. They did not understand what he was talking about, but they were afraid to ask him again.
WHO IS THE GREATEST? Mark 9:33-37.
When they arrived in Capernaum, they went into a house and Jesus asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?” They kept very quiet because they had been arguing about who was the greatest among them.
Jesus gave the most important lesson of all his teaching. In fact, John will make it the central theme of the Last Supper. This theme is SERVICE. Jesus says that anyone who wants to be truly great has to become the servant to others. Then he took a little child and put his arms around him. He said, “Anyone who welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me. Anyone who welcomes me, welcomes him who sent me.”
Service is the central notion of Christian life. It is also the picture easiest to miss and hardest to practice. Everyone wants to be “boss.” To be the servant is for the lesser people. Success, as the world sees it, is the person on top. All the others are second class citizens.
In the society of Jesus’s time, children had no rights at all. So he takes the lowliest people, as society saw it then, and holds them up as the criteria for greatness. The service of others is the secret of a great and powerful society, a mankind that is happy and well-adjusted.
NOBODY CAN IGNORE CRUSADER’S CHALLENGE, Mark 9:38-50.
John came up to Jesus all excited. They had come across someone who was casting out devils in the name of Jesus and he was not one of them. They tried to get him to stop, but were unsuccessful. Jesus answered, “Let him alone. Anyone who is not against us is for us.” Jesus realized that this man could not succeed unless he believed truly in what Jesus was doing. Such faith and confidence were enough to continue the work of Jesus.
Application to today:
How much we need this lesson in the world of today! How many different Christian groups are there in the present world? How much antagonism, hatred and fighting have been done in the name of this so-called “one true Church.” All this is a direct violation of what Jesus is teaching in this short incident.
Jesus spells out this principle of service in so many words. “If anyone gives a cup of water to you because you belong to me, he will most assuredly not miss his reward.” Service is always a two-way street. It benefits him who gives and him who receives.
The exact opposite is also true. The punishment for scandal is just as sure and dire. Scandal means any word or action that leads another into sin. Jesus says it is better to give up an eye, or a hand, or a foot than to use any member as a source of scandal for another. Scandal will only insure that the person who gives it ends up in gehenna, the city dump where all unidentified junk is thrown.
The follower of Christ is supposed to be the SALT OF THE EARTH. Salt is the source of seasoning and makes all food palatable. If salt loses its seasoning power, how can it be restored? Salt that loses its taste is good only to be thrown out and walked on to make the road hard.
The positive and the negative are set side by side so that the whole picture is easily seen. A follower of Jesus is a person who is at the service of the needs of all people. Bad example or leading others astray is the negative that leads to certain destruction for the one who gives the scandal.
MARRIAGE. DIVORCE. Mark 10:1-12.
The apostles and Jesus are again in the area of Judea but on the other side of the Jordan. The Pharisees come to him and try to trap him again. It is the question of divorce and remarriage. They ask, “Is divorce against the Law?” Jesus turns the question right back to them. “What did Moses teach?” They answered, “Moses allowed us to draw up a writ of dismissal and so to divorce.”
Jesus rebukes them. “It is because you are hardhearted that Moses wrote this command. But it was not so from the beginning. God made them male and female. A man must leave father and mother and the two become one flesh. So what God has joined together, let no man put asunder.”
When they were in the house, the apostles asked him about this teaching and Jesus took it a step farther. “The man who divorces his wife and marries another is guilty of adultery against her. And if a woman divorces her husband and marries another she is guilty of adultery, too.”
In Mark and Luke there are no exceptions to this universal law. The reason is because in the first generations of Christians, there were no problems. Then pagans converted from the cults. A husband would join but not his wife or vice versa. Now what could be done? Paul and Matthew make the exception. The law of no divorce was absolute except for "porneia" (Greek word). This was the technical title for all the crudity and selfishness connected with the fertility cults. If the non-Christian partner was willing to let the Christian live according to his or her ideals, then the original marriage stood. If the pagan partner interfered with the Christian in any way, then divorce and remarriage were allowed.
The exceptions were introduced later because of the nature of the people and the society from which they came and in which they lived.
CHILD-LIKE - NOT CHILDISH. Mark 10:13-16.
