Idolatry of God, Chapter 2: On Not Getting What You Want, and Liking It

In this chapter Rollins spends more time deconstructing what is traditionally taught about Original Sin, Idolatry and the Law.

  • Original Sin: A sense of a gap in our lives
  • Idolatry: that which we believe will fill the gap, the answer to all our problems

Rollins says (on page 26) that “What we see taking place in the church today is the reduction of God to an Idol…the church ends up mimicking every other industry by claiming that they can take away the sense of loss that marks our life. Do you agree or disagree?

What is your understanding of the Law and its relationship to sin?

Page 28, According to Rollins, Paul writes about how the Law and sin are actually intertwined and exist on the same side. “For Paul, the Law is the ‘no’ that appears to be opposed to the very structure it actually creates and upholds.”

Formula on page 29

Reaction to the following: “the ‘no’ that we are confronted with — the Law — turns what was previously an object that satisfies basic needs into an object of veneration. From that time forth we become little industries dedicated to the creation of Idols.

What is you understanding of the notion of “Total Depravity?”

  • Rollins says the phrase does not mean there is no good within us, but instead refers to the idea that there is no part of our existence that is not marked by and influenced by the effect of this separation (Original Sin) and alienation (Law). (page 30)

Why are movies based on the chase for the MacGuffin so popular?

Page 37, “One of the primary fuels for hatred of others in the fantasy that they have access to the pleasure that we unsuccessfully seek.”

Page 39, “If we cannot have the Idol, then we wish to prevent the other from having it.”

On page 40 Rollins defines sin within the context of what we have been discussing, “sinful acts are simply acts dedicated to helping us grasp the ever elusive Idol.” Could include charitable work, marriage, church attendance, prayer, and random acts of kindness. Agree?

Page 41, “If an act is designed to bridge the gap between Original Sin and the Idol, then it falls into the theological category known in the biblical text as ‘works.'”

Jesus bridges the gap. Really? Does it work?

  • Deferment
  • Repression
  • Disavowal

Three characteristics of the Idol:

  • We experience it as existing
  • It is felt to be sublime
  • That which is ultimately meaningful

Creatio ex nihilo

  • God creates out of nothing…. or
  • Out of nothing (Original Sin), a god is created (the Idol).

“the God testified to in Christianity exposes the gap for what it is, obliterates it, and invites us to participate in an utterly different form of life, one that brings us beyond slavery to the Idol.” (page 48)

Peter Rollins: The Idolatry of God, Introduction and Chapter 1

The full title of this book is: “The Idolatry of God, breaking our addiction to certainty and satisfaction.” What does this tell us about what this book is about? What are your expectations of the author?

Rollins starts the introduction by describing a commonly held belief about the apocalypse, is what he describes consistent with your understanding? (Page 1)

What is the “Good News” of Christianity?

Page 3: Did Jesus come to abolish religion or set up a new one? Did he seek to show us a way of escaping the world or of embracing it?

Page 4: “It is the claim of this book that Christ signals a type of apocalyptic event much more dramatic than the one we find in fundamentalist literature. For in the figure of Christ we are confronted with an atomic event that does not destroy the world, but rather obliterates the way in which we exist within the world.”

How do you feel about not knowing, and not being satisfied?

Chapter 1: The Church Shouldn’t Do Worship Music, the Charts Have It Covered

Creatio ex nihilio: something coming from nothing

In Chapter 1, Rollins suggests that infants undergo two births. The first is their physical entry into the world, the second is the birth of self-consciousness. Rollins says:

  • “One of the fundamental experiences that arises from this second birth is a profound and disturbing sense of loss, for as soon as we experience our inner world, we encounter for the first time an outer world.” (page 12)

Page 12: “..for when we feel separated from something we assume there was something we once had.”

On page 15 Rollins introduces the concept of prohibition, and states that this is what Paul called “The Law.”

Can you think of any examples of a MacGuffin?

Rollins says that this sense of loss is a gap we spend our lives trying to fill, and that this gap at the core of our being has an ancient theological name: Original Sin. (page 19)

  • Original Sin is parsed, “sin” meaning separation” and “original” referring to that which comes first.

On page 19 Rollins writes:

  • “But this belief in something that would finally bring satisfaction is nothing more than a fantasy we create, a fantasy that fuels the obsessive drive we have for books, talks, and people who promise a life of total sexual, emotional, and/or spiritual fulfillment. This Original Sin is the very thing that causes us to falsely think it is not original at all. This sense of gap makes us think that there must have been something before it, an original blessing that we somehow lost.

I am a bit uncertain about what Rollins is getting at in the bold sentence above. Is Rollins suggesting here that what we think we have lost, we in fact have not lost? It seems so, he goes on…

  • “Sadly, almost the entire existing church fails to embrace the full radicality of what Original Sin actually means, for they presuppose that there is something we are separated from, something that will bring wholeness and insight.”

Rollins suggests that contemporary church worship music is really not too different from secular music. Do you agree or disagree?

Rollins then goes on to make a pretty strong statement about the church today. In observing how contemporary worship music tends to replace secular objects of desire with Jesus, he writes:

  • “When such music is used in a church context, it renders the source of faith into just one more product promising us fulfillment, happiness, and unwavering bliss. The church then takes its place beside every other industry that is in the business of selling satisfaction.” (page 22)

The statement above raises the questions:

  • why does the church exist?
  • what is the church’s purpose?
  • why am I a member of a church?
  • what’s in it for me?

Give Us Today Our Daily Bread

A friend on Facebook shared a link to the article: “Your Lifestyle Has Already Been Designed (The Real Reason For The Forty-Hour Workweek)” and it got me asking questions. Is it wrong to be satisfied? By being satisfied I mean to not be driven for more, to not constantly push to “be all you can be?” Our culture says it is wrong to be satisfied, we should always be striving to improve, to achieve more, to accomplish more.

Only working a 40 hour week? You are a slacker. Using all of your vacation time? You are a slacker. Wish you didn’t have to work all the time? You are lazy. Not saving the world? Then you are not using the gifts God has given you.

In my opinion churches ought to counter this cultural belief, but instead we feed it equally well. You’ve got to participate in more small groups, give more service, and give more money so that either more people can be hired or larger buildings can be built.

If you don’t do these things, you aren’t truly part of our community. Instead of offering relief from a world obsessed with more, the church fully participates within and often encourages the cultural norm.

In Luke 11:1-4, Jesus’s disciples ask him to teach them how to pray, and Jesus answers in what we commonly call The Lord’s Prayer. In verse 3 it says, “Give us each day our daily bread.” In other words, please provide us just what we need for this day.

You remember the words, don’t you?

The prayer goes on in verse 4, “And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.” In most churches the word sin is used in this verse, I find it interesting that in Matthew’s version of the Lord’s prayer, this verse says “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” (Matthew 6:12). While we seem to want to equate “debt” with the idea of our debt to God, or rather sin, most likely Jesus really meant debt.

