The Last Week: Preface and Chapter 1

Preface

  • This book is about the last week of Jesus’s life.
  • “Passion” is from the Latin noun passio, meaning “suffering.”
  • In everyday English we also use “passion” for any consuming interest, dedicated enthusiasm, or concentrated commitment.
  • “In this book we focus on ‘what Jesus was passionate about’ as a way of understanding why his life ended in the passion of Good Friday.” (page 5)
  • “We do not in this book intend to attempt a historical reconstruction of Jesus’s last week on earth.” (page 5)
  • “tell and explain, against the back-ground of Jewish high-priestly collaboration with Roman imperial control, the last week of Jesus’s life on earth as given in the Gospel According to Mark.” (page 5)
  • “Mark alone went out of his way to chronicle Jesus’s last week on a day-by-day basis, while the others kept some but not all of those indications of time.” (page 6)
  • “Christian liturgy has started to collapse Holy Week into its last three days and renamed Palm Sunday as Passion Sunday.” (page 7)
  • “the loss of Palm Sunday’s enthusiastic crowds and all those days and events in between may weaken or even negate the meaning of the death and therefore of that resurrection (page 7)

Chapter 1: Palm Sunday

  • Mark 11:1-11
  • Two processions. One was a peasant procession, the other an imperial procession. The two processions embody the central conflict of the week that led to Jesus’s crucifixion. (page 9)
  • Standard practice of Romain governors of Judea to be in Jerusalem for the major Jewish festivals to be in the city in case there was trouble.
  • “Pilate’s procession displayed not only imperial power, but also Roman imperial theology. According to this theology, the emperor was not simply the ruler of Rome but the Son of God.” (page 10)
  • As Mark tells the story in March 11:1-11, it is a prearranged ‘counterprocession.’ Jesus planned it in advance.
  • “The meaning of the demonstration is clear, for it uses symbolism from the prophet Zechariah (9:9) in the Jewish Bible.” (page 11)
  • “This contrast — between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Ceasar — is central not only to the gospel of Mark, but to the story of Jesus and early Christianity.” (page 11)
  • Jerusalem
    • By the first century, Jerusalem had been the center of the sacred geography of the Jewish people for a millennium.
    • “It is the city of God and the faithless city, the city of hope and the city of oppression, the city of joy and the city of pain.” (page 12)
    • “Jersualem became the capital of ancient Israel in the time of King David, around 1000 BCE. Under David and his son Solomon, Israel experienced the greatest period in its history.” (page 12)
    • “So revered did David become that the hoped-for future deliverer, the messiah, was expected to be a ‘son of David,’ a new David, indeed greater than David. (page 12)
    • “Within the theology that developed around it (the temple), it was the ‘navel of the earth’ connecting this world to its source in God, and here (and only here) was God’s dwelling place on earth.” (page 12)
    • “The temple mediated not only God’s presence, but also God’s forgiveness. It was the only place of sacrifice, and sacrifices was the means of forgiveness.” (page 12)
    • Beginning in the half century after King David, Jerusalem became the center of a ‘domination system.'” (page 13)
    • Domination system (page 13):
      • 1. Political oppression
      • 2. Economic exploitation
      • 3. Religious legitimation
    • “In this sense ‘domination systems’ are normal, not abnormal, and thus can also be called the ‘normalcy of civilization.'” (page 14)
    • “As the home of the monarchy and aristocracy, of wealth and power, Jerusalem became the center of injustice and betrayal of God’s covenant.” (page 14)
    • “Yet even among the prophets who indicted it so sharply, Jerusalem also retained positive associations as the city of God and the city of hope. Moreover, Jerusalem’s future was not just about itself; rather, it was a hope for the world, God’s dream for the world.
    • “These are images of justice, prosperity, and security. And the creation of this world of justice and peace, in which fear will be no more, will come from the God whose dwelling place is Jerusalem.” (page 16)
  • Jerusalem In The Centuries Before Jesus
    • After a dreadful siege of over a year, Jerusalem was conquered by the Babylonians in 586 BCE. (page 16)
    • After about fifty years in exile, the Jewish people were permitted to return to their homeland. In the late 500s, within a few decades of their return, they rebuilt the temple.
    • For several centuries Judea with its capital in Jerusalem was ruled by foreign empires. (page 17)
    • It fell under the control of Rome in 63 BCE.
    • Rome appointed as king of the Jews a man named Herod, an Idumean whose family had only recently converted to Judiasm. Herod had a long reign, until 4 BCE, and eventually became known to history as Herod the Great.
    • Herod ruled from Jerusalem, and the city became magnificent during his reign. He rebuilt the temple. Beginning in the 20s of the first century BCE, Herold “remodeled” the modest postexilic temple, but in effect built a new temple surrounded by spacious courts and elegant colonnades, with sumptuous use of marble and gold.
    • Though history knows him as “Herod the Great,” he was not popular among many Jews. (page 19)
    • When Herod died in 4 BCE, revolts erupted. They were so serious that Roman legions had to be brought south from Syria to quell them.
  • Jerusalem In The First Century
    • The events of 6 CE significantly changed political circumstances for Jerusalem and the temple (page 19)
    • The temple replaced Herodian rule as the center of the local domination system. The temple was now the enter of local collaboration with Rome.
