Bible Tuesday for Palm Sunday, 2015
Many of you may not be hearing sermons this Sunday, but instead, partaking in a dramatic reading of the passion gospel of Mark, Mark 14:1-15:47. I am not preaching this Sunday so I do not study this material for sermon preparation but rather for my own personal preparation for Holy Week. As there are many scholarly works on the passion of Jesus, focusing on each and all of the gospels, my notes here will be more from my own piety’s vantage point.
4The Lord God has given me the tongue of a teacher, that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word. Morning by morning he wakens— wakens my ear to listen as those who are taught. 5The Lord God has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious, I did not turn backward. 6I gave my back to those who struck me, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard; I did not hide my face from insult and spitting. 7The Lord God helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame; 8he who vindicates me is near. Who will contend with me? Let us stand up together. Who are my adversaries? Let them confront me. 9It is the Lord God who helps me; who will declare me guilty?
In this section of the book of Isaiah, God speaks to and instructs the prophet as a representative for the whole nation of Israel. Just as the prophet is given a gift by which to minister, sustaining the weary with a word, so Israel is being gifted by God to serve and heal each other, and all the non-Jews who pass through their land. Just as the prophet faces whatever violence comes his way, so must the whole nation, trusting that “God helps me”.
We read this pericope on Palm Sunday because Christians see in this passage a description of Jesus’ suffering and judgment at the hands of Jewish commoners and Temple authorities, and Roman authorities.
Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am in distress;
my eye wastes away from grief,
my soul and body also.
10 For my life is spent with sorrow,
and my years with sighing;
my strength fails because of my misery,*
and my bones waste away.
11 I am the scorn of all my adversaries,
a horror* to my neighbors,
an object of dread to my acquaintances;
those who see me in the street flee from me.
12 I have passed out of mind like one who is dead;
I have become like a broken vessel.
13 For I hear the whispering of many—
terror all around!—
as they scheme together against me,
as they plot to take my life.
14 But I trust in you, O Lord;
I say, ‘You are my God.’
15 My times are in your hand;
deliver me from the hand of my enemies and persecutors.
16 Let your face shine upon your servant;
save me in your steadfast love.
This psalm quotes other psalms and Jeremiah as the psalmist cries out for attention and aid from God. The psalm describes life in terror, in shame, in war: the trenches of WWI, the jungles of Viet Nam, the cities under Nazi occupation, and very, very many others.
We read this psalm at the celebration of Jesus’ passion because it also describes Jesus’ life while doing ministry. One can easily imagine Jesus praying this psalm while in the Garden of Gethsemane.
5Let the same mind be in you that was* in Christ Jesus,
6 who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
7 but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
8 he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.
9 Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
10 so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
While I have written on this passage before, I focused on the history of the passage and how St. Paul used it in this letter, as well as the actual content of this ancient hymn which St. Paul is quoting. In so doing, I skipped right over the first verse of this pericope, which introduces the hymn. “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.” This is not part of the hymn but gives St. Paul’s reason for quoting it. What was Jesus thinking as he humbled himself and was completely obedient to God? Well, he wasn’t thinking revenge or punishment for his attackers and executers. Jesus wasn’t thinking of choice names for all those who abandoned, arrested, or humiliated him. He was thinking forgiveness…”Father, forgive them. They don’t know what they are doing.” Jesus was thinking about the Kingdom of God…”My kingdom is not of this world.”
In this portion of his letter to the church in Philippi, St. Paul is admonishing the parishioners to align their thoughts with Jesus, as illustrated in this hymn. How do we do that? How do we think humbly, lovingly, forgivingly? How do we think all these things prayerfully?
It was two days before the Passover and the festival of Unleavened Bread. The chief priests and the scribes were looking for a way to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him; 2for they said, “Not during the festival, or there may be a riot among the people.”
3While he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he sat at the table, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very costly ointment of nard, and she broke open the jar and poured the ointment on his head.4But some were there who said to one another in anger, “Why was the ointment wasted in this way? 5For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii, and the money given to the poor.” And they scolded her. 6But Jesus said, “Let her alone; why do you trouble her? She has performed a good service for me. 7For you always have the poor with you, and you can show kindness to them whenever you wish; but you will not always have me. 8She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for its burial. 9Truly I tell you, wherever the good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.”