In the time of Jesus debt, most often in the form of having your land foreclosed on in trade for food and other things one needed to live, was a big issue. The authorities, be they Jewish or Roman, in their obsession for more forced those around them into debt. It seems to me that Jesus is encouraging us to forgive debts on others, just as God has forgiven our debt to him. Or may be put another way, stop being obsessed with more, and be satisfied with “enough.”

In Matthew 6:25-34 we see Jesus telling us to not worry. Jesus says, “Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” In Jesus’s day marks of wealth included what you ate and what you wore. If you listen closely enough, I think you hear Jesus saying, “give up your obsession with more and rejoice in having enough. Be satisfied. Peace be with you.”

For more about The Lord’s Prayer, I recommend “The Greatest Prayer: Rediscovering the Revolutionary Message of the Lord’s Prayer” by John Dominic Crossan.

The Idolatry of God by Peter Rollins, Chapter 1

I’ve just started reading The Idolatry of God by Peter Rollins. Of all the books that we have read the last couple of years, Peter Rollins’ Insurrection was the most challenging. Rollins’ writing is the type you have to read twice, maybe more, to fully understand.

Rollins’ main motivation in his work appears to be to challenge our commonly held beliefs and practices.

In Chapter 1, Rollins suggests that infants undergo two births. The first is their physical entry into the world, the second is the birth of self-consciousness. Rollins says:

  • “One of the fundamental experiences that arises from this second birth is a profound and disturbing sense of loss, for as soon as we experience our inner world, we encounter for the first time an outer world.” (page 12)

Rollins says that this sense of loss is a gap we spend our lives trying to fill, and that this gap at the core of our being has an ancient theological name: Original Sin. (page 19)

  • Original Sin is parsed, “sin” meaning separation” and “original” referring to that which comes first.

On page 19 Rollins writes:

  • “But this belief in something that would finally bring satisfaction is nothing more than a fantasy we create, a fantasy that fuels the obsessive drive we have for books, talks, and people who promise a life of total sexual, emotional, and/or spiritual fulfillment. This Original Sin is the very thing that causes us to falsely think it is not original at all. This sense of gap makes us think that there must have been something before it, an original blessing that we somehow lost.

I am a bit uncertain about what Rollins is getting at in the bold sentence above. Is Rollins suggesting here that what we think we have lost, we in fact have not lost? It seems so, he goes on…

  • “Sadly, almost the entire existing church fails to embrace the full radicality of what Original Sin actually means, for they presuppose that there is something we are separated from, something that will bring wholeness and insight.”

Rollins then goes on to make a pretty strong statement about the church today. In observing how contemporary worship music tends to replace secular objects of desire with Jesus, he writes:

  • “When such music is used in a church context, it renders the source of faith into just one more product promising us fulfillment, happiness, and unwavering bliss. The church then takes its place beside every other industry that is in the business of selling satisfaction.” (page 22)

The statement above raises the questions:

  • why does the church exist?
  • what is the church’s purpose?
  • why am I a member of a church?
  • what’s in it for me?

The Last Week: Chapter 8, Easter Sunday

Mark 16:1-8

Easter is utterly central. But what was it? What are the Easter stories about? On one level, the answer is obvious: God raised Jesus. Yes. And what does this mean? Is it about the most spectacular miracle there’s ever been? Is it about the promise of an afterlife? Is it about God proving that Jesus was indeed his Son? (page 144)

Those of us who grew up Christian have a “preunderstanding” of Easter, just as we do of Good Friday and Christmas, that shapes our hearing of these stories.

This widespread preunderstanding emphasizes the historical factuality of the stories, in harder or softer forms.

So central is the historical factuality of the Easter stories for many Christians that, if they didn’t happen this way, the foundation and truth of Christianity disappear. (page 145)

“But we are convinced that an emphasis on the historical factuality of the Easter stories, as if they were reporting events that could have been photographed, gets in the way of understanding them.”

“When treated as if they are primarily about an utterly unique spectacular event, we often do not get beyond the question, ‘Did they happen or not?’ to the question, ‘What do they mean?’

History or Parable?

  • What kind of narratives are these?
  • When these stories are seen as history, their purpose is to report publicly observable events that could have been witnessed by anybody who was there. (page 146)
  • When we see these stories as parable, the “model” for this understanding is the parables of Jesus.
  • The truth of a parable — of a parabolic narrative — is not dependent on its factuality.
  • “Seeing the Easter stories as parable does not involve a denial of their factuality. It’s quite happy leaving the question open. What it does insist upon is that the importance of these stories lies in their meanings.” (page 146)
  • One should not think of history as “true” and parable as “fiction.” (page 147)
  • Both biblical literalists and people who reject the Bible completely do this: the former insist that the truth of the Bible depends on its literal factuality, and the latter see that the Bible cannot be literally and factually true and therefore don’t think it is true at all.

Mark’s Story of Easter

  • Mark provides us with the first story, the first narrative, of Easter.
    • It is very brief, only eight verses.
    • Mark does not report an appearance of the risen Jesus.
    • Mark’s Easter story ends very abruptly.
  • Matthew adds to details to Mark’s story in 16:3-4:
    • He explains how the stone got moved: there is an earthquake
    • He narrates the presence of guards at the tomb
  • The ending is not only abrupt, but puzzling. According to Mark, the women don’t tell anybody. End of gospel. Full stop. The ending was deemed unsatisfactory as early as the second century, when a longer ending was added to Mark (16:9-20)
    • Matthew reports that the women did tell the disciples. (28:8)
    • So does Luke (24:9)
  • In Mark (and in Matthew), the women are to tell the disciples to go to Galilee, where they will see the risen Jesus. But in Luke, the risen Jesus appears in and around Jerusalem; Luke has no Easter stories set in Galilee.

Mark’s Story As Parable

  • Perhaps, as some scholars have suggested, the command to “go to Galilee” means, “Go back to where the story began, to the beginning of the gospel.” And what does one hear at the beginning of Mark’s gospel? It is about the way and the kingdom.

Appearance Stories In The Other Gospels

  • These stories are the product of the experience and reflection of Jesus’s followers in the days, months, years, and decades after his death. Strikingly none is found in more than one gospel — striking because in the pre-Easter part of the gospels, the same story is often found in two more more gospels. (page 150)
  • Matthew has two appearance stories:
    • Matthew 28:9-20
    • Matthew 28:16-17
    • In the rest of the story (Matthew 28:18-20), the risen Jesus speaks what has come to be known as the Great Commission:
      • To the risen Jesus, God has given “all authority in heaven and on earth.” The implicit but obvious contrast is to the authorities who crucified him.
      • Jesus’s followers are to make “disciples” of “all nations.” Now the commission is beyond Israel. A disciple is not simply a believer, but one who follows the way of Jesus.
      • They are to teach them “to obey everything I have commanded you.” What is required is obedience, not belief.
      • “I am with you always.” The words echo a theme announced in the story of Jesus’s birth in Matthew, where he identifies Jesus with “Emmanuel,” which means “God is with us.”
  • Luke also has two appearance stories that are considerably larger than Matthew’s. Both are set in Jerusalem, not in Galilee.
    • The first is the Emmaus road story, the longest Easter narrative (24:13-35)
    • “If we were to use but one story to make the case that Easter stories are parabolic narratives, this is the one. It is difficult to imagine that this story is speaking about events that could have been videotaped.” (page 151)
    • “This story is the metaphoric condensation of several years of early Christian thought into one parabolic afternoon. Whether the story happened or not, Emmaus always happens. Emmaus happens again and again — this is its truth as parabolic narrative.” (page 152)
    • Luke’s second appearance story (24:36-49) is set on the evening of the same day, so it is still Easter Sunday.
  • John has four appearance stories spread over two chapters.
    • John 20-21
    • After the first three appearances, the gospel of John seems to come to an end. (20:30-31) But then another chapter begins, reporting John’s fourth appearance story (21:1-23)