As we have said, children had no rights in the society of those days. Now the parents were bringing their children to Jesus to be blessed and touched. The apostles were turning them away as nuisances. Jesus was upset at their conduct. He told them. “Let those children come to me. Do not stop them. For to such as these the kingdom of God belongs. In fact, anyone who does not accept the Kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” Then he puts his arms around them and blessed them.
What is this spirit of children that Jesus says is essential to entrance into the Kingdom of God? Look at children carefully and watch them before they are spoiled by adult society.
Children are big-eyed with wonder at everything. They want to be a part of it or have a share in it. They don't hesitate to tackle any job and are confident they can do it. They are always full of new ideas and plans. This is the spirit of children that is dulled or destroyed as life goes on. People tend to do what they have to do and no more. They expect things to be put in their laps. We need the spirit of children and the abilities of adults to restore the world that Jesus is talking about: the Kingdom of God.
GOOD NEWS, LONE CRUSADER FROM NAZARETH, WEALTH:
HELP OR HINDRANCE? Mark 10:17-31.
In this section, Mark treats of the questions about money or wealth. First, there is the story of the wealthy young man who comes up to Jesus. He has heard and seen Jesus at work and admires what he says and does. So his question is: What do I have to do to win eternal life? Jesus recites the commandments for him. The young man says, “I have kept all these since I was a young child.”
Jesus looks carefully at the young man and likes what he sees. He says, “There is only one thing lacking to you. Go, sell everything you own and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then, come, follow me.” The eagerness went out of the young man’s eyes. He turned around and walked away because he was a man of great wealth.
Jesus turns to the apostles and says that it is very hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God. In fact, he says, it is easier for a camel to walk through the eye of a needle. And with that comparison the apostles asked, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus admits it is difficult but with God all things are possible.
Then Peter takes the idea a step farther. “We have left everything,” he says, “What do we get?” In a way the question was almost ludicrous. What had he left? He was a fisherman on the lake with a lot of other men. The boats did not belong to him but to Mr. Zebedee.
Jesus takes him seriously and gives the general principle: “Anyone who has left home, brothers, sisters, parents. children or land for my sake and the sake of the gospel, will be repaid a hundred-fold ... not without difficulties ... in the present time, and eternal life in the world to come. Many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”
These words can be misconstrued and the ideas destroyed. What is being stressed is the same basic idea of service that we saw above. The followers were being told of the need to share with each other at all times. It is not a denial of private property as is spelled out in Acts by Peter. It is not saying that material things are bad. It is saying that all things should be used for the good of all. It is the basic concept of the Fatherhood of God manifested in the Brotherhood of Man.
FINAL SHOWDOWN APPROACHING FAST:
CRUSADER AFRAID AND WORRIED. Mark 10:32-34.
This is the third time that we have a solemn statement about the suffering and death for Jesus. We have to remember two things. All this is being written long after the fulfillment. Secondly, the writers want to point out how real this scenario was to Jesus as he continued to oppose the official teachers and leaders of the Jews. Jesus sees this final result as the necessary conclusion to his teaching. When he is ready, he will give himself up. In the meantime, the suffering and agony were always present to make him fear and worry.
WHO GETS THE BEST SEATS? Mark 10:35-45.
We know that there was rivalry and competition among the twelve. In this scene, two of the favorites bring the problem right out into the open. The Zebedee boys, John and James, ask explicitly, “When you are in your glory, see to it that one of us is at your right and the other at your left.”
Jesus asked, “Can you drink the cup that I have to drink or be baptized with the baptism I am to be baptized?” There answer was almost a shout of glee, “We can drink anything!” Jesus assures them that they will get the opportunity to prove their claim, but it is not his to parcel out the places at table. They belong to those to whom they have been allotted.
When the others heard this request, they were really shaken. They had all wanted this first place for themselves. They had discussed this very point before. So Jesus lays it on the line. He says this is the conduct that is expected of the world around them. Everyone is jockeying for position, stomping on the next person, and trying to be first regardless of who is hurt in the shuffle.
Jesus lays down the rock-bottom principle of Christian greatness. “Anyone who wants to be first among you has to be the servant of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and to give his life as the ransom of the many.” This secret of Christian greatness is to be the solid foundation on which all others can build.
