Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’ 37They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. 38He said to them, ‘Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.’ 40And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. 41While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, ‘Have you anything here to eat?’ 42They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43and he took it and ate in their presence.
44 Then he said to them, ‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.’45Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, 46and he said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, 47and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48You are witnesses of these things.
Translation: He stood in their midst and said to them, "Peace to you." But being terrified and thrown into fear, they were seeming to see a spirit. He said to them, "Why have you been thrown into confusion, and why are internal deliberations rising up in your hearts? See my hands and my feet that I am he. Touch me and see, because a spirit does not have flesh and bone as you see me having." And when he said this, he showed to them the hands and the feet. But yet, when they were not believing, separate from joy, and were wondering, he said to them, "Do you have something edible here?" But they handed to him a piece of broiled fish, and taking, he ate in their presence.
But he said to them, "These are my words which I spoke to you while being together with you, that it is necessary to be fulfilled all that has been written in the law of Moses and the prophets and the psalms about me. Then he opened their minds to bring together the scriptures, and he said to them, "In this manner, it has been written, the Christ (is) to suffer and be raised out of death on the third day, and change of mind into release of sins (is) to be proclaimed upon his name to all the nations, being begun from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things."
Luke wants to make sure that his readers understand that the resurrected Jesus is not that. Jesus has been transformed "into his glory" (24:26). The resurrection of Jesus is not a continuation of business-as-usual within conventional categories--he's neither a resuscitated corpse (24:37) nor intangible or ethereal either (24:43). He is, rather, the New Being.
This is why Luke insists on the physical reality of the Resurrected. For Luke, the resurrection has material presence and authenticity. It is not just about a "new heavens" but also a "new earth" as well. The resurrection signals the coming transformation when both heaven and earth, including flesh, will be "translated" or "metamorphosized" into a transformed mode of being. N.T. Wright:
What Luke draws in particular from all this (the emphasis on physicality) is not just the physicality of Jesus' risen body but what that means for an entire view of the world and Israel in the divine purpose: with Easter there has come to birth the new world, the redemption of Israel, the new creation. (The Resurrection of the Son of God, p. 658)
It (Luke's) is a picture of the risen Jesus as a firmly embodied human being whose body possesses new, unexpected and unexplained characteristics: a picture of what we have called "transphysicality," or transformed physicality. (p. 661)
Fear, terror, confusion: Jesus appeared suddenly "in their midst." Obviously, though his physicality is emphasized in what follows, something is clearly different. You and I can't suddenly appear anywhere we please.
His greeting is the same as that in John 20: "Peace be to you." As is typical, the disciples are "terrified and thrown into fear." "They were seeming to see a spirit." (The word is pneuma, which the NRSV translates, here, as "ghost," but everywhere else as "spirit.")
Jesus is able to discern their inner confusion, and, literally, "the dialog they were having within themselves." NRSV has "doubts," which is an acceptable translation, but, unfortunately, "doubt" falls into a familiar category and we tend to read it as the disciples lacking in faith, another familiar category.
The mention of the disciples' lack of faith will come soon enough, but, for now, the accent is on the inner turmoil of the disciples, the internal deliberation and confusion borne of wonder, fear, and amazement. Jesus then shows his hands and feet and encourages the disciples to "see" and "touch."
But yet, when they were not believing, separate from joy, and were wondering, he said to them, "Do you have something edible here?" But they handed to him a piece of broiled fish, and taking, he ate in their presence.
NRSV has "while in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering..." According to NRSV, at this point, the disciples are joyful, yet, at the same time, still not believing.
The preposition apo would normally have the sense of being "apart from" rather than "in." It's more about "distinct from" than about "joined with"--(keeping in mind that Greek prepositions can be tricky and each has some "elasticity" about it).
The sense of the sentence seems to be that the disciples were apisteuein--not trusting--and "wondering." The internal dialog is still going on, and they are still "separate from joy." (They will be joyful later, in verse 52: "And they worshipped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy...")
He "opened their minds":
But he said to them, "These are my words which I spoke to you while being together with you, that it is necessary to be fulfilled all that has been written in the law of Moses and the prophets and the psalms about me. Then he opened their minds to bring together the scriptures
For now, they are still "not trusting" and they are "apart from joy" because Jesus has not yet "opened (their) minds" about what has been written about him in law, prophets, and psalms--the three categories of literature in the Hebrew scriptures.
The inclusion of the psalms is somewhat out of ordinary. (Usually, the reference is to "law and prophets.") Luke probably included psalms because he wants to tie Jesus to the worship life of Israel, and also because Luke generally likes to invoke the psalms when speaking about Jesus, particularly in reference to his exaltation.
Luke provides no specific texts to buttress his case. Jesus simply announces that the entirety of the scriptures point to him. Luke wants to emphasize Jesus' life as connected with the entire history of Israel and the fulfillment of God's plan begun with Moses.
This connection between Jesus and Israel is obvious to modern-day Christians, but it was not so in the early church. Some of the early Christians had no use for the Hebrew scriptures, and downplayed Jesus' connection to Israel. Luke wants to stitch the two stories together.
Just as the two people on the road to Emmaus (24:13-35) needed to be instructed in the meaning of the scriptures, so do the disciples here. (This assumes, you'll notice, that the scriptures are not automatically clear about everything. One needs instruction, something that opens the mind, in order to be able to understand them.) It is only after this instruction that the disciples worshiped, trusted, were joyful, and blessed God (24:52).
You are witnesses:
...and he said to them, "In this manner, it has been written, the Christ (is) to suffer and be raised out of death on the third day, and change of mind into release of sins (is) to be proclaimed upon his name to all the nations, being begun from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.
Jesus moves swiftly to the coming mission of the disciples. The death and resurrection of Jesus, attested in the Hebrew scriptures, is to be "proclaimed," and, what's more, it is to include repentance--literally, "a change of mind"--"into release of sins to all the nations."
Luke is ever-insistent on forgiveness of sins. I have "release" since that is the literal meaning of the word apheimi. In fact, whenever sin is mentioned in Luke, it is always linked with apheimi--"forgiveness" or "release." Repentance does not mean feeling sorry about what a creep you are, usually after getting caught. Repentance has to do with a "change of mind" leading to "release of sins." The inclusion of the phrase "all the nations" is an anticipation and ratification of the gentile mission.
The phrase "being begun from Jerusalem" is interesting. In his Easter story, Mark encourages the disciples to go to Galilee. (Matthew does this as well.) Luke generally follows Mark, but, in his Easter account, he stresses Jerusalem.
Mark is unrelentingly negative about the disciples, and especially Peter. One wonders: Did Mark encourage the disciples to go to Galilee precisely to get the movement away from the "head office" in Jerusalem led by Peter?
One further wonders: Since Luke is generally more positive toward the disciples than Mark, is he encouraging the followers of Jesus to stick with leadership of the twelve?
Tannehill notes, incidentally, that the grammar of the sentence indicates it could be better translated by combining this phrase with what comes after, not before. It should read, he says: "Beginning from Jerusalem, you are witnesses."
Luke will emphasize the importance of witness shortly. The beginning chapters of Acts mention "witness" six times. Tannehill: "(T)hey have not only been taught by him and have worked with him, they have had their minds opened by him to understand the scripture. Their new perspective enables them to interpret Jesus' death and resurrection as key events in God's unfolding plan to bring salvation to the world."
Image: Christ appearing to the apostles, William Blake, 1795
When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ 20After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ 22When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’
Translation: Therefore, being evening of that day, the first of sabbath, the doors having been shut where the disciples were because of the fear of the Judeans, Jesus came and stood in the midst and he said to them, "Peace to you." And when he said this, he showed to them the hands and the side. Then, the disciples rejoiced, seeing the Lord. Then, Jesus said to them again, "Peace to you. Just as the Father has sent me, so I send you." And when he had said this, he breathed and said to them, "Receive the holy spirit. If you release the sins of any, they have been released to them, and if you might hold (the sins) of any, they have been held."