The Gospel Easter Stories Together

  • Two themes run through these stories that sum up the central meaning of Easter. The first, in a concise phrase, is Jesus lives. (page 154)
  • Together, the appearance stories in the gospels make explicit what is promised in Mark: “You will see him.” They underline the parabolic meaning of Mark’s story of the empty tomb: Jesus is not among the dead, but among the living. (page 155)
  • The truth of the affirmation “Jesus lives” is grounded in the experience of Christians throughout the centuries.
  • To state the second affirmation of the Easter stories in an equally concise phrase: God has vindicated Jesus. God has said “yes” to Jesus and “no” to the powers who executed him. (page 155)
  • The stories underline this in different ways. In Luke and John, the risen Jesus continues to bear the wounds of the empire that executed him. In Matthew, the risen Jesus has been given authority over all the authorities of this world.
  • Mark, writing most concisely among the authors of the gospels says simply, “You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified; he has been raised.”
  • Easter affirms that the domination systems of this world are not of God and that they do not have the final word.

Paul And The Resurrection of Jesus

  • The central themes of the gospel stories — Jesus lives and Jesus is Lord — are equally central to Paul’s experience, conviction, and theology. To these, he adds a third.
  • How did Paul experience the risen Jesus?
  • Those traveling with Paul did not share the experience; indicating that it was a private and not public experience. In short, it was what is commonly called a vision.
  • It is possible, perhaps even likely, that Paul thought of the appearances of the risen Jesus to Jesus’s other followers also as visions.
  • Some Christians are uncomfortable with this thought, as if there were “only” visions.
  • Paul came to believe Jesus is Lord because of his experience of the risen Jesus changed his life.
  • His experience had a crucial corollary. It generated the conviction not only that “Jesus lives,” but that God had vindicated Jesus, said “yes” to the one who had been executed by the authorities and whose movement Paul was persecuting. (page 157)
  • Paul’s third Easter theme makes explicit what is implicit in the gospel stories of Easter. Namely, within the world of Jewish thought that shaped Jesus, Paul, and the authors of the New Testament, resurrection was associated with eschatology.
  • Jesus, Paul, and earliest Christianity claimed that God’s transfiguration of this earth had already started, that they also claimed that the general resurrection had begun with Jesus. That, of course, is why Paul must argue in 1 Corinthians that if there is no general resurrection, there is no Jesus resurrection, and if there is no Jesus resurrection, there is no general resurrection. (15:12-16)
  • If, therefore, the kingdom of God has begun on this earth or the general bodily resurrection has begun on this earth, the claim is also being made that all are here and now called to participate in what is now a collaborative eschatology. Or, in the magnificent aphorism of St. Augustine: “We without God cannot, and God without us will not.” (page 158)

Easter And Christian Life Today: Personal and Political Transformation

  • Easter completes the archetypal pattern at the center of the Christian life: death and resurrection, crucifixion and vindication. (page 158)
  • Easter is about God even as it is about Jesus. Easter discloses the character of God. Easter means God’s Great Cleanup of the world has begun — but it will not happen without us.
  • As the climax of Holy Week and the story of Jesus, Good Friday and Easter address the fundamental human question, What ails us? Most of us feel the force of this question — something is not right. So what ails us? Very compactly, egoism and injustice. And the two go together. (page 159)
  • Egoism means being centered in the self and its anxieties and preoccupations, what is sometimes called the “small self.” Egoism is centering in the anxious and fearful self and its concerns and desires.
  • The issue is the kind of self that I am, that you are, that we are.
  • Good Friday and Easter, death and resurrection together, are a central image in the New Testament for the path to a transformed self.
  • Johns’ incarnational theology, the death and resurrection of Jesus incarnates the way of transformation.
  • We are invited to the journey that leads through death to resurrection and rebirth. But when only the personal meaning is emphasized, we betray the passion for which Jesus was willing to risk his life. (page 160)
  • The political meaning of Good Friday and Easter sees the human problem as injustice, and the solution is God’s justice.
  • Jesus’s passion got him killed. But God has vindicated Jesus. This is the political meaning of Good Friday and Easter.
  • The anti-imperal meaning of Good Friday and Easter is particularly important and challenging for American Christians.
  • Empire is (also) about the use of military and economic power to shape the world in one’s perceived interest.
  • Christians in the United States are deeply divided about this country’s imperial role.
  • Just as there is a dangerous distortion when only the personal meaning of Good Friday and Easter is emphasized, so also when only the political meaning is emphasized. (page 162)
  • “Jesus is Lord,” the most widespread post-Easter affirmation in the New Testament, is thus both personal and political. It involves a deep centering in God, a deep centering in God that includes radical trust in God, the same trust that we see in Jesus. It produces freedom — “For freedom, Christ has set us free”; compassion — the greatest of the spiritual gifts is love; and courage — “Fear not, do not be afraid.”
  • Love is the soul of justice, and justice is the body, the flesh, of love. All of this is what Easter, the ultimate climax of Holy Week is about.
  • Holy Week and the journey of Lent are about an alternative procession and an alternative journey. (page 163)
  • Alternative procession is what we see on Palm Sunday, an anti-imperial and nonviolent procession.
  • “Now and then, the alternative journey is the path of personal transformation that leads to journeying with the risen Jesus, just as it did for his followers on the road to Emmaus. Holy Week as they annual remembrance of Jesus’s last week presents us with the always relevant questions: Which journey are we on? Which procession are we in?” (page 163)

The Last Week: Chapter 7, Saturday

After detailing every day from Sunday through Friday of Holy Week, Mark says nothing at all about the sabbath (Saturday).

He notes that Jesus was crucified and buried on “the day of Preparation, that is, the day before the sabbath.” (15:42) Then he picks up the story on Easter Sunday with the finding of the empty tomb.

The event — “he descended into hell” — mentioned in the Apostle’s Creed but omitted in the Nicene Creed is known as the “descent into hell” or the “harrowing of hell.” (page 127)

“Harrowing” is an Old English word for “robbing” and “hell” is not the later Christian place of eternal punishment, but the Jewish Sheol or the Greek Hades, the afterlife place of nonexistence.