10Then Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve, went to the chief priests in order to betray him to them. 11When they heard it, they were greatly pleased, and promised to give him money. So he began to look for an opportunity to betray him.
12On the first day of Unleavened Bread, when the Passover lamb is sacrificed, his disciples said to him, “Where do you want us to go and make the preparations for you to eat the Passover?” 13So he sent two of his disciples, saying to them, “Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you; follow him, 14and wherever he enters, say to the owner of the house, ‘The Teacher asks, Where is my guest room where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ 15He will show you a large room upstairs, furnished and ready. Make preparations for us there.” 16So the disciples set out and went to the city, and found everything as he had told them; and they prepared the Passover meal.
17When it was evening, he came with the twelve. 18And when they had taken their places and were eating, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me.” 19They began to be distressed and to say to him one after another, “Surely, not I?” 20He said to them, “It is one of the twelve, one who is dipping bread into the bowl with me. 21For the Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that one by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that one not to have been born.”
22While they were eating, he took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” 23Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, and all of them drank from it. 24He said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. 25Truly I tell you, I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.”
26When they had sung the hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.27And Jesus said to them, “You will all become deserters; for it is written,
‘I will strike the shepherd,
and the sheep will be scattered.’
28But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.” 29Peter said to him, “Even though all become deserters, I will not.” 30Jesus said to him, “Truly I tell you, this day, this very night, before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times.” 31But he said vehemently, “Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you.” And all of them said the same.
32They went to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” 33He took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be distressed and agitated. 34And he said to them, “I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and keep awake.” 35And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. 36He said, “Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want.” 37He came and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not keep awake one hour? 38Keep awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” 39And again he went away and prayed, saying the same words. 40And once more he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were very heavy; and they did not know what to say to him. 41He came a third time and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? Enough! The hour has come; the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. 42Get up, let us be going. See, my betrayer is at hand.”
43Immediately, while he was still speaking, Judas, one of the twelve, arrived; and with him there was a crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders. 44Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, “The one I will kiss is the man; arrest him and lead him away under guard.” 45So when he came, he went up to him at once and said, “Rabbi!” and kissed him. 46Then they laid hands on him and arrested him. 47But one of those who stood near drew his sword and struck the slave of the high priest, cutting off his ear. 48Then Jesus said to them, “Have you come out with swords and clubs to arrest me as though I were a bandit? 49Day after day I was with you in the temple teaching, and you did not arrest me. But let the scriptures be fulfilled.”50All of them deserted him and fled.
51A certain young man was following him, wearing nothing but a linen cloth. They caught hold of him, 52but he left the linen cloth and ran off naked.
53They took Jesus to the high priest; and all the chief priests, the elders, and the scribes were assembled. 54Peter had followed him at a distance, right into the courtyard of the high priest; and he was sitting with the guards, warming himself at the fire. 55Now the chief priests and the whole council were looking for testimony against Jesus to put him to death; but they found none. 56For many gave false testimony against him, and their testimony did not agree. 57Some stood up and gave false testimony against him, saying, 58“We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another, not made with hands.’” 59But even on this point their testimony did not agree. 60Then the high priest stood up before them and asked Jesus, “Have you no answer? What is it that they testify against you?” 61But he was silent and did not answer. Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?” 62Jesus said, “I am; and
‘you will see the Son of Man
seated at the right hand of the Power,’
and ‘coming with the clouds of heaven.’”
63Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, “Why do we still need witnesses? 64You have heard his blasphemy! What is your decision?” All of them condemned him as deserving death. 65Some began to spit on him, to blindfold him, and to strike him, saying to him, “Prophesy!” The guards also took him over and beat him.
66While Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant-girls of the high priest came by. 67When she saw Peter warming himself, she stared at him and said, “You also were with Jesus, the man from Nazareth.”68But he denied it, saying, “I do not know or understand what you are talking about.” And he went out into the forecourt. Then the cock crowed.69And the servant-girl, on seeing him, began again to say to the bystanders, “This man is one of them.” 70But again he denied it. Then after a little while the bystanders again said to Peter, “Certainly you are one of them; for you are a Galilean.” 71But he began to curse, and he swore an oath, “I do not know this man you are talking about.” 72At that moment the cock crowed for the second time. Then Peter remembered that Jesus had said to him, “Before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times.” And he broke down and wept.