Background and situation: The scene is quickly set. It is the evening of that first Easter, and the doors "had been shut" by the disciples because of their fear of the Judeans. The fear of the Judeans is not unreasonable, of course, considering that Jesus had just been crushed by Judean forces. (To recap from other posts on the fourth gospel, the fourth gospel is basically an argument between a Galilean and Judean worldview. The Judean worldview, in a nutshell, is the view from the top, i.e. the Temple leadership and their allies, the ruling families of Jerusalem, and, in turn, their allies, the Romans. The Judean position is marked by division and barriers--rich vs. poor, Jew vs. Samaritan, insider vs. outsider.)
Peace established on the basis of his wounds: In spite of the locked doors, Jesus "came and stood into the middle" and said "peace to you." Previously, Jesus had spoken of "peace" in 14: 27 and 16: 33--both times as an antidote to fear.
"My peace I leave with you," Jesus says in 14: 27. Therefore, do not let your hearts be afraid. In 16:33, Jesus says that he has said "these things" to the disciples so that they may have peace. Therefore, "take courage; I have conquered the world."
Jesus displays his wounds to the disciples. This establishes continuity between the historical person Jesus and the resurrected Jesus. The wounds are now healed and glorified.
The reference to Jesus' hands reminds readers that God "had given all things into his hands" (3: 35). The disciples are safe. The reference to his side refers to the spear of the Roman soldier after the death of Jesus, from which had flowed both blood and water.
The water reminds us of the "living water" spoken of in the dialog with the Samaritan woman at the well in chapter four. Moreover, "blood and water" are reminiscent of birth. It is the "blood and water" flowing from the side of Jesus that gives birth to the New Community.
The disciples recognize Jesus on the basis of his wounds and rejoice at "seeing the Lord." This is reminiscent of the witness of Mary Magdalene who had said, "I have seen the Lord."
Jesus says again, "Peace to you." The two statements of peace frame the action of Jesus in showing his hands and side. It is on this basis, his wounds, that peace is won.
"He breathed on them": Jesus shifts immediately to mission--"As the Father has sent me, so I send you." Then, "he breathed on them."
The disciples are given power from the divine breath. The Greek word translated as "breathed" is emphusao. It is the same word the Septuagint uses to translate Genesis 2: 7: "And the Lord God...breathed into (Adam's) nostrils the breath of life." Moreover, the fourth gospel's use of emphusao is the only use of this word in the entire New Testament.
Clearly, the author of the fourth gospel is equating the breath of Jesus with the breath of God. Where the Lord God breathed life into a human being, the Lord Jesus breathes life into his church. This is yet another of the fourth gospel's many references to the book of Genesis.
"If you release the sins of any, they are released," says Jesus, and "if you retain the sins of any, they are retained." This is not a parallel for a similar saying in Matthew. There is nothing here about eternal "binding and loosing." Rather, the New Community is to be characterized by the forgiveness of sins. Conversely, if sins are not forgiven, they are "retained" within the community, thereby threatening the community's life.
24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.’
Translation: But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came. Then, the other disciples said to him, "We have seen the Lord." But he said to them, "If I do not see on his hands the mark of the nails and throw my finger into the place of the nails and I throw my hand into his side, I will surely not trust."
Thomas fails to show up for church, promptly blows it: Thomas is identified as "one of the twelve," which is not necessarily a compliment in the fourth gospel. In fact, this member of "the twelve" was absent in 20:19-23. Thomas wasn't present at the birth of the New Community. (Does absence indicate that the apostles were already starting to go their different ways?)
The disciples proclaim to Thomas, "We have seen the Lord." This is the third proclamation of seeing the Lord in the fourth gospel's Easter narrative. This is not good enough for Thomas, who not only wants to "see" but also to "touch" the places where Jesus had been wounded.
26 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ 27Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.’ 28Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ 29Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.’
Translation: And after eight days, again his disciples were inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus is coming, the doors having been shut, and he stood in the midst and said, "Peace to you." Then he said to Thomas, "Bring your finger here and see my hands. And bring your hand and throw into my side, and do not be untrusting, but trust." Thomas answered and said to him, "My Lord and my God." Jesus said to him, "Because you have seen me, you have trusted? Blessed (are) those who have not seen and have trusted."
The "new creation" appears again: "A week later" is a tame--and wrong--translation of meth hemeras okto. It should be "after eight days." This is yet another reference to a Genesis theme. The Lord God created the universe in seven days. The resurrection of Jesus, the "new creation," is associated with the eighth day.
Where earlier Jesus "came and stood in their midst," this time the text reads, literally, "is coming Jesus, the doors having been locked, and stood in the middle." The coming of Jesus is, this time, a present participle, meaning that Jesus is always present with his community.
Jesus announces "peace" again, and focuses immediately on Thomas. "Put your finger here and see my hands," says Jesus. Jesus does not say to touch his hands, but to see them. (To "see"--to "get it"--is a synonym for "faith" in the fourth gospel.)
Then Jesus says, "Reach out your hand and throw it into my side." (The word is bale, "to throw.") In essence, Jesus is saying, as the old hymn puts it, "Cast all your cares upon me." The over-all sense of the dialog is Jesus' intention to bring Thomas to faith. As Mary Magdalene and the disciples have seen, Jesus also wants Thomas to "see" his hands and, moreover, throw himself into the very wound which gave birth to the church.
Thomas responds, "My Lord and my God." Domitian, the Roman Emperor at the time of the writing of the fourth gospel, was known as dominus et deus noster, "our lord and god." Thomas' confession of Jesus as "My Lord and My God" is both a statement of faith in Jesus and a polemic against the Emperor.
Jesus blesses "those who have not seen," which, at the time of the writing of the fourth gospel, would have included many in the church. By AD 90, most of the people in the Johannine community would not have actually seen the wounds of Jesus.
30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.
Translation: Therefore, Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples which have not been written in this book. But these are written so that you might trust that Jesus is the Christ, the son of God, and that, trusting, you might have life in his name.
Jesus had done seven "signs" prior to his crucifixion. Since the number seven is the number of completion and wholeness, these seven "signs" give us a complete picture of Jesus. "Other signs" mean that even this complete view cannot fully express the meaning of Jesus. The narrator even indicates that Jesus' appearance to Thomas could also be considered a "sign."
The stated purpose of writing about these signs is so that "you" (plural, think "you-all") might come to "faith." The word is pisteuein, which is a verb, and should be translated as "faith". Using "faith" as a verb sounds odd in English so the Greek pisteuein is usually rendered--inaccurately--as "believe."
"Believe" is a cognitive function, but "faith" is more an orientation of a person's entire being. "Trust" captures the sense of pisteuein much better than does "believe."
Jesus is the "Christ" and the "son of God." Of all the titles for Jesus already mentioned in the fourth gospel, and there have been a good many, only two titles are specifically affirmed here.
As has been true all through the fourth gospel, trusting in Jesus is equated with life--zoe. In Greek, zoe refers not just to a living organism, but the very basis of all life. Trust in Jesus puts one in intimate connection with the source of life itself.
Image: "Breath" window, Church of the Holy Spirit (Episcopal), Hunterdon County, New Jersey.
When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him.2And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb.3They had been saying to one another, ‘Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?’4When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. 5As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed.6But he said to them, ‘Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. 7But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.’ 8So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.
Translation: And when the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene and Maria of James and Salome bought spices so that they might go anoint him. And very early on the first of the week, they went to the tomb when the sun had risen. And they were saying to each other, "Who will roll for us the stone out of the door of the tomb?" And looking up, they see that the stone had been rolled away, for it was very large.
And going in into the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right a white robe thrown around (him) and they were amazed. But he said to them, "Do not be amazed. You are seeking Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified. He has been raised. He is not here. Look, the place where they laid him. But go, tell the his disciples and Peter that he has gone ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just he said to you. They they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and bewilderment held them, and they said nothing to anyone for they were afraid.
Here, the women now come to anoint the dead body of Jesus. The action is anachronistic. Jesus' body had already been anointed by the unnamed woman who "has anointed my body beforehand for its burial" (14:8).