JERICHO: BLIND MAN CAN SEE. Mark 10:46-52.
As they traveled, they came to Jericho. A blind beggar, named Bartimaeus, was sitting beside the road. He heard the noise and wanted to know what was going on. When he heard that Jesus was passing by, he cried out in a loud voice. The people nearest him told him to be quiet because, when he called out, they couldn't hear Jesus.Jesus stops. He has Bartimaeus brought to him. Then he asks him what he wants. “Master,” he cries, “that I may see!” Jesus says, “Your faith has saved you!” Immediately his sight was returned and he followed Jesus down the road.
This incident is set in the Gospel at this spot for a purpose. It is a reminder that we have to see and understand clearly all that Jesus has said and then follow behind him in our daily lives.
CRUSADER IN CAPITAL. Mark 11:1-13:37.
The Gospel according to Mark has topographical divisions. There is a short introduction and then we have several passages on Jesus at work in Galilee. Then we have a section that deals with his work outside Galilee, but up north. Now we come to Jerusalem. We will have the account of his work in the last week. Then the last section will be in Jerusalem and will account for the actual death and triumphal resurrection and the mission to the followers.
CRUSADER HAS HIS DAY. Mark 11:1-11.
For this incident in the gospel, it is very important to read the parallel passages in the other gospels. Do not sandwich the details together and make a conglomerate picture. Read them in chronological sequence -- Mark, Luke, Matthew, John. Compare the details that each writer sees fit to include. When you understand all four masterpieces then you will appreciate the incident all the more but all four masterpieces must remain independent.
Mark says they were drawing near the Mount of Olives. Jesus sent two of the disciples to the next village. They would find a colt tethered there that has not been ridden. They are to untie it and bring it back to Jesus. If anyone objects, just say, “The Master needs it and will send it back soon!”
This is exactly what happened and the two apostles brought the colt to Jesus. The apostles put their cloaks on the colt's back and Jesus mounted. People put their cloaks and varied branches of greenery on the path so that Jesus could ride over it all.
They sing Psalm 118 as they march into Jerusalem. This Psalm should be read in its entirety to understand what the procession meant to the people, and why the leaders of the Jews realized Jesus had to be stopped now. Remember that Psalms were popular songs among the Jews. Everybody could sing them and some were used specially on certain feast days. There is no doubt that this day was a day of total triumph for Jesus as he rode along in the procession. He was fully aware of the fickleness of the crowd but he truly enjoyed the recognition for all his works. Later on, this procession will become the starting point of the solemn Easter Liturgy.
NO FRUIT - REMOVE TREE. Mark 11:12-14.
The next day, Jesus and the apostles were leaving Bethany. Jesus was hungry. He saw a fig tree off to the side and went over to pick some figs. It was not the season for figs, but they could have expected some of the fat “first-fruits.” Jesus cursed the tree and said it was never to bear fruit again. The apostles heard this whole interchange.
HOUSE OF GOD DESECRATED; CRUSADER IN ANGRY RAGE. Mark 11:15-19.
The little party arrived in Jerusalem and went directly to the Temple. Jesus saw the courtyard had been turned into a regular shopping mall. There were animals of every kind and all the other things that could be used for personal sacrifices or temple offerings. The people and the leaders were haggling over prices just as in any public mart.
Jesus really let his temper take over. He was filled with a holy anger as he looked on the desecration. He overturned the money tables in the sand and upset the chairs of the sellers. “My father's house is a house of prayer and you have made it a den of thieves!”
The chief priests and the scribes were told about this incident immediately. They knew they had to do something about Jesus at once, or he would have all the people backing him. They were afraid of him because the people were so much in favor of his teaching.
THAT FIG TREE AGAIN. Mark 11:20-25.
Jesus went out of the city for the night. The city wasn't safe. They passed the fig tree Jesus had cursed and it was withered right down to the roots. Peter blurted out immediately. “Look, Rabbi! It happened! The fig tree you cursed has withered completely.” Peter clearly missed the point and would have made a big issue out of the wrong point.