15As soon as it was morning, the chief priests held a consultation with the elders and scribes and the whole council. They bound Jesus, led him away, and handed him over to Pilate. 2Pilate asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” He answered him, “You say so.” 3Then the chief priests accused him of many things. 4Pilate asked him again, “Have you no answer? See how many charges they bring against you.” 5But Jesus made no further reply, so that Pilate was amazed.
6Now at the festival he used to release a prisoner for them, anyone for whom they asked. 7Now a man called Barabbas was in prison with the rebels who had committed murder during the insurrection. 8So the crowd came and began to ask Pilate to do for them according to his custom.9Then he answered them, “Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?” 10For he realized that it was out of jealousy that the chief priests had handed him over. 11But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release Barabbas for them instead. 12Pilate spoke to them again, “Then what do you wish me to do with the man you call the King of the Jews?” 13They shouted back, “Crucify him!” 14Pilate asked them, “Why, what evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Crucify him!” 15So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released Barabbas for them; and after flogging Jesus, he handed him over to be crucified.
16Then the soldiers led him into the courtyard of the palace (that is, the governor’s headquarters); and they called together the whole cohort.17And they clothed him in a purple cloak; and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on him. 18And they began saluting him, “Hail, King of the Jews!” 19They struck his head with a reed, spat upon him, and knelt down in homage to him. 20After mocking him, they stripped him of the purple cloak and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him out to crucify him.
21They compelled a passer-by, who was coming in from the country, to carry his cross; it was Simon of Cyrene, the father of Alexander and Rufus. 22Then they brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha (which means the place of a skull). 23And they offered him wine mixed with myrrh; but he did not take it. 24And they crucified him, and divided his clothes among them, casting lots to decide what each should take.
25It was nine o’clock in the morning when they crucified him. 26The inscription of the charge against him read, “The King of the Jews.” 27And with him they crucified two bandits, one on his right and one on his left.29Those who passed by derided him, shaking their heads and saying, “Aha! You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days,30save yourself, and come down from the cross!” 31In the same way the chief priests, along with the scribes, were also mocking him among themselves and saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. 32Let the Messiah, the King of Israel, come down from the cross now, so that we may see and believe.” Those who were crucified with him also taunted him.
33When it was noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. 34At three o’clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” 35When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, “Listen, he is calling for Elijah.” 36And someone ran, filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink, saying, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.” 37Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last. 38And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. 39Now when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was God’s Son!”
40There were also women looking on from a distance; among them were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. 41These used to follow him and provided for him when he was in Galilee; and there were many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem.
42When evening had come, and since it was the day of Preparation, that is, the day before the sabbath, 43Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the council, who was also himself waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus.44Then Pilate wondered if he were already dead; and summoning the centurion, he asked him whether he had been dead for some time.45When he learned from the centurion that he was dead, he granted the body to Joseph. 46Then Joseph bought a linen cloth, and taking down the body, wrapped it in the linen cloth, and laid it in a tomb that had been hewn out of the rock. He then rolled a stone against the door of the tomb. 47Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where the body was laid.
14:1, Here Passover and The Festival of Unleavened Bread are mentioned separately. Passover is the holiday which celebrates God liberating the Israelites from Egypt. The Festival of Unleavened Bread was a seven day harvest festival which was later merged into Passover.
14:2 The chief priests and scribes were not very popular, being wealthy and pompously self righteous, while snubbing and shunning those perceived as beneath them. They want to arrest and execute Jesus, who is very popular among everyone but the Jewish authorities.
14:3-9 Medieval church tradition conflated Mary Magdalene with this woman and turned them both in prostitutes, a “tradition” that made its way into “Jesus Christ Super Star”. In the gospel of Mark, this woman merely anoints Jesus’ head with costly ointment. There is no bathing and kissing of feet nor drying with hair. In Mark, the woman is not given name or occupation. In other gospels, she is said to have “many sins”.
Three hundred denarii = a year’s wages for common folk
14:12-21 When we read this passage regarding the Lord’s Supper, we tend to picture something like Leonardo DeVinci’s painting of this scene, but we must try to clear our minds and see only what the words of Mark tell us. It is also helpful to know something of the culture in which Jesus and the disciples lived. Passover is THE family holiday of Jews, then and now. That means that whole families would have made the pilgrimage to celebrate in the Holy City, and at the Temple. Jesus and his disciples are just like everybody else and would have traveled with their families. Jesus’ mom, Mary Magdalene, and the other women disciples as well as the twelve apostles and their wives and families all would have gathered for this meal. In Mark, Jesus has the room prepared for eating the Passover “with my disciples”. Then, when it was time for the meal, Jesus and “the twelve” arrive and take their places.
