Day Three: Jesus Fights the Authority

When John Cougar fights the Authority, the authority always wins. On Tuesday, Jesus is doing a lot of fighting the authority. (Whether he wins, I suppose is pretty much the central question for anyone considering membership in the Christian Church.)

First, on the way back into town, Peter sees that the fig tree Jesus cursed the day before is dead. This is kind of a no excuses scripture I think. If you can’t bear fruit when it is needed, even if you are not ready or the time isn’t right otherwise, you are worthless. Reminds me of Jesus saying let the dead bury the dead.

Next, we have a series of verbal challenges for Jesus. It all begins with the temple authorities, and the first response is a dodge. The temple authorities themselves ask Jesus what gives him the right to stir things up so much. Rather than answer, he puts it on them and asks them whether John’s baptism came from heaven or earth. The temple leaders read the crowd and recognize they can’t really give an answer and be consistent with what they’ve said in the past. So they say they don’t know, and thus Jesus gives not answer. Next Jesus goes on the offensive telling the parable of the vineyard. This is basically a straight up attack on the temple authorities, blaming them for the death of the prophets. According to Mark, “they looked for a way to arrest him because they knew he had spoken the parable against them. But they were afraid of the crowd; so they left him and went away.”

The next verbal episode was not initiated by the chief priests, but the Pharisees, who Mark says the chief priests sent. They have come up with the trickiest of tricky questions, should the people pay their taxes? To this, Jesus executes sort of a half dodge. He turns the question into a lesson about God’s authority. Give to Ceasar what is Ceasar, but give to God what is God’s. He basically says, the tax question is a stupid question, what you need to be worried about his dedicating yourself, as a child of God, to God’s kingdom.

Next up, the Sadduces, who by the way did not believe in an afterlife. They pose a paradox created by post-resurrection afterline. Jesus replies with some specifics, that frankly don’t make much sense to me, but then again comes to “[God] is not the God of the dead, but of the living. You are badly mistaken!” Mark 12:27.

Last up is a lawyer. He asks a relatively easy question, “What is the greatest commandment?” Jesus nails it, and the lawyer recognizes as much. So Jesus says to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”

That closes out this scene that is sort of like a bad movie where the villians stand in a circle around the hero and then rush at him one at time. He beats up villian one and then comes villian two and so on.

What I notice is how often Jesus focuses the discussion back on the here and now. He rejects talk about taxes, and after life, and biblical trivia and instead talks about the Kingdom of God, which is altogether unlike the Kingdom of Ceasar and which is at hand. It is difficult to read these exchanges and still come away thinking that Jesus meant the afterlife when he spoke of the Kingdom. Not to say he didn’t believe in an afterlife–the exchange with the Sadduces indicates he did–but the Kingdom of God was not about the afterlife. It was connected to this March on Jerusalem that he had started.

Having beat back his enemies in verbal debate, Jesus begins teaching. He talks about how the widow’s mite is worth more than the offerings of the wealthy.

The day closes out with an apocolyptic vision of the near future, and a warning to the disciples not to follow false prophets. Mark 13 When Mark’s audience read this bit, I am sure their heads were nodding along. They were reading in a time when Jerusalem either had been destroyed, or when there were rebels attempting to chase Rome from the streets of Jerusalem.

I have confessed before that I’ve yet to find meaning in apacolyptic scripture. But one thing that is even more clear from Christ’s words here than in Revelation is that Christ was not talking about the distant future. He was talking about events that would occur before the end of that generation.

The other thing that seems clear to me, is that Mark is contrasting the revolution that Jesus envisions–which presumably was successful in the author’s eyes–with the revolt that would ultimately be beaten down by Rome.

At the end of Tuesday, it was back to Bethany.

2 replies on “Day Three: Jesus Fights the Authority”

Jim, I like the approach. I especially like Borg’s ideas.
I was always struck by the inexorable march down hill from Palm Sunday to the strange terrible moments at Golgotha… Palm Sunday you have “Hosanna… Blessed is the kingdom of our father David to come.” I am not sure that is the right note for Jesus’ Messianism. The fig tree, I always took as Jesus comes at the wrong time, perhaps with the wrong messge as the fig tree is not in bloom, even though it should not be! Sandwiched betwen the parts of the fig tree story is the “cleansing of the Temple. I have always interpreted that as a direct attack on religious structure, where the needs of the actions that take place are as important as the actions, misplaced emphasis — a constant in religious reformation. You have that followed by a series of final arguments with Sadducees, scribes (chapter 13 is a problem for me, more to do with Jerusalem’s destruction — perhaps related to the fig tree) again you have Judas an apostle…Last supper and Passover, the denial of Peter, agony, “Father take away the cup”, the sleeping Apsotles, the running away, the young man who is so scared he runs away naked (a radical thing for Jews), Formaal Sanhedrin, Peter’s denial Pilate, people pick Barabbas, noone except women at the cross, My God, My God why have you abandoned me. Then the wrong guy pronounces the special words of Mark’s whole Gospel — Truly this man was the Son of God! And again only the women are there. (Very powerful but often over looked till recently).
You begin with “Many” I thought Mark said all of Jerusalem, but lots of folks, festive and wind through group after group leaving him till there is no one … not even God. And then the wrong guy has the punch line to the gospel!

You are right to point to the details, because it is clear that the narrative was written with Hebrew scriptures as a source.

i think also that we know the story so well that we fail sometimes to miss the power of the pictures that Mark drew, Jesus before the Sanhedrin arrested, quoting Daniel, Pilate is amazed, Barrabas is chosen rather than Jesus, women at the cross and no disciples. And “Jesus could not have meant, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me!'”
Thanks for jarring my thoughts.

Hi again, Jim,

Among this crowded piece, I’ll touch on the Sadducees and “marriage in heaven.” A true puzzler. What helped me try and figure it out was when I remembered what marriage was all about in those days. Marriage wasn’t dewy-eyed, breathless, Romeo-n-Juliet “I love you” stuff. Marriages were pragmatically-arranged corporate mergers between families, in order to unite resources, make peace, or establish/keep dominance. They had to do less with emotive love and more to do with power-plays. So, when Jesus responds to a patently ridiculous hypothetical situation posed by Roman-collaborator-Saducees, who didn’t believe in the resurrection anyway, he hit back precisely at the heart of their concern. In the resurrection, he was saying in effect, God will not play those power-games. It is in this way that you do not know the scriptures, which indeed talk about the resurrection of Israel, and neither do you really know the ins-and-outs of God’s way of power. Folks will be like “angels,” which in Mark accompany the “Son of Man” (Child of Humanity) who returns in power only after being taken, abused, shamed, and killed — and only then rising. So, for Mark, the angels are associated with Jesus’ reversal of human societies’ power-over ways.

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