Jesus takes over and draws the lesson of the fig tree he thinks is important. He stresses that anyone who has true faith will be able to do even greater things. Above all, says Jesus, when you are standing in prayer before the Father, make sure that you truly forgive everyone else so that you yourself can be forgiven.
Again, we are at a key point in the teaching of Jesus. Prayer is an absolute essential if we want to get the help of God in our works. But we cannot pray or be heard by the Father unless there is a sincere spirit of forgiveness among all the people praying.
Here again, we see the anomaly of our so-called Christian churches today and in the past centuries. The Papal armies overran the whole of Europe in a battle for material supremacy. They fostered hatred and yet prayed publicly for their cause in war. People kneel or sit beside each other in Church and sing pious songs on Sunday. Then, they go out and cheat, lie and do every other social ill in their daily lives against the very same people. Then they wonder why their faith and religion are so meaningless and ineffective.
JEWISH LEADERS CHALLENGE CRUSADER. Mark 11:27-33.
Jesus is again walking in the courtyard of the Temple. The leaders come up to him and question his authority. Jesus answers a question with a question, “Was the baptism of John from heaven or from man?” They went into a huddle immediately because they knew they were challenged. If they said John’s baptism was from heaven, Jesus would ask, “Why do you refuse to believe him?” If they said John’s baptism was from man, they would have the whole people on their backs because they saw John as a truly great prophet.
So they tried to be cagey. They said, “We do not know.” Jesus said, “Then neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.”
You can almost see the leaders wringing their hands and chewing their beards in total frustration. Jesus had outsmarted them totally and made them look like fools in front of everyone.
VINEYARD YARN. LEADERS GET POINT. Mark 12:1-12.
Then Jesus tells one of his famous stories:
A certain man planted a large vineyard. He built a winepress and tower in the vineyard. Then he leased the vineyard and went abroad. Later, he sent a servant to collect his share. The renters seized him, beat him up, and sent him away empty handed. This same thing happened, time after time, until the owner decided to send his own son. He was sure they would treat him properly. However, the renters saw him as the heir. If they killed him the whole property would be theirs. So they seized and killed the owner’s son. Jesus asks, “What will the owner of that vineyard do?”
The leaders saw the implications and knew that the whole story was directed against them. They wanted to arrest him on the spot but they were afraid of the crowds and left him alone.
CRUSADER ASKS FOR COIN. MARK 12:13-17.
The leaders realized they had to trip Jesus up in front of the crowd. Otherwise their authority and power were finished. So they brought up a very touchy issue of the day.
Rome had conquered the whole area and ruled Palestine totally. The people had to pay taxes to Rome and if they failed, there were many terrible repercussions. The Jewish people hated the Roman nation and their domination. They talked about it constantly but could do nothing to alleviate the situation.
Now the leaders say, “Master, we know that you are an honest man, that you are afraid of no one, because a man’s rank means nothing to you, and that you teach the way of God in all honesty. Is it allowed to pay taxes to Caesar or not? Should we pay? Yes or no?” This looked like a perfect dilemma from which there was no escape. The leaders smugly waited for Jesus to fall into their trap.
As usual, Jesus lets them cut their own throats. “Why did you set a trap for me? Hand me a denarius so that I may look at it.” They handed him a denarius. Jesus asked, “Whose image is this? Whose signature?” They said, “Caesar’s”! Jesus clipped right back. “Then give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and give to God what belongs to God!” This answer stopped them totally. There was no comeback.
IS RESURRECTION FOR REAL? Mark 12:18-27.
Opposition to Jesus now comes from the group of priests, called the Sadducees. They had put themselves in a social caste above all other Jews and their influence on the popular mind was small. They did wield power because of their closeness to the Roman authorities. They decide to show Jesus up and the Pharisees at the same time.
The Sadducees did not believe in a resurrection of all people at the end of time. To make their point, they proposed what seemed like a foolproof case. They used the Torah as their support.
The Law of Levirate or of “brother-in-law” commanded that if a man died before he could have children, the dead man’s brother was to take his sister-in-law to bed with him. It made no difference whether he was already married or not. Any children that came of this union would be raised to the dead man’s name. In the scenario proposed by the Sadducees, there were seven brothers. The oldest one married and died without issue (child). The next one took the widow as a wife and he died with no issue. The marriages and deaths continued right to the end without children. Finally, the widow died. Now said the Sadducees, “In this Resurrection, whose wife is she?”