Part of the Passover meal is dipping food into bowls of salt water, horse radish, and an apple/nut/honey mixture. Since there are many people eating this meal together, many bowls of these condiments are set around for several people to share. This is what is meant by “one who is eating with me.” Jesus then narrows down the betrayer to “one of the twelve, one who is dipping bread in the bowl with me.”
14: 24 I am troubled by Jesus saying “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.” Why not for “all”? The ELCA sure reads this as for “all”.
14:32-42 If we understand that it is a whole crowd of people who are with Jesus at Passover dinner and then who go out with him to the Mount of Olives, aka Garden of Gethsemane (Gethsemane means olive press in Greek, and as the Mount of Olives is actually an olive tree grove that doubles as a “city” park, it makes sense that there is a gethsemane there.), then it makes sense that Jesus asks them all to stay put while he takes those closest with him to prayer/doubt/struggle/anguish. A person would not want to agonize over all of that in front of a whole bunch of people, but just a couple close friends who could be supportive.
14:43-50 Notice that in Mark’s telling, the person who pulls out a sword and cut off the ear of the slave of the High Priest is not identified. After Jesus decries this hypocrisy, we are told that “all of them deserted him and fled.” The text is not clear whether that is the crowd that came with Judas, or that is the disciples that were with Jesus or that is Peter, James, and John, or who.
14:51-52 This little vignette is only in the gospel of Mark, and the only passage in the gospel of Mark not found in other gospels. The thought is that, who would know that there was a guy who was nabbed by the authorities who wriggled out of his clothes at Jesus’ arrest and ran away naked? That is an incredibly shameful thing for a Jew, and not one he would likely blab about to his friends. Scholarship on this passage suggests that the author of Mark is this naked guy, adding authenticity to his eye witness account of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
14:55-59 In Jewish law, testimony must be corroborated by in some cases two, and in most cases three witnesses, for a total of four people saying the same thing. Charges were not brought against Jesus because of corroborating witnesses, but because of the truth that Jesus, himself testified.
14:70 How did these people of Jerusalem know that Peter was a Galilean? Scholars speculate it was his accent, but perhaps his clothes, or his type of sandals or some other very distinguishing characteristic,
There are some hours between Jesus’ hearing with the high priest and the meeting of all the Jewish authorities first thing in the morning deciding to send Jesus to Pilate which the gospel of Mark does not discuss. I suspect Jesus was held overnight in some jail the high priest had. I wonder what that was like for him. Actually, I shudder to think on it.
15:1-5 I have never understood Jesus’ seeming flippancy with Pilate. I am not suggesting that Jesus should have shown Pilate some great respect. Jesus was going to end up beaten and crucified no matter how he treated Pilate but I am puzzled by Jesus’ cryptic answers, especially in the other three gospels.
15:21-24 Normal Roman protocol had condemned prisoners carry only the cross beam of the cross, not the upright and the cross beam. Romans would sometimes lash the prisoner’s hands and arms to the crossbeam before they led/drove them through the streets and out to the place of crucifixion. In this way, prisoners could not escape into the crowd. Because Jesus was flogged before being handed over for crucifixion, he had bled out enough that he could not carry the crossbeam and walk through the streets to Golgotha.
Simon of Cyrene is named in this passage because of his sons, Alexander and Rufus. Men named Alexander and Rufus are mentioned later in the New Testament as associate of Paul’s, though there is no way of knowing if they were these two. However, why name them if they were not known to the original audience?
15:26 The charges against Jesus “King of the Jews” are both mocking and insurrectionist. Jesus was neither the first nor the last to die for these same charges in Jerusalem. Please note that in Mark, no one supports Jesus at his death, not the thieves dying with him, not John and Jesus mother, no one. There were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joses, and Salome standing at a distance, but that is it. Jesus died forsaken, even by God, as his Aramaic cry proclaims, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?!”
15:42-47 This is the only place Joseph of Aramathea is mentioned in the gospel of Mark. The deposition of Jesus was observed, not only by Joseph, but also by the women who also observed Jesus’ crucifixion.