God’s Justice And The Vindication Of The Persecuted Ones

  • Mark and the other evangelists were working within a Jewish tradition that had always emphasized how God vindicated those righteous Jews who remained faithful under persecution and were ready, if necessary, to die as martyrs for their faith in God. (page 128)
  • Two models of divine vindication: before or after their death.
  • The classic example of the first model of divine vindication, or salvation at the last minute before death under persecution, is the story of Daniel in the lion’s den. (Daniel 5:1-6:28)
  • The first model is helpful for faithful Jews facing ridicule or discrimination, but how would they help them in situations of lethal persecution when God did not intervene and they died as martyrs? (page 129)
  • The second model of divine vindication, or salvation but only after death, appears in Wisdom 2-5, a book written shortly before the time of Jesus and now part of the Apocrypha of the Christian Bible. (page 129)
  • It is, of course, that second model that is presumed behind the gospel stories of Jesus’s execution and vindication. That is quite clear in Mark’s account.
  • Jesus’s vindication was “in accordance with the scriptures” for all those who knew their tradition’s second model.

God’s Justice And The Bodily Resurrection Of The Dead

  • If, as in the biblical tradition, your faith tells you that this world belongs to and is ruled by a just divinity and your experience tells you that the world belongs to and is ruled by an unjust humanity, utopia or eschatology becomes almost inevitable as the reconciliation of faith and experience. (page 130)
  • “Eschatology is absolutely not about the end of this time-space world, but rather about the end of this time-place world’s subjection to evil and impurity, injustice, violence, and oppression. It is not about the evacuation of earth for God’s heaven, but about the divine transfiguration of God’s earth. It is not about the destruction, but about the transfiguration of God’s world here below.” (page 131)
  • How did the claim of a general bodily resurrection, surely the most counter intuitive idea imaginable, become part of that utopian scenario of cosmic transfiguration at least within some — for example, Pharisaic — strands of Judaism?
  • The general reason was because the renewal of an all-good creation here below upon this earth demanded it. How could you have a renewed creation without renewed bodies? (page 132)
  • The specific reason bodily-resurrection became part of the utopian scenario was the problem of martyrdom during the Seleucid persecution of homeland Jews in the 160s BCE. The question was not about their survival, but about God’s justice when faced specifically with the battered, tortured, and executed bodies of martyrs. (page 132) See Daniel 12:2-3 and 2 Maccabees 7:9-11
  • If you believed, as Jesus said and Mark wrote, that the kingdom of God was already here upon the earth, you were claiming that God’s Great Cleanup had already started. And if you believed that the first act of God’s Great Cleanup of the earth was the general bodily resurrection and the vindication of all the persecuted and righteous ones, then for Christian Jews, the general resurrection could indeed begin with Jesus, but Jesus’s resurrection would only be along with and at the head of those other Jews who had died unjustly or at least righteously before him.

Jesus’s Resurrection And The Resurrection Of The Righteous Ones

  • Jesus descended into hell, or Hades or Sheol, to liberate all the righteous ones who had lived for justice and died from injustice before he himself had lived and died a similar destiny. (page 133)
  • Borg and Crossan look at this tradition in story, hymn, image, and finally silence.
  • In Story
    • Compare Mark 15:37-39 with Matthew 27:50-54 (page 134)
    • Why did Matthew add those portions to Mark and what do they mean?
    • Matthew uses a very significant term. He describes the resurrection of the saints “who had fallen asleep” (Greek kekoime-meno-n). And that is the standard way of describing the righteous ones who died before Jesus — they are not so much dead as sleeping and awaiting resurrection for their suffering and tortured or executed bodies. See 1 Corinthians 15:20
    • Gospel of Peter. It’s account of the resurrection is unique in that it actually describes the event itself as actually seen by Jewish authorities and Roman guards at the tomb. (page 136)
  • In Hymn
    • If the harrowing of hell fits with great difficulty into a narrative sequence, it fits with moving beauty into the poetic language of hymn and chant.
    • 1 Peter 3:18-19; 4:6
    • The Odes of Solomon, a collection of Christian hymns from the end of the first century. (page 137)
  • In Image
    • It is standard in the iconography of Greek Orthodox Christianity to depict the resurrection of Jesus not as that of an isolated individual but as that of a group in which Jesus is the liberator and leader of the holy ones who slept in Hades awaiting his advent.
    • St. Sargius Church in Old Cairo (page 138)
    • Chora Church in Istanbul (page 139)
  • In Silence
    • Jesus’s harrowing of hell may be present in some other places in the New Testament, but those possibilities are very much debated. It is sometimes asserted that it is a late and post-New Testament piece of theology.
    • Borg and Crossan say that Matthew 27:51-53 is less an example than an epitaph for the harrowing of hell tradition.
    • It seems rather that it was early and leaving as the New Testament was being written rather than late and arriving after its creation. (page 140)
    • First, the harrowing of hell is an intensely Jewish Christian tradition.
    • Second, the harrowing of hell is also intensely mythological.
    • Third, the harrowing of hell could not fit easily into any sequence as the ending of a gospel narrative. How could Jesus arise at the head of the martyred and righteous ones and then appear to his disciples to give them their apostolic mandate?
    • Fourth, there is a somewhat complicated dogmatic problem. If Christians had to be baptized in order to enter heaven, did those holy ones who Jesus liberated from Hades enter heaven without baptism?
    • “For those four reasons and especially in view of dogmatic problems like the last one, the harrowing of hell tradition was necessarily lost to the gospel story, but not of course to the wider Christian tradition, especially to Christian poetry and art, hymn and image.” (page 141)

Kingdom of God, Son of Man, And Bodily Resurrection

  • For Mark the kingdom of God is already here because the Son of Man is already present. (page 142)
  • Recall was said about Jesus as the Son of Man in Mark when discussing the trial of Jesus on Thursday, in Chapter 5. Mark insists that Jesus is the Son of Man from Daniel 7:13-14
  • For Mark, therefore, Jesus as Son of Man has been given the anti-imperial kingdom of God to bring to earth for God’s people, for all those willing to enter it or take it upon themselves. (page 143)
  • The three claims, about the kingdom of God as already begun through Jesus, the Son of Man as already arrived in Jesus, and the general bodily resurrection as already started with Jesus, intertwine with one another, serve to interpret one another, and, taken together, reveal the heart of Mark’s theology.
  • If God’s Great Cleanup, God’s Eastertide Spring Cleaning of the world, had already begun, then it was a collaborative effort.

The Last Week: Chapter 6, Friday

Substitutionary Atonement Once Again

  • In order for God to forgive sins, a substitutionary sacrifice must be offered. (page 107)
  • For most of us who are Christian, this understanding is rooted in childhood and reinforced in our liturgies.
  • Hence it is important to realize that this is not the only Christian understanding of Jesus’s death.
  • This understanding first appeared in fully developed form in a book written in 1097 by St. Anslem, archbishop of Canterbury. (page 108)
  • Anslem presupposes a legal framework for understanding our relationship with God.
  • This common Christian understanding goes far beyond what the New Testament says.
  • “In particular, we will argue that the substitutionary sacrificial understanding of Jesus’s death is not there at all in Mark.”
  • We most commonly hear the story of Jesus’s death as a composite of the gospels and the New Testament as a whole.
  • For example, only Matthew has the scene of Pilate washing his hands of the blood of Jesus and the cry of the crowd, “His blood be on us and on our children.” (27:25)
  • Only Luke has the story of Jesus appearing before Herod Antipas as well as three of the “last words” of Jesus. (page 108)
  • The story of Good Friday in John’s gospel contains much more dialogue between Jesus and Pilate.