If, as per Mark's theology, Jesus reigns from the cross, then of course he would be anointed before he was crucified. The women at the tomb, however, wanting to anoint him now, after his death, are operating out of an old, now outdated, worldview.
Note, too, that the women "bought" the spices after the sabbath was over. The word is agorazen--they "bought" at the marketplace. That is, they acquired the spices through the established market system.
Contrast the extravagence of the unnamed woman in 14:3--"...an alabaster jar of very costly ointment of nard, and she broke open the jar and poured the ointment on his head..."--with the business-as-usual, pick-up-a-jar-of-spice mindset of the women at the tomb. Even the women disciples, Jesus' most loyal, get it wrong.
14:51 compared to 16:5: The women get to the tomb early in the morning "when the sun had risen." They wonder amongst themselves how, exactly, they're going to get into the tomb. (They do this much: They consult together, which is to be a characteristic of Jesus' followers.) Then, "looking up," they "see" that the stone has already been rolled away despite its great size--"for it was very large."
They "go in" to the tomb, whereupon they see a "young man sitting on the right," the position of authority. The young man--neaniskos--has a "white robe thrown around"--periballo.
This recalls another "young man," also identified as neaniskos, the one mentioned in 14:51 which NRSV renders: "A certain young man was following him, wearing nothing but a linen cloth. They caught hold of him, but he left the linen cloth and ran off naked."
This is interesting. It appears to me that 14:51 should be translated this way: "A certain young man was following together with him, a linen cloth was thrown upon his naked body..." As the KJV renders it: "...having a linen cloth cast about his naked body..." (NIV seems way off. It has: "A young man, wearing nothing but a linen garment, was following Jesus. When they seized him, he fled naked, leaving his garment behind." It uses 23 English words to say what the Greek does in 12.)
The Greek seems clear that the young man did not throw the cloth off. It was put on him. This type of cloth--sindona--was made of linen and was used to bury the dead. Symbolically, this young man has the shroud of death cast upon him.
This is entirely consistent with Mark's over-all theology. The follower is not above his Master. True followers of Jesus will meet the same fate as Jesus.
As is well known for Mark, the twelve disciples never ever get it. They keep getting the theology wrong, and they don't follow either. This is true from start to finish in Mark's gospel.
Yet, occasionally, certain others do get it, and do follow. In chapter 10, a blind begger "sees" and "follows." In chapter 14, an anonymous woman understands that Jesus' crucifixion will be his coronation and anoints him beforehand.
In chapter 14, an anonymous young man also is "following." This is high praise for Mark. The Twelve are always worrying about which of them is the biggest big shot. True disciples follow Jesus. They understand and live the way of the cross. (It's not for nothing that Mark is sometimes called the "most Lutheran" of the four gospels.)
In the resurrection account, this young man--this anonymous follower of Jesus who once was wrapped in death--is now radically transformed. He is now sitting on the right, in a position of authority, in the transformed tomb of Jesus.
Moreover, he now wears not the shroud of death, but the dazzling white robe last seen in the Transfiguration of Jesus in chapter 9. Thus, Mark is telling us, the lot of the true follower of Jesus is death, yes, but also resurrection. (Neaniskos may also be translated as "new one.")
"He has been raised...go to Galilee": The women were "amazed"--exethambethesan, "astonished, startled, awe-stricken." The young man tells them not to be, and says, "You are seeking Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified." The young man makes sure to note that they are looking for Jesus of Galilee, the crucified. For the true follower, this is the proper designation.
"He has been raised." The word is egerthe, which has previously been used in Mark in the context of healings and also in, you might say, "glimpses" of resurrection, such as the raising of Jairus' daughter in chapter 5. (The verb is in the passive voice. Jesus was raised. He did not raise himself.)
"But go, tell the his disciples and Peter that he has gone ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just he said to you." His disciples were last seen high-tailing it out of town, and Peter was last seen denying he ever knew Jesus. The resurrection reclaims them.
On the other hand, the note has a barb in it as well. Yes, be sure and tell his ne-er-do-well disciples that the way forward is into Galilee, and, pointedly, not Jerusalem. (Jesus had earlier said, in 14:28: "But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.")
If, as is thought, Mark was written around AD 70, he is writing, therefore, in the context of the destruction of Jerusalem, a catastrophic event. The way forward will not be with the compromised "head office" in Jerusalem, but in Galilee, where the movement began, and where it will yet be continued. The mission and work of the Crucified is being regenerated in the place from which it sprang.
"There you will see him." The word "see" is opsesthe, which is used only three times in Mark--here, and in 13:26 and 14:62. In both of the other instances, the word is used to refer to, and link Jesus to, the "son of man" figure of Daniel. Here, it is used to refer to Jesus' presence in Galilee, yet another identification of Jesus with the "coming son of man" figure in Daniel 7:13.
"They they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and bewilderment held them, and they said nothing to anyone for they were afraid." In other words, the women expressly did not do what the young man told them to do. They were instructed to go and tell, but they "said nothing to anyone" out of fear. The women fled, just as the twelve had done in 14:50: "All of them deserted him and fled."
Thus ends Mark's gospel. The ending is so unsettling that at least three attempts were made to fix an additional ending to it.
Mark knew exactly what he was doing. Remember that the gospel opens with these words: "The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God." The entire story Mark has just told is only "the beginning." When the book ends, the mission of Jesus is being regenerated in the place of its own "beginning."
Granted, the resurrection account is only 8 verses, during which time Jesus does not actually appear, and which ends in confusion and fear. This is because Mark doesn't want to take too much emphasis off of the cross. Even in the resurrection account, Jesus is identified as "the crucified."
Recall that the only time in the entire gospel where Jesus is proclaimed "Son of God," and this designation is allowed to stand, is at his crucifixion and death. The centurion said, "Truly, this man was God's Son."
Only at his crucifixion--only after one knows the course of his life, his mission, his teachings, and how he died to further those teachings--is one able to say who Jesus really is. Now, Mark tells us, the mission of Jesus continues. It continues through those who "follow" Jesus, those who understand and live "the way of the cross."
Image: Retablo, Cathedral of St. Francis de Asis, Santa Fe, New Mexico
When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples 2and said to them, ‘Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. 3If anyone says to you, “Why are you doing this?” just say this, “The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.” ’ 4They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, 5some of the bystanders said to them, ‘What are you doing, untying the colt?’ 6They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. 7Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. 8Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. 9Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting,
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
10 Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!’
11 Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.
Translation: When they were drawing near into Jerusalem, into Bethphage and Bethany, by the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples, and said to them, "Go into the village, the one before you, and immediately as you enter into it, you will find a colt tied there, upon which no human being has sat. Release it and bring it. And if anyone says to you, 'Why are you doing this?' say 'The Lord needs to have it' and immediately he will send it back here.'"
And they went and found a colt tied to a door outside on the street, and they were releasing it. Some of the ones standing there said to them, "What are you doing, releasing the colt?" But they said to them according to what Jesus had said, and they let them go.
And they brought the colt to Jesus and they threw their cloaks on it, and he sat on it. And many people spread their cloaks into the road, but others cut off leafy branches out of the fields. The ones leading forth and the ones following cried out, 'Hosanna! Blessed (is) the one coming in the name of the Lord! Blessed (is) the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!' And he entered into Jerusalem and into the Temple and he looked around at all. Late already is the hour, he went out into Bethany with the twelve.
Background and situation: Jesus was approaching Jerusalem from the east. Bethany and Bethphage are just to the east of Jerusalem. The Mount of Olives is just east of the Temple. The reason this is significant is because there were two processions into Jerusalem during the time of passover. One--the Roman army--came from the west. The other--those with Jesus--came from the east.
The Roman army was coming to maintain order during passover, a time when the population of Jerusalem would swell from around 50,000 to well over 200,000. Moreover, passover was a celebration of liberation from Pharoah in Egypt, and Rome was uneasy about its anti-imperial content and associations.
