The Last Week: Chapter 3, Tuesday

Mark 11:20-25

Tuesday is the longest day in Mark’s story of Jesus’s final week.

  • About two-thirds of Tuesday consists of conflict with temple authorities
  • The remaining third warns of the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple and speaks of the coming of the Son of Man, all in the near future.

Jesus’s Authority Is Challenged

  • Mark 11:27-33
  • “They ask Jesus, ‘By what authority are you doing these things?’ The question refers to Jesus’s prophetic act in the temple on Monday, and Mark’s use of the plural ‘things’ suggests that Sunday’s provocative entry into the city may also be included.” (page 51)

Jesus Indicts The Authorities With A Parable

  • Mark 12:1-12
  • Jesus takes the initiative. Commonly called the parable of the wicked tenants, this story might better be called the parable of the greedy tenants.
  • “The motivation for their murderous behavior is greed: they want to possess the produce of the vineyard for themselves.” (page 52)
  • “Christian interpretation of this parable has most often emphasized a christological meaning.” but…
  • “The primary meaning of the parable is not christological. Rather as Mark tells us at the very end of the story, it is an indictment of the authorities.” (page 52)
  • “The tenants are not ‘Israel’ not ‘the Jews.’ Rather, the vineyard is Israel — both the land and its people. And the vineyard belongs to God, not to the greedy tenants — the powerful and wealthy at the top of the local domination system — who want its produce for themselves.” (page 53)

Taxes To Caesar?

  • Mark 12:13-17
  • “It has been most commonly understood to mean that there are two separate realms of human life, one religious and one political.” (page 54)
  • “The heavy weight given to this verse as a solemn pronouncement about the relationship between religion and politics obscures what it means in Mark.” (page 54)
  • “To imagine that their purpose is to provide a set of eternal truths about how human life should be ordered is to ignore the larger narrative of which they are a part.” (page 55)
  • “Should we pay them (taxes to Caesar) or not?”
  • It’s a volatile question.
  • “The spokesmen of the authorities set the trap skillfully. Either answer would get Jesus in trouble.” (page 55) Either he
    • Could be charged with sedition or,
    • He risked discrediting himself with the crowd. “Most likely, this was the primary purpose of the question: to separate Jesus from the crowd by leading him into an unpopular response.” (page 55)
  • As he did with the question about authority, he turns the situation back on his opponents.
  • “Jesus’s strategy has led his questioners to disclose to the crowd that they have a coin with Caesar’s image on it. In this moment, they are discredited.” (page 56)
  • “Thus, even before the famous words about rendering to Caesar, Jesus has won the encounter.” (page 56)
  • “The second half of Jesus’s response is both evocative and provocative: “Give to God the things that are God’s. It raises the question, ‘What belongs to Caesar, and what belongs to God?” (page 56)
  • “What belongs to Caesar? The implication is, nothing.” (page 57)

God Of The Dead Or Of The Living?

  • Mark 12:18-27
  • The Sadducees differed from the “chief priests, elders, and scribes” in two ways:
    • They accepted only the “law,” the five books of Moses called the Torah as sacred scripture.
    • They did not believe in an afterlife. (They did not believe there would be a resurrection of the dead.”
  • The purpose of the resurrection of the dead was to redress human injustice: Jews who were faithful to God were being executed, and Jews who were willing to collaborate with Antiochus were being spared.
  • “If you’re rich and powerful, who needs an afterlife?” (page 58)
  • Levirate marriage: if a man dies before his wife has a child, then the man’s brother shall marry the widow and conceive an heir for the brother who died. (page 58)
  • Does personal identity continue in a life after death, and do our relationships continue?
  • Jesus’s response is threefold
    • He charges the Sadducees with a deficient understanding of scripture and God
    • He addresses the specific question: “When they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.” (12:25)
      • Borg & Crossan say it is unclear to them what to make of this response.
      • They suggest trying to discern a informative meaning may be a mistake
    • Jesus refers to a passage from the book of Exodus, one of the books the Sadducess did regard as sacred scripture.
      • Exodus 3:6
      • “God is God not of the dead, but of the living. You are quite wrong.” (12:27)
  • “For Jesus, the kingdom of God is not primarily about the dead, but about the living, not primarily about life after death, but about life in this world.” (page 60)