Jesus said they did not understand the resurrection or the life that followed, and as a result they could come up with this stupid question. In the resurrection, there will be a completely different life and the laws of this life will not be in effect or necessary.
ONE SCRIBE UNDERSTANDS. Mark 12:28-34.
After the altercation above was settled, one of the scribes realized how well Jesus had answered the Sadducees. He decided that Jesus was the person to ask really important questions about the law. So he asked him which is the first of all the commandments.
Jesus quoted the law of love of God and the neighbor as he always did. The scribe was very pleased and said that such love was far more important than holocaust or sacrifice. Jesus liked the man and told him he was not far from the kingdom of God.
CRUSADER STUMPS SCRIBES, CONDEMNS HYPOCRISY. Mark 12:35-44.
Jesus proposes another question to the Scribes. He quotes from Psalm 110. This Psalm is attributed to David and he sings: ‘The Lord said to my Lord: Sit at my right hand....” Now, asked Jesus, how can David call the Messiah his ‘Lord’ when he is to be David's son?” This really stopped the Scribes and Mark says the great majority of the people who were in the crowd were pleased with the put-down.
Then Jesus turned to the people and told them to be wary of the Scribes. They walk about in long robes, expect to be fawned over in public, and expect the places of honor at any banquet. They are the men who swallow up the property of unprotected widows and then say long prayers. They will get a really severe sentence.
Then Jesus sits down opposite the treasury and watches people putting their tithes and donations in the box. Many of the rich people put in big donations. Then came a poor widow. She put in only two small coins which together would make a penny. Jesus called the twelve over and remarked that she had put in more than all the wealthy people together. The wealthy put in the box the money they did not need. This widow put her sole means of livelihood in the box.
GOOD NEWS: LONE CRUSADER FROM NAZARETH. Mark 13: 1-37
THE ESCHATON (End of World). WHERE IS THE WORLD HEADED?
There was a lot of interest in the end of the world during those first days of the Christian Community. Jesus has a lot to say about this topic but it has to be carefully separated under the proper headings.
First of all, there is the immediate end of the world which is to take place soon. That is the destruction of Jerusalem in 67-68 A.D. The Jews in Alexandria had arisen and the Romans squelched them. Then Nero masterminds the destruction of Jerusalem and the Jews in the area. This was a drastic event for the Jews and for the Christians who had their headquarters in Jerusalem.
And there was the talk about the end of the whole world. This was expected in the near future. Only gradually did they realize there was no clear indication of the end of the world.
I think it is very important to repeat that the word used in the Greek is “to telos.” This means “end” but in the sense of COMPLETION. For example: you have a 3000 piece jigsaw puzzle. You finally put the last piece in place. You have reached “to telos,” the end of the puzzle. Now all the pieces are in place and the picture is readily intelligible.
This is the way the world was to come to an end. It is the continued work of the Genesis story. The role or task of mankind in the world about them is to use all things and manage or control them so that they work harmoniously toward the goal for which they were intended. The idea that the world is going to be destroyed or come to an end in that sense is a false application of things that were said about the destruction of Jerusalem. The Book of Revelation or Apocalypse was talking mostly about the destruction of Jerusalem and the destruction of Rome as a world empire.
As Jesus and the twelve were leaving the Temple, one of them remarked on the size of the stones and the buildings. This was the temple Solomon had built in the 10th century B.C. and then had been rebuilt in the post-exilic period In 520-515 B.C. The people thought it was a poor replica of the Solomonic Temple but it was still a great work of art and architecture.
Jesus tells them of the destruction that is to come. There is no doubt this account is what Jesus foresaw and what the first Christians actually experienced combined into one account. Jesus stresses the trial, pains, sufferings and tribulations that all will undergo in the “abomination of desolation.” The pagan soldiers will bring their idols into the Holy of Holies to poke fun at the sacred place of the Jews.
Jesus puts out a special warning. They are not to allow themselves to be deceived by false teachers and fake promises of safety. They are to remember that the times will be disastrous and even the most loyal followers of Jesus will be tempted to run away and escape.