The Romans were headquartered at Caesarea Maritima, a city built by Herod to honor Caesar--Herod built monuments to Caesar at every opportunity--and one which featured one of the finest harbors in the world. The harbor was state-of-the-art. It featured the use of new engineering techniques, such as a formula for concrete that would harden under water.
The harbor's purpose was two-fold: (1) provide a harbor for the swift transport of troops to the east in the event of war with Parthia, and (2), more efficient export of agricultural products from the region.
The procession of the Roman army would have been an imposing sight--Legionnaires on horseback, Roman standards flying, the Roman eagle prominently displayed, the clank of armor and beating of drums. The procession was designed to be a display of Roman imperial power. Message? Resistance is futile!
Street theater: With thousands of people pouring into Jerusalem, it would have been easy to arrive inconspicuously. Simply join the mass of people and become one of the anonymous horde.
Jesus didn't do it that way. He entered Jerusalem with an inspired splash. Rome had made its demonstration of power from the west. Jesus would stage a counter-demonstration from the east. He would come from "the opposite direction" in more important ways, however, than mere geography.
Jesus comes to the city not in a powerful way, like the Roman army, but in a ludicrously humble way. He incites not fear, as in the Roman procession, but cheering crowds who clear his way and hail his presence. The procession of Jesus brilliantly mocks the Roman procession. (Sarcasm and irony are often the only mechanisms available for the oppressed to express themselves.)
The secret password: Just before Jesus makes his final approach to Jerusalem, he sends two people into a village--not Jerusalem, in other words, but a village nearby.
This is not accidental. The Jesus movement is a movement of peasants who mostly reside in small villages. In Mark's gospel, Jesus is never in a particularly large town--never, that is, until now, the final week of his life.
In Mark, the largest "city" visited by Jesus--he may even have lived there--was Capernaum, but it was perhaps only about 5,000 in population, at the most. Other cities in Galilee, such as Tiberias and Sepphoris, were both much bigger, but Mark never mentions Jesus in one of these cities. He's always in the countryside and the small villages. (Note also that, in this episode, some of Jesus' followers cut "leafy branches out of the fields," yet another indication of Jesus' connection with agricultural peasants.)
The two disciples are instructed to go into the village and, as soon as they get there, they'll see a colt. They are to take this colt and, if anyone asks them about it, they are to give the "secret password": "The Lord needs it and will return it immediately." Sure enough, they go into town, see the colt, take it, and are interrogated. They say the magic words, and they are left to go on their way.
It appears there was a network of Jesus supporters operating "under the radar." The people in the village who question the two disciples appear to be in on whatever is going on. Moreover, this network of Jesus supporters reaches even to a village just outside Jerusalem. The Galilee-based Jesus movement reaches even into Judea, even to the very gates of the city of Jerusalem itself!
The cloak of royal power:
And they brought the colt to Jesus and they threw their cloaks on it, and he sat on it. And many people spread their cloaks into the road, but others cut off leafy branches out of the fields.
"Cloaks" had just been referred to in the episode previous, the one in which Jesus heals a blind begger named Bartimaeus (10: 46-52). (For a full interpretation of this episode, one would need to be familiar with the "Timaeus" of Plato, written about 360 BC, a text which was widely-known and widely-read, among those who were able to do so, in the time of Jesus. "Bartimaeus" means "son of Timaeus.")
Bartimaeus becomes a model disciple--he follows Jesus "on the way." This is a rarity in Mark's gospel. Contrast Bartimaeus, who "sees," with the Twelve. In Mark's gospel, the Twelve were anything but model disciples. They never really see. They never really "get it." Even when they follow, they do it hamhandedly and without a clue--at least, that is the story that Mark tells.
At being called by Jesus, Bartimaeus threw off his cloak (10:50). In the procession into Jerusalem, the word "cloaks" appears twice. Many threw their cloaks on the colt upon which Jesus sat. Others put their cloaks "into the path"--eis ton hodon. In 2 Kgs 9:13, strewing cloaks onto the path was a sign of royal homage.
This prompts the question: Why did the model disciple, Bartimaeus, throw his cloak away while Jesus' followers throw theirs at Jesus' feet?
Bartimaeus was throwing off the "cloak" of royal and heirarchical power. Jesus had explicitly condemned such power in 10:42: "...those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them, but it is not so among you..." Bartimaeus is throwing off the way of power-striving and following "on the way" of Jesus which is opposed to heirarchical power.
The crowd, by strewing cloaks onto his path, is treating the humble, donkey-riding, egalitarian Jesus as true royalty. Royal power is not with heirarchical and oppressive Rome, but with the "one who comes in the name of the Lord." The crowd hails Jesus and compares him to the greatest royal figure in Israel's history, King David the Great:
The ones leading forth and the ones following cried out, 'Hosanna! Blessed (is) the one coming in the name of the Lord! Blessed (is) the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!'
The crowd, however, is quite wrong on one important point: Notice that Jesus was not welcomed by the people of Jerusalem. These crowds were not composed of Jerusalem city dwellers, but rather "the ones leading forth and the ones following." Most likely, this refers to the disciples and those who joined the movement along the way to Jerusalem.
This crowd is enthusiastic, shouting "hosanna" to the "coming kingdom of our father David." The crowd seems to have in mind for Jesus the kind of kingdom now held in hallowed memory, the Golden Age of David, a time of prosperity, yes, and also one of military power and territorial expansion.
Yet, for Mark, Jesus is not committed to a path of "glory," as in a Davidic-style kingdom, but rather a path of defeat. He will not reign from a palace, but from a cross.
True, Jesus had been hailed as "son of David" (twice) by Bartimaeus (10:46ff), but this is before he "sees." The story of Bartimaeus is at least partly about how a blind begger gets it, and Jesus' own disciples don't. After Bartimaeus "sees" he no longer says anything about Jesus as "son of David." Instead, he follows Jesus "on the way."
Jesus enters the Temple for the first time:
And he entered into Jerusalem and into the Temple and he looked around at all. Late already is the hour, he went out into Bethany with the twelve.
Jesus will make three forays to the Temple in Mark's gospel, of which this one is the first. The crowds yelling "hosanna!" are on the outside of the city. It is only after the crowd hails him that Jesus actually enters the city.
When he does, he goes directly to the Temple--"...he entered into Jerusalem and into the Temple..."--whereupon he does...what? He "looked around at all (panta)." Then he left. Given all the hoopla leading up to it, one might have expected something different.
The Mount of Olives was, in Israel's Sacred Memory, the place from which an assault on Israel's enemies was to begin (Zech 14: 2-4). Ched Myers notes the similarity of Jesus' entry into Jerusalem with that of Simon Maccabeus (1 Mc 13:51) and Josephus' account of Menachem, a leader of the sicarii, or "knife men," as he "returned in the state of a king to Jerusalem" and prepared to do battle. (Myers, p. 294). One might have expected, then, that Jesus might storm the Temple and take it by force.
Instead, Mark says that Jesus went directly to the Temple. He confronted it. While there, he saw everything--he "looked around at all." In "seeing all," Mark wants us to know that Jesus saw the Temple's corruption and its complicity in Roman power.
Then Jesus left. Jesus does not assault Temple in his first visit. Instead, in another inspired piece of "street theater," he will take on the Temple the following day, non-violently, by driving out the money-changers (11:15).
In driving out the moneychangers, Jesus is subverting the Temple's economic base. By forbidding anyone "to carry anything through the Temple" (11:16), which meant vessels for religious use, he would also impede the religious function of the Temple. For Jesus, the Temple was corrupt and not fit for religious use.
Image: John August Swanson, Entry into the City
Hillary Clinton is more popular in this year than last. So much for the so-called "email scandal."
The number of Americans who said that Clinton is someone that they would be proud to have as president has increased from 50% in March 2014 to 57% in March 2015.
Naturally, there will be additional investigations.
Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. 21They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, ‘Sir, we wish to see Jesus.’ 22Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. 23Jesus answered them, ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honour.