Mark’s Story of Good Friday

  • As the earliest gospel, Mark provides the earliest narrative of the crucifixion. (page 109)
  • “That Paul, the earliest author in the New Testament, uses multiple interpretations leads to an important point: there is no uninterpreted account of the death of Jesus in the New Testament.” (page 110)
  • The followers of Jesus in the years and decades after his death sought to see meaning in the horrific execution of their beloved master, whom they saw as God’s annointed one.
  • Mark tells the story of Good Friday in precisely indicated three-hour intervals.
    • from dawn (6 AM) to 9 AM
    • from 9 AM to noon
    • from noon to 3 PM
    • from 3 PM to evening (6 PM)

From 6 to 9 AM

  • Mark 15:1-21
  • To refuse to respond to authority reflects both courage and contempt. Authorities do not like it. (page 111)
  • As history remembered, the story about Barabbas is difficult. But if we set in Mark’s historical context as he wrote around the year 70, it makes considerable sense.
  • Both Barabbas and Jesus were revolutionaries, both defied imperial authority. But Barabbas advocated violent revolution and Jesus advocated nonviolence.

From 9AM to Noon

  • Mark 15:22-32
  • Crucifixion was a form of Roman imperial terrorism. (page 113)
  • It was not just capital punishment, but a very definite type of capital punishment for those such as runaway slaves or rebel insurgents who subverted Roman law and order and thereby disturbed the Pax Romana (the “Roman peace”).
  • It was always as public as possible.
  • What made it supreme was not just the amount of suffering or even humiliation involved, but that there might be nothing left or allowed for burial.
  • On the cross was an inscription: “The King of the Jews” (page 114)
  • Pilate intended it as derision and most likely saw it mocking not only Jesus, but his accusers
  • Mark tells us that Jesus was crucified between to “bandits.” The Greek word translated “bandits” is commonly used for guerilla fighters against Rome, who were either “terrorists” or “freedom fighter,” depending upon one’s point of view.

From Noon to 3 PM

  • Mark 15:33
  • The darkness is the product of Mark’s use of religious symbolism. In the ancient world, highly significant events on earth were accompanied by signs in the sky. (page 115)
  • The darkness from noon to 3 PM is best understood as literary symbolism.

From 3 to 6 PM

  • Mark 15:34-41
  • Mark narrates two events that provide two interpretive comments about what has happened. The first is the tearing of the temple curtain. (page 116)
  • This event is best understood symbolically and not as history remembered.
  • That the curtain torn in two has a twofold meaning. On one hand, it is a judgement upon the temple and the temple authorities. On the other hand it is an affirmation.
  • To say that the curtain, the veil, has been torn is to affirm that the execution of Jesus means that access to the presence of God is now open. This affirmation underlines Mark’s presentation of Jesus earlier in the gospel: Jesus mediated access to God apart from the temple and the domination system that it had come to represent in the first century.
  • The second interpretive comment is the exclamation by the Roman centurion that “Truly this man was God’s Son.” (15:30)
  • In this exclamation of the centurion responsible for Jesus’s execution, empire testifies against itself.
  • The presence of the women reminds us that Jesus’s men followers were not present. They have all fled. (page 117)
  • Why would first-century Jewish women (and slightly later, gentile women) be attracted to Jesus? For the same reasons that first-century men were, yes. But in addition it seems clear that Jesus and earliest Christianity gave to women an identity and status they did not experience within the conventional wisdom of the time.
  • The subversion has been denied by much of Christian history, but it is right here, in a prominent place in the story of the climactic events of Jesus life. (page 118)

6 PM and the Burial of Jesus

  • Mark 15:42-47
  • Pilate’s granting Joseph’s request for the body of Jesus to be buried is a remarkable departure from customary procedure since, as mentioned earlier, the body of a crucified individual was not given an honorable burial. (page 118)

Jesus’s Death as Sacrifice?

  • We return to a common Christian understanding of Jesus’s death: that it was a substitutionary sacrifice for the sins of the world. (page 119)
  • The broad meaning refers to sacrificing one’s life for a cause.
  • In this sense, one may speak of Jesus sacrificing his life for his passion, namely, for his advocacy of the kingdom of God.
  • The more specific meaning of sacrifice in relation to Jesus’s death speaks of it as a substitutionary sacrifice for sin, a dying for the sins of the world. This understanding is absent from Mark’s story of Good Friday; it is not there at all.
  • There is only one passage in all of Mark that might have a substitutionary sacrificial meaning.
  • “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many” (10:45)
  • “To many Christians, the world ‘ransom’ sounds like sacrificial language, for we sometimes speak of Jesus as the ransom for our sins. But it most certainly does not have this meaning in Mark. As already mentioned, the Greek word translated as ‘ransom’ (lutron) is used in the Bible not in the context of payment for sin, but to refer to payment made to liberate captives (often from captivity in war) or slaves (often from debt slavery). A lutron is a means of liberation from bondage.” (page 119)
  • “Thus to say that Jesus gave ‘his life a ransom for many’ means he gave his life as a means of liberation from bondage.” (page 120)
  • The context of the passage in Mark supports this reading. The preceding verses are a critique of the domination system. The rulers of the nations lord it over their subjects. “It is not so among you,” Jesus says. Then Jesus uses his own path as an illustration. In contrast to the rulers of this world, “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a lutron — a means of liberation — for many.”
  • And this is a path for his followers to imitate: so it shall be “among you.”
  • How then does Mark understand Jesus’s death?
  • He sees Jesus’s death as an execution by the authorities because of his challenge to the domination system.
  • As such, Mark understands Jesus’s death as a judgement on the authorities and the temple. Judgement is indicated by the fact that, as Jesus dies, darkness comes over the city and land, and the great curtain in the temple is torn in two. And a Roman centurion pronounces judgement against his own empire, which has just killed Jesus: “Truly this man — and not the emperor — is God’s Son.” (page 120)