FINAL DAYS OF JESUS. Mark 14:1-15:47.
The chief priests and scribes were looking for a way to arrest Jesus quietly. They did not want any disturbance among the people especially during the days of the Passover feast.
JUST BEFORE JESUS IS ARRESTED.
THE ANOINTING AT BETHANY. Mark 14:3-42.
Jesus is at supper in the house of Simon the leper. A woman comes into the supper room. She has a very expensive jar of ointment, opens it, and pours it on the head of Jesus. Some of the people present were indignant at the waste. Jesus says that the woman has prepared him for burial.
This solved the problem that the priests had. They could take Jesus whenever they wanted because Judas would lead them to him. Judas never expected Jesus to die. He thought he would get the money. Jesus would be captured but escape as he had done before. Their coffers would be money ahead. Judas did not see the evil of his deed until he realized Jesus was not going to escape.
Two of the apostles follow Jesus' directions and go off to rent the upper room and prepare for the meal. Everything had to be prepared ahead of time according to the interpretation of the Law at that time.
While they were eating, Jesus reveals that one of them is going to betray him. All were upset because they thought he meant a betrayal through some unknowing or stupid act or word. Then Jesus stresses the enormity of the deed. He says that one of you who is sitting at my table eating with me is the betrayer. This was a warning to Judas to realize the magnitude of his crime. It also showed the kindness of Jesus in that he did not expose him before the rest of the twelve.
MEMORIAL SUPPER ESTABLISHED.
This action is the uniting of the two rituals from the Old and New Covenant. At the time of the escape from the slavery of Egypt, centuries before, the Jews ate a hasty meal and then left. This was called the “Passover” and each year there was a solemn remembrance of this Passover meal.
Jesus is celebrating this Passover Meal with his apostles. At the end of the meal, he takes the ritual “Friendship” cup and bread and gives it a new meaning. He establishes the new covenant of love. He will prove the extent of his love by being willing to die for his convictions.
The first followers of Jesus immediately established the custom of commemorating this Supper of the New Covenant. It was called the “Eucharist” because it started with a prayer of Thanksgiving. Instead of restricting this supper to the feast of the Passover, the first Christians celebrated it each time they got together. This “Thanksgiving Supper” (the Eucharist) became the identifying mark of the Christians. It symbolized their harmony and sharing with each other. One of the Elders or Presbyters presided at the meal.
Friendship is the significance and power of the Eucharistic meal. Gradually, theologians and philosophers developed all the esoteric doctrine of transubstantiation, real presence, consecrated fingers, sacramental priesthood and so on. The main symbol of Christian sharing and love became a ritual of mysterious, and often superstitious, practices.
After they had finished the ritual singing of the Psalms, the group set out for the Mount of Olives. Jesus told them that they would all lose faith in him and take off running when the leaders came to arrest him. Peter brashly boasts he will die rather than commit such a denial. Jesus tells Peter that before the second cock crow, he will have denied him three times. Peter goes right on protesting his loyalty.
ANOTHER GARDEN; SECOND ADAM.
From the other Gospel accounts, this seems to have been a favorite retreat for Jesus and his Apostles. It was called “Gethsemane” or “Garden of Olives.” Jesus left some of the apostles near the gate. He took Peter, James, and John and went farther into the garden. Then Jesus says to the three, “I am scared enough to die right now. Stay here and stay awake!
Then Jesus went off a short distance and threw himself on the ground and begged that this ordeal pass him by. Jesus was really scared of what was to come. He had talked about it more and more often in the past weeks. Now is the actual hour. He shows that he has all the fear for suffering and death found in any great hero. He does not want it.
Jesus comes back to the three who are sound asleep. He wakes them. He goes off and enters into his struggle again. He comes back to the three. Again, they are asleep and he wakes them. Finally, after a third bout with the fear, Jesus comes back, wakes up the two groups, and tells them to get ready because his betrayal and capture are at hand.
THE ARREST. Mark 14:43-52.
Judas came with the crowd to seize Jesus. He had arranged a signal, the kiss of friendship. He wanted to make sure the soldiers and police did not take the wrong person. (I think the reason for this sign is that Judas did not expect Jesus to be taken. Jesus had escaped arrest before and Judas expected it again.)