27 ‘Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—“Father, save me from this hour”? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. 28Father, glorify your name.’ Then a voice came from heaven, ‘I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.’ 29The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, ‘An angel has spoken to him.’ 30Jesus answered, ‘This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. 31Now is the judgement of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. 32And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.’ 33He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.
Translation: But there were some Greeks out of those who were going up to worship at the festival. Then, they came to Philip from Bethsaida in Galilee, and they were asking him, saying, "Sir, we wish to see Jesus." Philip went and told Andrew; Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. But Jesus answered them saying, "The hour has come in order that the son of man might be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat does fall into the ground and dies, it remains alone. But if it dies, it bears much fruit. The ones loving their life will destroy it, and the ones hating their life in this world will guard it into life eternal. If someone might serve me, they must follow me, and where I am, there my servant will be. If someone might serve me, the father will honor that one.
Now my life has been thrown into confusion, and what might I say? 'Father, save me out of this hour?' But for this I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name.'" Then a voice came out of heaven, "I glorified, and I will glorify anew." Then the crowd, the ones standing and hearing, said, "Thunder has happened." Others said, "An angel has spoken to him." Jesus answered and said, "The voice has not happened for me, but for you. Now is a separation of this world. Now the ruler of this world will be completely thrown out. And I, if I might be lifted up out of earth, I will draw all to myself." But he said this indicating what sort of death he was about to die.
Background and situation: Jesus has just been anointed (12: 1-11) for his burial, then enters Jerusalem for the final time (12:12-13). The crowd witnesses to Jesus and goes to meet him (12:17-18). The pharisees express impotence at being able to counter Jesus' popular appeal: "You see, you can do nothing. Look, the world has gone after him!" (12:19).
The more I read the fourth gospel, the more I think of it together with the gospel of Mark. In fact, the fourth gospel often seems to me to be a commentary or complement of Mark. They sound the same themes, though come at them from a vastly different direction.
For Mark, the son of man is a victim beset by trial and tribulation who, paradoxically, rules from the cross--this man, the crucified, is the son of God!
In one sense, the fourth gospel could not be more different. Rather than a victim, Jesus is in control throughout. Yet, even then, the "glory" of Jesus is in "the hour," which, as in Mark, refers not to Jesus' resurrection, but his crucifixion.
The appearance of the Greeks:
But there were some Greeks out of those who were going up to worship at the festival.
Some argue that these "Greeks" were actually Greek-speaking Jews. This is unlikely. Cyril of Alexandria, commenting on this verse c. AD 425, said, "Such persons (the Greeks) seeing that some of the Jews' customs did not greatly differ from their own, as far as related to the manner of sacrifice, and the belief in a One First Cause...came up with them to worship."
The Greeks who came to see Jesus were believers in monotheism, in other words, and conducted their own sacrifices in a manner similar to that of the Jews. They therefore saw some affinity between themselves and Jews, but they were not Jews themselves, nor were they proselytes. Not being either Jews or proselytes, they would have been excluded from worship participation in the Temple and from participation in festivals.
Then, they came to Philip from Bethsaida in Galilee, and they were asking him, saying, "Sir, we wish to see Jesus." Philip went and told Andrew; Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus.
The Greeks do not go to the temple. Instead, they go to Philip and ask to see Jesus. They do not go to the place from which they know they will be excluded. They go to Jesus who has "other sheep who do not belong to this fold," and who has said, "I must bring them also (10:16)."
This is the first time in the fourth gospel that people who are not Jews come to Jesus. They go to Philip, who, like Andrew, had a Greek name.
The fourth gospel refers to Philip three times. He is identified as "from Bethsaida in Galilee" on two occasions, once in 1:44, the other here. The fourth gospel wants to make sure its readers know that Philip is a Galilean.
In all three references, he is also associated with Andrew. (In chapter one, Bethsaida is also named the "city of Andrew and Peter." It is interesting that Andrew is named first. The fourth gospel, again like Mark, tends to take a dim view of Peter.) Andrew is the first disciple in the fourth gospel, and he is the one who goes to recruit his soon-to-be-more-famous brother, Simon (Peter).
If we may extrapolate a bit, Andrew is the one who reaches out in the direction of Jews (his brother Simon), while Philip is here associated with people coming to Jesus who are not Jews. Greeks were not welcome in the temple, but they are welcome, with Jews, in the new community of Jesus.
The grain of wheat:
But Jesus answered them saying, "The hour has come in order that the son of man might be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat does fall into the ground and die, it remains alone. But if it dies, it bears much fruit.
The approach of non-Jews looking for Jesus triggers The Hour. The moment is at hand!
Then follows a "double amen" saying, a signal of special pronouncement: The seed, that which carries the entire plant in potential, must first die in order to unleash the power of that potential to produce "much fruit."
The saying recalls Paul, who wrote in 1 Corinthians 35: "...as for what you sow, you do not sow the body that is to be, but a bare seed, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body."
While these two verses are similar, there does seem to be less of a connection between the seed and the "body" in Paul than in the fourth gospel. The seed is "sown," says Paul, then God gives it a body. In the fourth gospel, however, the "fall" of the seed into the ground, its dying, and its bearing fruit are all part of a process.
"This world" vs. "life eternal":
The ones loving their life will destroy it, and the ones hating their life in this world will guard it into life eternal. If someone might serve me, they must follow me, and where I am, there my servant will be. If someone might serve me, the father will honor that one.
The telling phrase is "in this world." We commonly take "this world" to be the real world, but that is because our spiritual consciousness is limited.
Life "in this world" is provisional and contingent. "Life eternal" stands in sharp contrast to "in this world." "Life eternal" is living in a new dimension of life--the really real, as opposed to the fake life which presumes to be real "in this world."
The rest of the saying is reminiscent of Mark 8:35: "For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it." (Some form of this saying also appears in Matthew and Luke, but Mark is the primary source.)
This is yet another case where the fourth gospel and Mark articulate the same message, though, again, they come to it through vastly different routes. Mark has the saying as part of his suffering son of man sayings while the fourth gospel has it in the context of Jesus announcement of the "hour" of his "glory."
Now my life has been thrown into confusion, and what might I say? 'Father, save me out of this hour?' But for this I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name. Then a voice came out of heaven, "I glorified, and I will glorify anew."
This is the fourth gospel's version of the synoptics' Gethsemene. Jesus' life--psyche--has been "troubled." The word is tetaraktai, meaning "agitated, inward commotion, thrown up in the air." Jesus is discombobulated.
Jesus' torment does not last for long, however. In the very next sentence, he rejects asking the Father to "save" him from "this hour." Instead, he affirms "the hour" as his whole purpose. His death on the cross will glorify God.
How so? It will affirm the death of Jesus, the Word of God, for the love of the world. The self-giving love of God will be revealed as the heart of the cosmos and the crucial and strange power that lies behind all of life.
The voice from heaven likewise recalls the voice from heaven that attended Jesus' baptism and his transfiguration--Mark 1:11 and Mark 9:7. The difference, of course, is in what the voice says and to whom it speaks.
In Mark, the voice speaks of "beloved son." Here in the fourth gospel, the subject is glorification. In Mark, at the baptism of Jesus, the voice from heaven speaks to Jesus alone. In the fourth gospel, the voice makes a public statement intended for all to hear.
Then the crowd, the ones standing and hearing, said, "Thunder has happened." Others said, "An angel has spoken to him."
The crowd is identified as "the ones standing and hearing," a posture of strength, readiness, and apperception. Some identify the voice as "thunder," which would be a natural phenomenon. Others identify it as coming from an "angel," a heavenly phenomenon.
It is not quite so neat as that, however. There is not an earthly reality here, and a heavenly one somewhere else. Rather, for the fourth gospel, the present world of space and time is suffused with spiritual reality. "Thunder" is the emergence of the spiritual in space and time. "Angel" is the presence of a heavenly messenger within earthly reality.
Jesus answered and said, "The voice has not happened for me, but for you. Now is a separation of this world. Now the ruler of this world will be completely thrown out. And I, if I might be lifted up out of earth, I will draw all to myself." But he said this indicating what sort of death he was about to die.