Mark’s Use Of The Jewish Bible

  • At several points in his story of Good Friday, Mark echoes and sometimes quotes the Jewish Bible.
  • Many of us who grew up Christian were taught that the relationship between the two testaments is one of prophecy and fulfillment.
  • These not only demonstrated that Jesus was the Messiah, but also proved the truth of the Bible and thus Christianity — only a supernaturally inspired scripture could predict the future so precisely.
  • It easily and naturally, if not inevitably, leads to the inference that things had to happen this way.
  • The Jewish Bible was the sacred scripture of early Christians, and many of them knew it well, whether from hearing it orally or being able to read it. Thus, as they told the story of Jesus, they used language from the Jewish Bible to do so. (page 121)
  • This practice produced what we call “prophecy historicized.” A passage from the past (in this case, from the Jewish Bible) is “historicized” when it is used in the narration of a subsequent story.
  • It is an attempt to connect that newer story to the earlier tradition and lend credibility to it.
  • The point, rather, is the use of passages from the Jewish Bible in the telling of the story of Jesus and what such use suggests about the interpretive framework of the narrator.
  • Now we focus on Mark’s primary use of the Jewish Bible, namely, his frequent citation of Psalm 22. (page 122)
  • How are these references to be understood?
  • Within the framework of “prophecy historicized,” they are seen as the product of Mark’s use of the psalm as a way of interpreting the death of Jesus.
  • As part of the Jewish Bible, Psalm 22 is a prayer for deliverance. The prayer describes a person experiencing immense suffering and intense hostility.
  • Mark’s frequent use of language from this psalm suggests that he and his community saw the death of Jesus this way. It was the suffering and death of one who was righteous, condemned by the powers of this world, and who would be vindicated by God.

Divine Necessity Or Human Inevitability?

  • Did Jesus’s death have to happen? There are two quite different reasons why one might think so. One is divine necessity; the other is human inevitability. (page 123)
  • By the time Mark wrote, early Christianity had already developed several interpretations of the death of Jesus.
  • The story of Joseph being sold by his brothers into slavery affirms that even the evil deed of selling a brother into slavery was used by God for a providential purpose. (page 124)
  • Like the storyteller of Genesis, early Christian storytellers looking back on what did happen ascribe providential meanings to Good Friday. But this does not mean Good Friday had to happen. (page 125)
  • Human inevitability — this is what domination systems did to people who publicly and vigorously challenged them.
  • Jesus’s passion for the kingdom of God led to what is often called his passion, namely, his suffering and death.
  • To think of Jesus’s passion as simply what happened on Good Friday is to separate his death from the passion that animated his life.
  • The language of substitutionary sacrifice for sin is absent from this story. But in an important sense, he was killed because of the sin of the world. It was the injustice of domination systems that killed him, injustice so routine that it is part of the normalcy of civilization. Though sin means more than this, it includes this. And thus Jesus was crucified because of the sin of the world. (page 126)
  • Was Jesus guilty or innocent? The question will seem surprising to some, but it is worth reflecting about.
  • Was Jesus guilty of advocating violent revolution against the empire and its local collaborators? No.
  • As Mark tells the story, was Jesus guilty of nonviolent resistance to Roman oppression and local Jewish collaboration? Oh, yes.

The Last Week: Chapter 5, Thursday

Mark 14:12-16

In Mark (followed by Matthew and Luke), the meal Jesus shares with his disciples is a Passover meal. In John, it is not. Rather, Thursday is the day before Passover, and the lambs to be eaten at the Passover meal on Friday evening will be killed on Friday afternoon, at about the same hour Jesus dies on the cross.

The reason for John’s dating seems to be theological: Jesus is the new Passover lamb.

In Mark nine verses are devoted to Jesus’s last gathering with his disciples, in John five chapters, often called “Jesus’s Farewell Discourse.”

In Mark (again followed by Matthew and Luke) Jesus speaks the words that, in slightly varying forms, have become central to Christian celebration of the Lord’s Supper (Eucharist, Mass, or Communion): “This is my body, this is my blood.” Johns says nothing about this. Instead, John has the story of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples.

“Maundy Thursday” is based on John’s story: “Maundy” derives from the Latin word for the “mandate” — the new commandment — that Jesus gives his followers in John 13:34: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”

Back to Mark… the details in this passage recall the preparations for Jesus’s entry into the city on Palm Sunday, but in this case the preplanning has to do with secrecy.

The Last Supper: A Web Of Meanings

  • Mark 14:17-25
  • Three main elements in Mark’s story of the Last Supper: (page 90)
    • 1. they eat the Passover meal together
    • 2. Jesus speaks of his imminent betrayal
    • 3. Jesus invests the bread and wine with meanings associated with his impending death
  • “The theme of failed discipleship continues to be central; more than half of Mark’s narration of Thursday evening and night is devoted to it.” (page 90)

Four rich meanings of the final meal that Jesus shared with his disciples. (page 91)

  • A Continuation of the Meal Practice of Jesus
    • “According to the gospels, including Mark, shared meals were one of the most distinctive features of Jesus’s public activity.”
    • “The issue is that Jesus eats with ‘undesirables,’ the marginalized and outcast, in a society in which the people with whom one shared a meal was hugely significant.”
    • “They were real meals, not a morsel and a sip as in our observance of the Eucharist. For Jesus, real food — bread — mattered.”
    • “For Jesus’s peasant audience, bread — enough food for the day — was one of the two central survival issues of their lives (the other was debt).
  • An Echo of the Feeding of the Five Thousand
    • “As Mark narrates what Jesus did at the Last Supper, he uses four verbs: took, blessed, broke, and gave. These four key words refer us back to an earlier scene concerning food in Mark, in which Jesus feeds five thousand people with a few loaves and fishes.” (page 91)
    • Why this cross-reference from the Last Supper back to the loaves-and-fishes meal?
    • Mark’s story of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes begins by establishing two divergent solutions to a hunger situation.
      • The disciples: Send them away so they can get something to eat
      • Jesus: You give them something to eat
    • Jesus forces them to participate step by step as intermediaries in the entire process. (page 92)
    • “The point of this story is not multiplication, but distribution. The food already there is enough for all when it passes through the hands of Jesus as the incarnation of divine justice. The disciples — think of them as the already present kingdom community in microcosm, or as the leaders of that community — do not see that as their responsibility and are forced to accept it by Jesus.” (page 92)
    • “Mark’s emphasis on a just distribution of what does not belong to us in the incident of the loaves and fishes links, therefore, to the emphasis on the ‘loaf of bread’ and the ‘cup of wine’ that are shared among all at the New Passover meal.” (page 92)
  • A Passover Meal
    • The first Passover (Exodus 12) occurred on the evening before the tenth plague to strike Pharaoh and Egypt, namely, the death of the firstborn in every household in Egypt. (page 93)
    • “The Passover lamb was thus also food for the journey. Moreover, the first Passover was also the last supper in Egypt, the land of bondage. We note that the Passover lamb is a sacrifice in the broad sense of the word, but not in the narrow sense of substitutionary sacrifice. Its purpose is twofold: protection against death and food for the journey.” (page 93)
    • “For the empire of Pharaoh, substitute the Roman Empire or any other empire, and the subversive nature of this story is not difficult to discern.” (page 93)
  • Body and Blood and the Death of Jesus
    • “Mark’s story of the Last Supper leaves the connections to Passover implicit. What it makes explicit is the connection to Jesus’s impending death.” (page 93)
    • Noting the differences between Mark, Matthew and Luke about the words of the Last Supper, the authors write “The different versions indicate a degree of fluidity in how the Last Supper was remembered and celebrated. What they all have in common, however, is an emphasis on body and blood, bread and wine.” (page 94)
    • What, then is Mark adding here that was not present before?
    • “First, the point of Jesus’s meals — from the loaves-and-fishes ones to the bread-and-wine one — is to insist on shared meals as the mandate of divine justice in a world not our own.” (page 94)
    • “The language of body and blood points to a violent death. When a person dies nonviolently we speak of a separation of body and soul. But when a person dies violently we speak of a separation of body and blood. That is the first and basic point of Jesus’s separated bread/body and wine/blood words.” (page 95)
    • Another level of meaning in Mark. “It would never have been possible to speak of Jesus’s death as a blood sacrifice unless, first, it had been a violent execution. But, granted that fate, a correlation becomes possible between Jesus as the new paschal lamb and this final meal as a New Passover.” (page 95)
    • Writing again about participation, the authors write, “Finally, Jesus does not merely speak of bread and wine as symbols of his body and blood. Rather, he has all the Twelve (including Judas!) actually partake of the food and drink — they all participate in the bread-as-body and blood-as-wine. It is, as it were, a final attempt to bring all of them with him through execution to resurrection, through death to new life. It is, once again, about participation in Christ and not substitution by Christ.” (page 95)
    • “The Last Supper is about bread for the world, God’s justice against human injustice, a New Passover from bondage to liberation, and participation in the path that leads through death to new life.” (page 95)