    • At the top of the system were temple authorities, headed by the high priest, and included members of aristocratic families. Mark called these “the chief priests, the elders, and the scribes.” (For example Mark 14:53)
    • Temple authorities came from wealthy families.
    • “The issue is not their individual virtue or wickedness, but the role they played in the domination system. They shaped it, enforced it, and benefited from it.” (page 22)
    • “Their role was to be the intermediaries between a local domination system and an imperial domination system.” (page 22)
    • “The temple’s role as the center of a domination system was legitimated by theology: its place in the system was said to have been given by God.” (page 23)
    • Jesus was not the only Jewish anti-temple voice in the first century. Among other voices were the Essenes, identified with the community that produced the Dead Sea Scrolls.
    • The Jewish revolt in 66 CE was directed as much against the Jewish collaborators in Jerusalem as it was against Rome itself.
    • Forgiveness was a function that temple theology claimed for itself, mediated by sacrifice in the temple. (page 23)
    • Mark 2:7, “Their point is not that Jesus is claiming to be God. Rather, their point is that God has provided a way to forgive sins — namely through temple sacrifice. And here is Jesus, like John, proclaiming forgiveness apart from the temple.” (page 24)
    • In 70 CE Roman legions shattered the great revolt by reconquering the city and destroying the temple, leaving only the part of the western wall of the temple platform.
    • “The destruction of the temple changed Judaism forever. Sacrifice ceased, the role of the priesthood was eclipsed, and the central institutions of Judaism became scripture and synagogue.” (page 25)
  • Jerusalem In The Gospel of Mark
    • Six of Mark’s sixteen chapters are set in Jerusalem; almost 40 percent of the whole
    • “In Mark, Jesus’s message is not about himself — not about his identity as the Messiah, the Son of god, the Lamb of God, the Light of the World, or any of the other exalted terms familiar to Christians.” (page 25)
    • “In Mark only voices from the Spirit world speak of Jesus’s special identity.”
    • “In response to Jesus’s question to his disciples, ‘Who do people say that I am?’ Peter says, ‘You are the Messiah.’ This is the only time in Mark’s gospel that a follower of Jesus says anything like this. Jesus’s response confirms that this has not been part of Jesus’s own message: “And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.'” Mark 8:27-30
    • Second occasion, on the night before his execution, during interrogation by the high priest, who asks him, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?” The response of Jesus is commonly translated “I am.” (Mark 14:61-62).
    • “In Greek, the language in which Mark writes, the phrase is ambiguous. Green does not reverse word order to indicate a question rather than a statement. Thus Jesus’s response, ego eimi, can mean either “I am” or “Am I?” (page 26)
      • The way that Matthew and Luke revise this scene suggests they understood the later mean. Matthew 26:64; Luke 22:70
    • “If Jesus’s message in Mark was not about himself, what was it about? For Mark, it is about the kingdom of God and the way.” (page 26)
    • The Greek word for “way” is hodos and Mark uses it frequently throughout his gospel. Hodos is translated with a number of words: “way,” “road,” “path”
    • “Repent, and believe in the good news.” Mark 1:15
      • Repent has two meanings here:
        • From the Hebrew Bible, it has the meaning of “to return,” especially “to return from exile”
        • The roots of the Greek word for “repent” mean “to go beyond the mind that you have”
    • The word “believe” has a meaning quite different from the common Christian understanding. For Christians, “to believe” often means thinking that a set of statements, a set of doctrines is true. But the ancient meaning of the word “believe” has much more to do with trust and commitment. (page 27)
    • To whom did Jesus direct his message about the kingdom of God and the “way”? Primarily to peasants
      • Why? The most compelling answer is that Jesus saw his message as to and for peasants. (page 28)
    • The two chapters of Mark following Peter’s affirmation that Jesus is the Messiah, leading up to Jesus’s entry in Jerusalem on Palm Sunday are about what it means to follow Jesus, to be a genuine disciple. (page 28)
    • After Peter’s affirmation Jesus for the first time speaks of his destiny. Commonly called “the first prediction of the passion,” it is followed by two more solemn announcements anticipating Jesus’s execution.
    • Each of these anticipations of Jesus’s execution is followed by teaching about what it means to follow Jesus.
    • In first-century Christianity, the cross had a twofold meaning:
      • Execution by the empire
      • By the time of Mark’s gospel it had also become a symbol for the “way” or the “path” of death and resurrection, of entering new life by dying to an old life.
    • To underline the centrality of the chapters that speak to what it means to follow Jesus, Mark frames them with two stories of seeing
    • “The framing is deliberate, the meaning clear: to see means to see that the way involves following Jesus to Jerusalem.” (page 30)
    • “Thus we have the twofold theme that leads to Palm Sunday. Genuine discipleship, following Jesus, means following him to Jerusalem, the place of (1) confrontation with the domination system and (2) death and resurrection. These are the two themes of the week that follows, Holy Week. Indeed, these are the two themes of Lent and of the Christian life.” (page 31)
    • “Which procession are we in? Which procession do we want to be in? This is the question of Palm Sunday and of the week that is about to unfold.” (page 31)
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