Jesus makes it clear that he had need of no voice to tell him anything and that the voice was for the benefit of the people, a typically Johannine point of view.
He goes on to announce the krisis--the separation, the sundering, the judgment--of "this world." (Compare krisis to our word, "crisis," which is derived from it.) The "ruler" of this world will be ekplethesetai exo--literally: "thrown out outside." The fourth gospel wants to make clear that the "ruler of this world" will be completely gone.
The "lifting up": This is the third and final "lifting up" passage in the fourth gospel. (The others are 3: 14 and 8:28.) As has been mentioned in previous posts, the fourth gospel has a three-fold "lifting up" where Mark, on the other hand, has three-fold "suffering." (Again, the point is similar, but the way of getting there is different.) The fourth gospel recalls Isaiah 52:13: "See my servant shall prosper and be lifted up, and glorified greatly."
Moreover, this "lifting up" will be the final semainon, the final "sign." To this point in the fourth gospel, there have been, by N.T. Wright's formulation, seven "signs" in the fourth gospel--the first at the wedding at Cana, and the last being the raising of Lazarus. Seven is the number associated with completion and wholeness, what Eugene Peterson calls "God's number." Thus, in the seven signs so far in the fourth gospel, we have a "complete" view of Christ.
The eighth sign will be the "lifting up." The number eight is associated with "the eighth day" after the seven days of creation--the day of "new creation," in other words, which Jesus will manifest in his "lifting up."
The "lifting up" of Jesus promises to "draw all" to himself, which is one of the more striking universalistic passages in all the four gospels. The word elkuso has the sense of drawing, or even dragging. The image recalls something like a spiritual magnet. Jesus will draw all--panta.
The death and birth of the ego:
Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat does fall into the ground and dies, it remains alone. But if it dies, it bears much fruit. The ones loving their life will destroy it, and the ones hating their life in this world will guard it into life eternal. If someone might serve me, they must follow me, and where I am, there my servant will be.
Psychologically, the passage is an encouragement to develop an autonomous and independent sense of Self. The present life, "in this world," with its dependencies and history, must die and be reborn. This is the krisis of every life. In Jungian terms, this is called "individuation," which means psychological integration and the development of the autonomous Self.
This is, incidentally, what Dietrich Bonhoeffer was getting at when he talked of "a world come of age." What he meant was that, in a "world come of age," people would become adults, which means gladly accepting and gladly taking responsibility for their own life, without recourse to or dominance by any other authority. (I blanch when people say we ought to have a "child-like faith." No we should not. We should have an adult faith, one that takes responsibility for itself.)
Individuation means awareness of the demands of one's impulses and instincts in light of the demands of one's conscience and moral learning. To put it another way, it means navigating between the scylla of the id, and the charybdis of the superego in order to form the ego. It negotiates internal processes in light of outward reality.
This is a serious process, and, for most people, a life-long endeavor. Jung thought individuation wasn't even possible before the age of 35. (Thomas Acquinas said 50, but then he died at 49, so what did he know?) Nevertheless, difficult though it may be, we have a partner in the endeavor of reaching our own adulthood. That partner is Jesus. Jesus himself had the Father for his guide, and we have Jesus.
In verse 26, Jesus says "opou ego eimi ekei kai ho diakonos ho emos estai." Note the ego eimi, which is the divine name of God in Greek and is oft-used by Jesus throughout the fourth gospel--"Where I am, there my servant will be."
The "I am" is present tense. It recalls the title of one of Paul Tillich's books, the "eternal now." Jesus is always present and promises that we will be drawn to the mystical reality of "eternal life." We are supported and led by his mystical presence as we travel toward the goal of true and mature adulthood.
Image: Yellow Christ, Paul Gaugain
16 ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
17 ‘Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19And this is the judgement, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil.20For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. 21But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.’
Translation: And just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so it is necessary for the son of man to be lifted up so that all the ones trusting in him might have life eternal, for, in this way, God loved the cosmos, so that he gave the only-begotten son so that all the ones trusting in him might not be lost but might have life eternal.
For God did not send the son into the cosmos in order to judge the cosmos but so that the cosmos might be saved through him. The ones trusting in him are not judged, but the ones not trusting already have been judged because they have not trusted into the name of the only-begotten son of God.
But this is the judgment: that the light has come into the cosmos and the people loved the darkness more than the light for their works were evil. For all the ones doing evil hate the light and do not come to the light so that their works might not be exposed. But the ones doing the truth come to the light so that their works might be revealed that in God it is being done.
Background and situation: The fourth gospel compares Jesus being "lifted up" to Moses lifting up the serpent in the wilderness (Numbers 21: 4-9). Where the serpent in the wilderness brings life," the son of man's "lifting up" will go the serpent one better and bring "life eternal."
The lection is the major portion of the dialog with Nicodemus (3: 1-21), a pharisee and member of the Sanhedrin. Nicodemus is a Greek name, probably Naqdimon in Hebrew. "Nicodemus" means "peoples' victory."
As a pharisee, Nicodemus would have been in the minority faction. In the time of Jesus, the Sanhedrin was dominated by Sadducees. (About two-thirds of the Sanhedrin was Sadducee and one-third pharisee.)
At the time of the writing of the fourth gospel, however, the pharisees were the only major faction left. The Sadducees were no more, having fallen with the Temple in AD 70.
Confronting the dark side: Christians generally associate serpents with evil, probably because of our primordial fear of snakes and because the serpent beguiled Adam and Eve in Genesis 3.
In many cultures, however, the serpent is not a personification of evil, but rather a symbol of immortality or the main concerns of the unconscious. If you're dreaming, let's say, and a serpent appears with something to say, it is thought to be a message from your unconscious about a concern that needs to be addressed in your life.
In the Numbers passage, the Lord God instructs Moses to place a serpent on a pole. The very nemesis of the people, the one that had been afflicting them, is to be "placed" and "looked upon." This, in turn, brings "life."
This is an encouragement to confront the "dark side." Look at that very thing which causes you pain. Comprehend the "shadow" side of reality. Healing comes when the "shadow" is recognized, acknowledged, and integrated into the whole of one's personality. As Carl Jung put it, "One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making darkness conscious."
Conversely, failure to confront the "shadow" results in a one-dimensional personality that is cut off from its unconscious energy and clueless about its own motivations and desires. Confronting the "shadow" is a difficult psychological manuever, but one that is necessary in order to add depth to the personality and harness the unconscious in the service of healthy development of the ego. This is how engaging the "shadow" serves the cause of healing.
Likewise, the serpent of Moses, an agent of illness, when "looked" upon becomes an agent of healing. This perspective is represented in Greek religion as well. The rod of Asclepius, the Greek god of healing, is a snake entwined around a staff, still the symbol of medicine today.
The serpent as a symbol of healing also appears in the apocryphal literature of the early church (Acts of John). In the story of the Chalice of St. John, the apostle was condemned to die by drinking poison from the chalice. Just before he drank, the poison left the chalice in the form of a snake, and St. John was able to drink safely.
"Lifting up" in the fourth gospel: In the Numbers passage, both the Hebrew and Greek versions of the Old Testament say that Moses "placed" the serpent on the pole. The fourth gospel deliberately changes this to "lifted up." This text is the first of three "lifted up" passages In the fourth gospel. (The others are 8: 28, and 12: 32.)
Where the synoptics prefer a three-fold passion prediction where Jesus will "undergo great suffering and be killed," the fourth gospel prefers a three-fold "lifting up." The synoptics accent the suffering of Jesus. The fourth gospel emphasizes the healing aspect of the crucifixion of Jesus, the purpose of which is to "draw all" to him (12:32).
The reason for all of this is because of God's great love for "the universe"--kosmou, the entire created order. This is not a general attitude or feeling of God, but rather love expressed and done in a certain and particular way; "God so loved" means that God loved in a certain way--(houto, in this manner).
That certain way is that he "gave the only-begotten son" to be "lifted up" on the cross for the salvation of the world. This is how God loves the world. This action of love by God will be later contrasted with the evil acts of those who "loved the darkness more than the light" (3:19).