Gethsemane, Prayer, and Arrest

  • Mark 14:26-52
  • “The prayer is remarkable both for its way of addressing God and its content. Jesus calls God abba, an Aramaic word that Mark includes even though he is writing in Greek. In Aramaic, abba is the familiar or intimate form of ‘father,’ much like the English ‘papa.’ It is used by children to address their father not only as toddlers but also as adults.” (page 97)
  • “The prayer reflects not a fatalistic resignation to the will of God, but a trusting in God in the midst of the most dire of circumstances.” (page 98)
  • “It is instructive to compare Mark’s story of the arrest with John’s account. In Mark, Jesus is a vulnerable human being. In John, Jesus is in charge and is even acknowledged as a divine being by those who arrest him.” (page 98)
  • “We have already mentioned how central the theme of failed discipleship is to Mark’s gospel and to Thursday in particular. Judas betrays Jesus, Peter denies him, and the rest flee. They now disappear from the story of Holy Week. Mark does not mention them again until Easter.” (page 100)

Interrogation and Condemnation

  • Mark 14:53-65
  • Some historical comments:
    • Most likely, Mark (and other early Christians) did not know exactly what happened. (During the “hearing” or “trial.”) Thus the trial scene may represent a post-Easter Christian construction and not history remembered.
    • It is unclear whether we should think of Mark as presenting a formal “trial” or an informal but deadly “hearing.”
    • The temple authorities did not represent the Jews.
  • Mark’s story of Jesus’s trial before the temple authorities has three stages:
  • “Under Jewish law, testimony was required from ‘two or three’ witnesses in order to convict. In the absence of witnesses who agree with each other, the high priest in effect goes for a confession, and the crucial interchange occurs.” (page 102)
  • “His response begins with what is translated as a affirmation: ‘I am.’ But as briefly mentioned in Chapter 1, the Greek phrase ego eimi can be translated either as a declarative (and thus as an affirmation) or as an interrogative: ‘I am’ or “Am I?’ (page 102)
  • Matthew and Luke both read it as ambiguous. Matthew has “You have said so” (26:64); Luke has “You say that I am” (22:70) (page 102)
  • The rest of Jesus’s response shifts the topic to the “Son of Man”: “You will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power,” and ‘coming with the clouds of heaven.'” “Note the single quotation marks within the double quotation marks; they indicate that Jesus’s response includes a quotation, specifically language from Daniel 7:13-14.
  • “We need to pause and reflect on the significance of the shift from ‘the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed’ to ‘the Son of Man.’ Recall that when Peter confessed Jesus as the Messiah in Mark 8:29, Jesus did not deny it, but reinterpreted or replaced the title immediate with another one. (page 103)
  • “Perhaps for Mark the title ‘Messiah’ presumed a leader who would use violence to liberate Israel from the military power of Roman oppression. That was not Mark’s vision of Jesus, so ‘Son of Man’ was his preferred replacement to avoid any ambiguity between a violent and nonviolent messiah.” (page 103)
  • Mark’s quotation of Daniel 7 requires careful consideration.
  • In 167 BCE the Syrian ruler Antiochus IV Epiphanes launches a religions persecution against Jews who refuse to be assimilated into his Hellenistic empire.
  • Some Jews (whom we know as the Maccabees) fought a successful military war on earth against his empire
  • Others turned to visions and hope for an absolute divine judgement against all empires past, present, and future
  • In the vision recorded in Daniel 7, all the major empires, Babylonian, Medean, Persian, and Macedonian are envisaged as beasts
  • The vision includes a trial, and the decision is the eventual destruction of these empires, their replacement is the what is described in Daniel 7:13-14.
  • “The fifth and final empire is given not to one like a beast, but to one like a human being. The previous empires are symbolized by beasts, the kingdom of God by a human figure.” (page 104)
  • “Daniel 7 is thus an anti-imperial vision and an anti-imperial text: the empires that have oppressed the people of God throughout the centuries are all judged negatively, and positive affirmation is given to the Son of Man, a symbol for the people of God, to whom is given the everlasting kingdom of God.” (page 104)
  • “Jesus as the Son of Man must be read against the general background of Daniel 7. That usage has three interlinked aspects:”
    • 1. Jesus as Son of Man with earthly authority
    • 2. Jesus as Son of Man in death and resurrection
    • 3. Jesus as Son of Man returning with heavenly power and glory
  • “In other words, all is not future, but is rather a passage from present into future.” (page 105)
  • The kingdom’s “presence is now known only to faith (1:15), but one day it will be revealed to sight (9:1).” (page 105)

Confession And Denial

  • Mark 14:66-72
  • The sequence of 14:53-72 is the last of the three framing units Mark created in recording the passion of Jesus.
    • Incident A: Peter follows Jesus to the high priest’s house (14:53-54)
    • Incident B: Jesus is interrogated and confesses his identity (14:55-65)
    • Incident A: Peter is interrogated and denies Jesus (14:66-72)
  • Peter is interrogated and responds with cowardice to unofficial bystanders. Jesus is interrogated and responds with courage to the official high priest (page 106)
  • “The framing of Jesus’s confession by Peter’s denials offers those Christians a triple consolation”.
    • First, those who imitate Jesus rather than Peter are applauded for their courage.
    • Second, even those who imitate Peter rather than Jesus are consoled with the hope of repentance and forgiveness.
    • Third, neither denials nor even betrayals are the worst sin against Jesus or God. The worst sin is despair — loss of faith that repentance will always, always obtain forgiveness.

The Last Week: Chapter 4, Wednesday

Mark 14:1-11

Another Markian frame, this time in opposite and contrast.