Mark includes one note that indicates that he was present in the crowd who came with the police to seize Jesus. He says there was a teenager in the crowd who wore only his underclothes. They tried to grab him and he took off, leaving his undergarments with the police. It is quite universally believed this was Mark, a curious lad, and one who saw Jesus in the very act of being arrested.
SUPREME COURT TAKES OVER. Mark 14:53-65.
Jesus is led before the High Priest and the whole assembly. Peter came along in the background but went right into the palace and over to the fire to warm himself. The trial was so clearly a trumped-up affair that they could get no witnesses who agreed on any evidence. Finally, the High Priest asks Jesus why he does not answer the accusations. Jesus did not even deign to give him and answer.
Then he asked Jesus: “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One (the King)?” Jesus answers clearly and loudly, “I am, and you shall see the Son of Man seated at the Right Hand of the Power and coming with the clouds of heaven.” This was a quote taken directly from the preaching of Daniel. The High Priest had more than he hoped for. This was open blasphemy. They condemned him to die. The attendants of the court began to mistreat Jesus. However, the Sanhedrin did not have the power of life and death over anyone. This sentence had to be given by Roman authority.
PETER’S DENIALS. Mark 14:66-72.
In these few verses we get Peter’s own description of his failure. It is given in graphic detail and clearly shown as an act of total cowardice and disloyalty.
A servant girl recognizes Peter and makes his identity public. Peter denies it totally. He goes out into the courtyard and the girl follows him and accuses him again. Peter denies Jesus again. Then the bystanders accuse him because they recognize him as a Galilean. Peter swore and took an oath that he did not even know Jesus. At that moment he heard the cock crow the second time. He had been so intent on protesting his denial of Jesus that he missed the first cock crow. But finally, Peter realized how grievously he had failed and went out to weep. Oral tradition says that Peter wept the rest of his days over this egregious failure against Jesus.
JESUS BEFORE PILATE. Mark 15: 1-15.
The first thing in the morning, the whole Supreme Court took Jesus, bound like a prisoner, and handed him over to Pilate. Pilate asked Jesus if he was the King of the Jews. This was the one point which would make Pilate’s job easy. If Jesus accepted the title, it would put him in political opposition to Rome and Pilate could condemn him outright. Jesus merely answered, “You’re talking!”
Then the chief priests poured out accusations against Jesus and Pilate questioned him. “Aren’t you going to reply to all these accusations?” Jesus stood there in a dignified silence.
Pilate tried to avoid the decision by offering Barabbas, a murderous rioter, as an alternative to Jesus. To his surprise, the Jews shouted for Barabbas. Then Pilate realized this was a crime of vengeance and hatred. He tried to put the decision back on the Jews who kept shouting for his death. To offset a riot, Pilate condemned Jesus to be scourged and crucified, Roman style. Then he set Barabbas free.
THE FINAL HOURS OF JESUS . Mark 15:16-41.
HELMET OF THORNS.
The Roman soldiers had been listening to this whole trial. They realized the helplessness of Jesus and they decided to have some “fun.” They made a helmet of thorns to resemble a crown. Then they mocked him, “Hail, King of the Jews!” They hit him on the thorns, spat on him, and went down on their knees in mock reverence before him. They had put a purple cloak on him to symbolize royalty. Finally, they took this off and replaced his own clothes.
Simon was a passerby. He may well have known nothing of what was going on. However, they commandeered him to help Jesus with the cross. They led Jesus to Golgotha, which means the hill of the skull.
Mark’s account of this is very brief. Everyone in those first days was well acquainted with public crucifixions. Jesus was offered a bitter wine but refused it. Actually, it was supposed to deaden the sense of the pain. The soldiers followed the custom of gambling for the clothes and possessions of the condemned person. He was on the cross during the third hour - that means any time from 9:00 to 12:00. The inscription read: “THE KING OF THE JEWS.” Two other criminals were crucified on either side.
Mark makes a brief statement: Jesus was mocked by everybody. The people passing by mocked and jeered. The chief priests and scribes joined in with their taunts and mockery. Even the criminals crucified with him added their bit to the pain.