The Great Commandment

  • Mark 12:28-34
  • For the first and only time in this section of Mark, the theme of conflict disappears, and we have a story in which a connection is made between Jesus and an interrogator.
  • “A request to provide a concise summary of what loyalty to God means was not unusual within Judaism, though teachers were not always ready to be brief.” (page 60)
  • The two-fold great commandment — to love God and love our neighbor — is so familiar to us that it has become a Christian cliche. Miss the radical meaning of what Jesus is saying:
    • “To love God above all else means giving to God what belongs to God: our heart, soul, mind, and strength. These belong to God, not Caesar.” (page 61)
    • “To love one’s neighbor as one’s self means to refuse to accept the divisions rendered by the normalcy of civilization.”
  • The scribe repeats what he heard and adds, “This is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.”
    • Thus the scribe brings up the contrast that dominates this section of Mark
  • “He is not far from it because he knows its heart, but he is not in it. To be in it means more than knowing this. It means living it.” (page 62)

Jesus Challenges Scribal Teaching And Practice

  • Mark 12:35-44
  • Now (again) Jesus takes the initiative.
  • “How can the scribes say that the Messiah is the son of David?” (page 63)
  • The question challenges the teaching of the scribes that the Messiah is the son of David. But what does this mean?
  • It might be about biological ancestry. It implies that Jesus is not of Davidic descent. This seems unlikely. The tradition that Jesus is a descendant of David is early, such as in Romans 1:3.
  • “Some of Jesus’s contemporaries expected that the Messiah would be ‘son of David’ in the sense of being a king like David — a warrior who presided over Israel in the time of its greatest power and glory.” (page 63)
  • “The message here then is that the Messiah will not be a king like David, not ‘son of David’ in this sense.”
  • “The term ‘son David’ is not so much wrong as inadequate. The point, rather, is that the Messiah is David’s Lord — that is, greater than David, more than David, different from David.” (page 64)
  • Next, Jesus indicts the self-important practice of the scribes. “… and yet, ‘They devour widows’ houses’ (12:40)
    • How do they devour widows’ houses? Most likely this is in reference to the scribes’ activity as working for the wealthy, they would have administered loan agreements and then foreclosed on widows’ property when the loan could not be re-payed.
  • Then we have the passage about the poor widow who puts in the temple treasury “all that she had.”
    • This passage is commonly understood as contrasting the deep devotion of the poor widow with the public display of generosity of the wealthy.
    • “An alternative interpretation hears the passage as a condemnation of the way the poor are manipulated to give all that they have to support the temple.” (page 64)

The Temple’s Destruction And Jesus’s Return

  • Mark 13:1-4
  • Jesus and the disciples are leaving the temple. One of them exclaims, “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!” Jesus responds by telling them, “Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”
  • Like the prophet Jeremiah six centuries earlier, Jesus speaks of the destruction of the temple, and of Jerusalem.
  • “In an important sense, this passage is the climax of the series of conflicts between Jesus and the system of domination and collaboration centered in the temple. The judgement against what it had become pronounced by Jesus’s prophetic act in the temple on Monday is here explicitly articulated.” (page 65)
  • The disciples then ask, “When will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?” (page 65)

The Little Apocalypse

  • Mark 13:5-37
  • An apocalypse — the word means “revelation” or “unveiling” — is a kind of Jewish and Christian literature that reveals or unveils the future in language loaded with images and symbols.
  • This is the longest single speech in Mark’s gospel.
  • “At the center of the little apocalypse is an event described as ‘the desolating sacrilege set up where it ought not to be,’ followed by an aside to the reader, the only such remark in Mark, ‘Let the reader understand.'” (13:14)
  • “Chapter 13 uses this language to speak of an event in Mark’s own time, namely, the conquest and destruction of Jerusalem and the temple by Rome in the year 70.” (page 68)
  • The war began in the year 66 when the greatest of the Jewish revolts against Roman rule broke out.
  • The desolating sacrilege — the destruction of the temple — is not the last word in this chapter. Jesus also speaks of “the coming of the Son of Man.” It also indicates a time, “But in those days, after that suffering,” (page 69)
  • “It refers to a humanlike figure who comes to God and to whom God gives an everlasting kingdom.” (page 69)
  • “To use later Christian language, this seems to be a ‘second coming’ of Jesus text. Mark expected this soon.”
  • “In our judgement, Mark’s gospel expresses an intensification of apocalyptic expectation triggered by the great war.” (page 70)
  • “But beneath Mark’s timetable, one may perceive a deeper meaning in his apocalyptic conviction. Namely, what has begun in Jesus will triumph, despite the tumult and resistance of this world.” (page 70)

“Tuesday has been a long day. By now, it is evening on the Mount of Olives. Darkness is coming on, a darkness that will deepen as the week continues to unfold. And as the darkness falls, Mark commends us, ‘Be alert! Stay awake! Watch!” (page 70)

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