God did not send the son to judge (krinei) the world. The basic sense of krinei is to separate or distinguish--to "judge" in the sense of critiquing or drawing comparisons, both favorable and unfavorable. It is not, in other words, necessarily a condemning action, but more a discerning one. (As Brian Stoffregan notes, if the fourth gospel had meant "judging" as "condemnation," it likely would have used a different word, katakrino.)
In sending Jesus, the whole purpose of God was to "save" the cosmos (3:17). Jesus was not sent for the purpose of judging or condemning, but rather to bring healing and life. (Its use in 3:17 is the only time sozo--"save"--appears in the fourth gospel.)
Son of man: The phrase "son of man" or "human one"--ho huios tou anthropou--appears 69 times in the synoptics, 14 times in the fourth gospel, once in Acts, and twice in Revelation. It appears not at all in the epistles of Paul. The expression has its most direct root in the "son of man" figure of Daniel (7:13ff.) The Hebrew phrase upon which it is based, the phrase likely uttered by Jesus, is bar nasha.
Psychologically, "son of man" or "human one" can be seen as an archetype, i.e. a typical and universal pattern. The "human one"--the bar nasha--would mean the one immersed in the total experience of the legendary human being. It represents our complete humanity, and that within us which leads us toward ego maturity.
Themes of light and dark: Consistent with the themes of light and darkness in chapter one, the fourth gospel again says "that the light has come into the cosmos and the people loved the darkness more than the light." How can he say this? Because "their works were evil."
Contrast these "evil works" of those not trusting in Jesus with God's "work" of "love" for the entire cosmos in verse 16. In the midst of all the talk about peoples' love for the darkness, it is well to keep in mind God's unconditional act of love.
The "light" and "darkness" of the fourth gospel are not meant literally, but rather as spiritual truths. "Light" is associated with joy and good, "darkness" with misery and evil. In contrast to God's love for the cosmos, human beings "love" darkness and evil. The Greek word here, translated as "evil," is ponerou; that is, evil as a principle, and one that is active in the world.
The reason human beings "love" darkness and evil is because we do not want our deeds to be known--"For all the ones doing evil hate the light and do not come to the light so that their works might not be exposed." We do not want to our actions to be "brought to light" because we don't want our complicity in evil to be known.
Nevertheless, "the true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world (1:9)." Evil will be exposed as well as our complicity in it. All this, however, is in the service of life. The one who judges us is also the one who loves us the most, whose desire is not death but life, and whose good "work" is that of loving the world.
The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money-changers seated at their tables.15Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. 16He told those who were selling the doves, ‘Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a market-place!’ 17His disciples remembered that it was written, ‘Zeal for your house will consume me.’ 18The Jews then said to him, ‘What sign can you show us for doing this?’ 19Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’ 20The Jews then said, ‘This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?’ 21But he was speaking of the temple of his body. 22After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.
Translation: And the passover of the Judeans was near, and Jesus went up into Jerusalem. In the temple, he found the ones selling cattle, and sheep, and doves, and the ones who change large money into small, sitting. And making a whip out of cords, he threw out all out of the temple, the sheep and the cattle, and of the moneychangers, he poured out the small coins and turned over the tables. And to the ones selling the doves, he said, "Take away these things from here. Do not make the house of my father a house of merchandise." His disciples remember that it was written, "The zeal of your house will consume me." Then, the Judeans answered and said to him, "What sign will you show us that you can do this?" Jesus answered and said to them, "Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it." Then, the Judeans said, "Forty and six years this temple has been under construction and you will raise it in three days?" But he was saying this concerning the temple of his body. After he was raised out of death, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they trusted what was written and the word that Jesus had spoken.
Background and situation: We are at the beginning of the fourth gospel. This episode follows immediately after the wedding at Cana story.
The contrast between the Cana story and this week's episode is dramatic. Cana is in a small town in Galilee. The Temple is the heart of religious power in Jerusalem. The wedding at Cana is a story of joy and abundance. The Temple is a place of contention and division. In the Cana story, Mary trusts Jesus and the lowly servants know what happened. At the Temple, the powerful Judeans want a sign and misunderstand what Jesus says.
After the wedding at Cana (2:12), the fourth gospel says that Jesus, "his mother, his brothers, and his disciples" went to Capernaum and "stayed a few days." Is this an indication of a family-led movement using Capernaum, the major city on the Sea of Galilee, as a base?
The attack on the Temple: Quite abruptly, the text then says that the "passover of the Judeans" was near and Jesus "went up" to Jerusalem. This is his first trip to Jerusalem in the fourth gospel. In Mark and Matthew, Jesus' only trip to Jerusalem was his last. (Wes Howard-Brook argues that ioudaioi should be translated as "Judeans" rather than "Jews." Ioudaioi wasn't translated as "Jews" until after the Bar Kochba revolt in AD 135.)
Passover was a lively affair. The population of Jerusalem would quadruple as Jews made their pilgrimage to the city for this most important festival of the year. Streets and alleys would be packed with people. The crowds would include soldiers, zealots, "knife-men," priests, children, religious fanatics, wonder workers, magicians, hellraisers, pietists, and animals of several kinds.
Jesus is described as going directly to the Temple. The suddenness of his appearance recalls Malachi 3:1: "...the Lord whom we you seek will suddenly come to his temple." When he got there, he saw various animals and "the ones who change large money into small"--kermatistas, (Reinecker, Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament).
Indeed they did. These "moneychangers" operated by a kind of franchise agreement with the Temple. The owners, or "bankers," were the wealthy families of Jerusalem, though the moneychanging tables themselves were probably manned by family flunkies or low-level employees.
Roman coins were forbidden within the Temple, which meant that people needed to get their Roman coins changed into Temple coins. The moneychangers would perform this "service". Their exchange rate could run as high as 50%. (This would be "service" in the sense that Don Corleone uses the term.)
Jesus makes a "whip of cords" and "threw out all out of the temple"--pantas exebelen ek tou eirou. The incident is often called "the cleansing of the Temple," but that is an unfortunate way of phrasing it. Jesus "cleansed" nothing. He "threw out all."
The scene is historically implausible. For a lone figure to throw "all" out of the Temple precincts, an area the equivalent of 25 football fields, would either have been impossible or a miracle. Most likely, the fourth gospel is telling a "theology in narrative form." The "theology" is that Jesus goes up against the religious power in Jerusalem, and attacks the economic basis of the Temple.
Jesus then speaks specifically "to the ones selling the doves"--that is, to the ones who supplied sacrificial animals for the poor and who were, moreover, exploiting the poor. Their prices were too high.
In The Politics of Jesus, Obrey Hendricks says that, later in the first century, Simeon, the son of the great rabbi Gamaliel, protested the inflated pricing of sacrificial doves. As a result of Simeon's protest, the price of sacrificial doves was lowered by 99%--and the merchants still made money!
"Take away these things from here," Jesus said. "Do not make the house of my Father a house of merchandise." Get the sacrificial animals out here, in other words. My Father's house--the first mention of his connection with the Father in the fourth gospel--is not a place for buying and selling (emporium).
This appears to be an attack on the entire sacrificial system. For the fourth gospel, Jesus replaces the Temple as the locus of forgiveness of sins. The peoples' access to God is not through the Temple-based mechanism of sacrificing animals, but through Jesus himself and "the temple of his body."
The zeal of the Temple will consume him: Suddenly, Jesus' disciples are mentioned for the first time. To this point, Jesus has been portrayed as alone at the Temple, but now, whether they were there or hear about the incident later, "his disciples call to mind that it was written, 'The zeal of your house will consume me.'"
NRSV has "zeal for your house will consume me," which would indicate that Jesus' own zeal on behalf of the Temple will end his life. To me, the likeliest rendering of ho zelos tou oikou sou kataphagetai me is "the zeal of your house will consume me."
"Zeal" carries the definite article, i.e. "the zeal," and the most natural rendering is tou oikou sou is "of your house," not "for your house," although the latter is possible. (It depends on whether you regard it as an objective genitive or a subjective genitive. The default position would be "of.") KJV has: "The zeal of thine house hath eaten me up."