Clouds moved in and it became quite dark from noon until three. Jesus cried out in the opening words of Psalm 22, “My God, My God why have you abandoned me?” It sounds like a cry of despair but the Psalm itself is a song of total confidence in God in spite of the terrible problem. Jesus had been afraid. He was hurting and still scared but he was totally confident in the goodness and power of Yahweh.
At the moment of his death the Temple veil was torn in half from top to bottom. The centurion, standing in front of him and seeing how Jesus died, publicly proclaimed his faith in Jesus and his bravery and truth.
No mention is made of the apostles but some of the women are mentioned by name. They were present as were many other women who had come up to Jerusalem with him.
THE BURIAL OF JESUS. Mark 15:42-47.
The hour was late. It was the eve of the Great Sabbath. Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the Sanhedrin, went to Pilate and asked for the body. Pilate was surprised that Jesus had died so soon but verified the fact with the centurion and gave the body to Joseph.
They took the body from the cross and wrapped it in a death shroud and placed it in a tomb hewn from the rocks. Then they rolled a stone in front of the opening. Some of the women watched closely and marked the spot.
THE EMPTY TOMB. Mark: 16:1-8.
Friday evening when Jesus died, there was not enough time to give him a proper embalming. Saturday was the great Sabbath. When Sunday came, the body could be properly prepared for burial.
Very early in the morning, at sunrise, some of the women came to the tomb. Some people are surprised that Jesus’ mother, Mary, is not among them. But this should cause no surprise. Mary believed her son. She believed he would rise from the dead as he had said. So she did not come to the tomb.
When the women arrived, they saw that the big stone was already rolled back. When they looked into the tomb, a young man in white robe, sat there. They were amazed and frightened.
The young man said: “There is no need for surprise. You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified. He has been raised. He is not here. Look at the place where he was laid. Now you must go and tell his apostles and Peter. ‘He is going before you to Galilee. You will see him there just as he told you.’ ” The women came out of the tomb and ran for their homes. They were so scared they said nothing to anyone.
This scene is very important because the visit of the women to the tomb shows they did not believe what Jesus had said about his resurrection from the dead. The apostles did not believe, and were still in hiding because of fear of the Jewish leaders. The women have the privilege of bringing the message to the apostles - first.
JESUS APPEARS - AS PROMISED . Mark 16:9-20.
Mark gives a summary to the life of Jesus on earth. After Jesus was raised from the dead, he appeared to Mary Magdalen. She went to the apostles and told them but they did not believe that she had really seen Jesus.
Later, two of the apostles were on their way to the country. Jesus appeared to them and they went back and told the other apostles but they did not believe these two either.
Finally, Jesus appeared to the eleven while they were at table. He reproached them for their refusal to accept the messages that had been sent. Then he gives them their mission to go to the whole world and tell them the Good News. Happiness is truly possible. Everyone who believes and is baptized will be saved.
There will be external signs to bolster the authority of the eleven. In the name of Jesus they will cast out devils and have the gift of tongues. They will pick up snakes and be unharmed. If they drink any deadly poison, they will not be harmed. They will lay their hands on the sick and the sick will get well.
When Jesus finished giving his last minute instructions, he was taken up into heaven, to the right hand of God. The apostles went out and preached the Good News. Jesus was working through them and with them.
Excerpts from personal journals of Phil Roets:
January 10, 2001. Volume 92.
Each time I read his Gospel according to Mark, I get a better picture of a young man eager to be up front, but ready to run as soon as the work was too long or too difficult. Then Mark becomes the companion of Peter in Rome. Peter, too, had to develop a steady approach.
March 28, 1994. Volume. 64.
I hope to finish the whole gospel of Mark tonight.* Ordinarily, I did not spend time on Mark when I was teaching the gospels because almost all the material in Mark is found in Matthew and Luke. However, I now see that this short changes the whole picture. Mark is closest to the Kerygma or initial profession of faith made by the early converts. Mark’s Gospel is evidence of the oral tradition as handed on by the community in Rome that comes from Peter.
*Course was 45 hours to cover overview and some specific information about each of the books in the Old and New Testament.