  • The need for a traitor: Mark 14:1-2
  • The unnamed woman: Mark 14:3-9
  • The advent of traitor: Mark 14:10-11
  • “The literary contrast between the framed unit and the framing ones is between believer and traitor, but the depth of the Markian juxtaposition requires an understanding of what each person achieved within the sequence of Mark’s story about Jesus.” (page 71)
    • It is easy to see why betraying Jesus represents the worst action possible, but why does anointing Jesus imply the best?

The Need For A Traitor

  • “Why, if the Jewish crowd was so against Jesus, was it necessary to arrest him in the darkness of night with the help of a traitor from among Jesus’s followers?” (page 72)
  • “The only reason given by Josephus for Antipas’ execution of John the Baptizer in his Jewish Antiquities is not the content of John’s message, but the size of John’s crowd.” (page 73)
  • Borg & Crossan point out that Mark emphasized that the “ordinary” Jewish citizens, or the crowds, were not against Jesus, in fact they believed it to be the opposite, but that the Jewish leaders feared their support of Jesus. In Mark 14:1-2 it appears that the authorities have given up, there is no way to arrest Jesus unless they use stealth.
  • “Do the other evangelists follow Mark’s emphasis? Less and less.” (page 74)
  • “as we move sequentially from Mark through Matthew and Luke to John, that is, from the early 70s to the mid 90s CE, that original emphasis on Jewish supporting crowd versus Jewish high-priestly authority diminishes significantly.” (page 75)

The Twelve As Failed Disciples

  • “as we shall see, Peter, James, and John, then the Twelve as a group, and finally Judas all fail tragically but not irrevocably (except for Judas) to accept their destiny alongside Jesus.” (page 75)
  • “to be the Twelve (apostles or disciples) in Mark’s story is to fail Jesus badly.” (page 76)
  • Mark makes this clear with his framing of the journey to Jerusalem with healings of blindness at the beginning and end of the journey.
  • “Between those frames of blindness, Mark focuses the failed discipleship of the Twelve around three prophetic warnings of his death and resurrection given to them by Jesus.” (page 77)

First Prophecy, Reaction, And Response

  • “Peter confesses that Jesus is the Messiah, but far from applauding him Jesus ‘sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him’ (8:29-30). Such injunctions to silence in Mark usually do not mean, “You have it right, but keep it secret,” but rather, “You have it wrong, so keep it quiet.” In other words, “Please, shut up!” (page 77)
  • “Right after that wrong and silenced misunderstanding about Jesus as Messiah comes that correct and open announcement of Jesus as Son of Man.” The title of Son of Man will be discussed in more detail in chapter 5.
  • “All three connected prophecies of death and resurrection beget at least incomprehension if not downright opposition from the Twelve.”
  • “It is extremely important to underline Mark’s theology at this point. For him, Jesus knows in precise detail what is going to happen, but he does not speak of suffering vicariously to atone for the sins of the world.” (page 78)
  • “To follow Jesus means to accept the cross, to walk with him against imperial violence and religious collaboration, and to pass through death to resurrection.”

Second Prophecy, Reaction, And Response

  • “Even as Jesus is announcing his death buy execution, they are debating precedence among themselves. Here Mark is not only criticizing the disciples; he is almost lampooning them.” (page 79)

Third Prophecy, Reaction, And Response

  • “Continues what we have called the Lenten journey theme as Jesus tries in vain not just to foretell but to explain his destiny to the disciples, so that they will be enabled to follow him on the way through death to resurrected life.” (Page 79)
  • The third prophecy is the most detailed of the three. (page 80)
  • the “three prophecies emphasize also that Jesus is calling all his followers — and not just the twelve disciples — to accept that communal destiny of death and resurrection.” (page 81)
  • “that confrontation is with oppressive foreign empire (against violence) and its collaborative local religion (against injustice), that is to say, with any religio-political combination that establishes injustice on earth that belongs to a God of justice.” (page 81)
  • “notice that in the first prophecy’s reaction and response Jesus was challenging them to die or at least be ready to die with him in Jerusalem. In the second and third ones, however, the emphasis is on how to behave — and behave as leaders — both now and hereafter.” (page 82)
  • “The function of the three responses is to spell out in some detail what Jesus’s destiny of execution and resurrection means for himself, for the Twelve, and for all his followers.” (page 82)

Atonement: Substitution Or Participation?

  • “It is probably fair to say that substitutionary atonement is the only way that many or even most contemporary Christians understand faith in the sacrificial and salvific death of Jesus.” (page 83)
  • “The basic and controlling metaphor for that understanding of God’s design is our own experience of a responsible human judge who, no matter how loving, cannot legitimately or validly walk into her courtroom and clear the docket of all offenders by anticipatory forgiveness.” (page 83)
  • “Notice, above all, how repeatedly Mark has Jesus insist that Peter, James, and John, the Twelve, and all his followers on the way from Caesarea Phillippi to Jerusalem must pass with him through death to a resurrected life.” (page 83)
  • “For Mark, it is about participation with Jesus and not substitution by Jesus.”
  • “And every year, our Lent asks us to repent, change, and participate in that transition with Jesus.” (page 84)
  • “What about that climactic conclusion in Mark 10:45, which states that “the Son of Man came not be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many”?
  • “The Greek word translated ‘ransom’ is lutron, which means the payment to an owner for a slave’s freedom or a captive’s ransom. It is not used in the Greek of the Hebrew Bible for anything like vicarious satisfaction or vicarious atonement to God for sin.”
  • “How does Mark think Jesus’s death is a ‘ransom’ (lutron) for many? The Markan Jesus has been insisting on the ‘how’ ever since Caesarea Phillippi — to the Twelve in particular but also to all others as well. It is not by Jesus substituting for them, but by their participating in Jesus.” (page 84)

In Remembrance Of Her

  • “Why does she deserve or her action receive this absolutely unique and stunningly extraordinary accolade from Jesus: ‘Truly I tell you, wherever the good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her'” (14:9) (page 85)
  • “She alone, of all those who heard Jesus’s three prophecies of his death and resurrection, believe him and drew the obvious conclusion. Since (not if) you are going to die and rise, I must anoint you now beforehand, because I will never have a chance to do it afterward. She is, for Mark, the first believer. And she believed from the word of Jesus before any discovery of an empty tomb.” (page 85)
  • “The unnamed woman is not only the first believer; she is also the model leader. Jesus has been telling the Twelve what leadership entails from Caesarea Phillippi to Jerusalem and has gotten nowhere with them.” (page 85)
  • “The unnamed woman represents the perfect disciple-leader and is contrasted with Judas, who represents the worst one possible.” (page 86)

The Motive Of Judas

  • Mark gives absolutely no hint of Judas’s motive in betraying Jesus. Mark, by the way, does not say that Judas did it for money, simply that they promised him some.
  • “Mark’s emphasis is not on Judas’s motive, whatever it was, but on Judas’s membership in the Twelve.” (page 87)

“The traitor has entered into an agreement with those who collaborate with imperial rule. And so Wednesday ends and the plot has been set in motion.” (page 87)