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.