That would mean that the "zeal" of Temple power will consume Jesus, which is exactly what did happen. Moreover, this view is more consistent with the over-all theme of the fourth gospel, which is not that Jesus is zealous on behalf of the Temple, but that the Temple opposes Jesus--indeed, is zealous in opposing him.
The Judeans ask Jesus, "What sign--seimeion--will you show us that you can do this?" Many people, generally those of the crowds, believe on the basis of "signs" in the fourth gospel, but many, generally Jesus' opponents, also do not.
As is common in the fourth gospel, Jesus speaks on one level, but people understand on a different, usually more literal, one. Jesus says, "Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it." The Judeans understand this at a literal level. They relate that it has taken 46 years to build the Temple so far, and it wasn't done yet. (Construction on the Temple began in 18-20 BC, and was nearing completion when it was destroyed in AD 70.)
The fourth gospel tells us that "he was saying this concerning the temple of his body." Much as Nicodemus will be understanding on a literal level in the very next episode, so the Judeans understand at a literal level here. They suppose that Jesus is speaking of bricks and mortar, that what has taken decades to build he can re-build in three days.
As with Nicodemus and several other conversations in the fourth gospel, Jesus is speaking at a different level. He is referring to "the temple of his body," saying that though it be destroyed by Temple zealotry, he will nevertheless be raised.
Moreover, Jesus said, "I will raise it." Virtually everywhere else in the New Testament, God is one who raised Jesus from the dead. Here, Jesus says he will do it himself. This fits with the over-all Johannine theme that Jesus is equal to God. (See also the repeated "I am" sayings in the fourth gospel.)
The disciples remember: "After he was raised out of death, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they trusted what was written and the word that Jesus had spoken."
The disciples are said to "remember" scripture when Jesus attacked the Temple. Here, they "remember" again, but, this time, after the resurrection. Their first remembrance is based on received tradition. Their second remembrance is based on the resurrection of Jesus.
They remember his saying that he would raise himself up, and "they trusted what was written and the word that Jesus had spoken." (The word is pisteuein which is better translated as "trust" than "believe." "Word" is logos, of course, identified as Christ himself right off the bat in the fourth gospel (1:1).)
The fourth gospel takes a more charitable view toward the disciples than does, say, the gospel of Mark. In the fourth gospel, the disciples are those who follow Jesus, love Jesus, trust Jesus, act like Jesus, and participate in the community of Jesus.
That the disciples are said to trust Jesus here is a strong point in their favor. One of the major themes of the fourth gospel is encouragement of trust. As the book closes, we are told directly that the purpose of the whole book has been to inspire trust: "These things are written so that you might come to trust that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through trusting you might have life in his name" (20:31).
Image: Christ cleansing the temple, Jeffrey Weston
Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.32He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, ‘Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.’
34 He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. 36For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?37Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 38Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.’
Translation: And he began to teach them that it is necessary (for) the son of man to suffer much and to be rejected by the elders, and the chief priests, and the scribes, and to be killed, and after three days, to rise. And he was speaking the word plainly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning around and he seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter, and he said, "Go behind me, Satan, for you are not thinking the things of God, but that of human beings."
And summoning the crowd together with his disciples, he said to them, "If anyone wishes to follow after me, that person must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me, for whoever might desire to save their life will lose it, but whoever will lose their life on account of me and the good news will save it, for how does it help a person to gain the whole universe and to lose their life? For what might a person give in exchange for their life? For whoever might be ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the son of man will be ashamed of that one whenever he might come in the glory of his father with the holy angels."
Background and situation: Just previous to this week's reading, Jesus had asked the disciples who people say that he is. Peter answers nobly, he thinks: "You are the Messiah."
Somewhat surprisingly, however, Jesus does not choose the word "Messiah" to describe himself. Instead, he refers to himself as "son of man." In doing so, he is identifying with the apocalyptic "son of man" figure in Daniel (7:13ff).
In Daniel 7, Daniel has a dream about the four "beasts." These "beasts" represent the worldly political powers. The "Ancient One" assumes his throne and judges them. One beast is killed, the "dominion" of the others is "taken away." Then, says Daniel:
I saw one like a human being
coming with the clouds of heaven.
And he came to the Ancient One
and was presented before him.
14To him was given dominion
and glory and kingship,
that all peoples, nations, and languages
should serve him.
His dominion is an everlasting dominion
that shall not pass away,
and his kingship is one
that shall never be destroyed.
It is this "human being" or, as previously translated, "son of man," that Jesus identifies with in Mark's gospel.
To this point in Mark, Jesus has spoken of himself as "son of man" twice previously, once in his challenge to the scribes (2:10) and later the pharisees (2:28). In other words, the "son of man" has been spoken of in previous contexts as being in conflict with the legal and moral leadership of Galilee. Now, here in chapter 8, this "son of man" will suffer and be killed by that leadership, but will be vindicated and "rise."
First passion statement: Jesus says "it is necessary"--dei--for the son of man to "suffer much." This is the first of three (what are called) "passion predictions" in Mark's gospel. They are not predictions, however, but rather a Markan literary device to accent the centrality of the cross and the disciples' on-going failure to apprehend its meaning.
In this first statement of the passion, Jesus speaks first to the disciples and then makes a discourse to both crowd and disciples on self-denial and taking up "their cross." Underlining the importance of the text, Jesus also, for the first time in Mark, includes the full list of his religious opponents: "the elders, and the chief priests, and the scribes."
In the second "passion prediction" (9:30ff), Jesus speaks only to the disciples, but "they did not understand him." Then follows a story in which while "on the way," a crucial concept in Mark's gospel, the disciples were arguing amongst themselves as to which of them was the greatest. Jesus then teaches the disciples that the greatest is "the one who is last of all and servant of all."
In the third passion prediction (10:32ff), they are again "on the way," this time with the additional and ominous addition: "going up to Jerusalem." Again, he takes the disciples aside and tells them that he will be killed, this time going into a fuller and more graphic description of the suffering he will undergo. Immediately after, as if they had not heard a thing, James and John tell Jesus they want to be at his right and left hand "in his glory."
In this third passion prediction, Jesus again says "whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all," but this time, just before doing so, he criticizes the entire hierarchical structure of the "nations"--"those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them (10:43)."
The three passion predictions involve major themes that reverberate all through Mark's gospel. The most central of all is the suffering and death of the son of man who is also, paradoxically, the Son of God.
Secondly, all three instruct on the upside-down nature of the kingdom, and third, the disciples are relentlessly clueless throughout. He speaks "plainly" to them, yet they don't get it. In fact, each successive "passion prediction" also involves more direct and "private" teaching of the disciples, and they still don't get it.
Peter rebuked Jesus because Peter was clinging to notions of a triumphalistic Messiah and couldn't get his mind around the idea of this glorious figure suffering. Jesus won't let him go there. He rebukes Peter back, and then some. "Turning and seeing" the disciples, Jesus says "Go behind me, Satan," the strongest condemnation of any human being in Mark's gospel.
See also the Old Testament book of Zechariah. The high priest Joshua (Jesus in Hebrew) is standing before an angel of the Lord along with Satan. The Lord said to Satan: "The Lord rebuke you, O Satan!" (3.2).
Why rebuke Peter, and why in such strong language? Because Peter is thinking in a human way, and not the way of God. The human way is the way of hierarchy with its virtues of triumph and victory, what we Lutherans call "the theology of glory."
The way of God is the stark paradox of the Son of God reigning from the cross, giving himself for the life of the world, which is to be emulated by followers of Jesus in giving themselves for the service of others, what we Lutherans call "the theology of the cross."
The cross, as most everyone knows by now, was the punishment reserved for only the lowest of the low--slaves, the poor, and rebels against Rome. Rome believed that the death penalty was a deterrent to crime, which they defined as resistance to Rome.
Whatever their other more positive accomplishments, the Romans also suppressed rebellions with a ruthlessness and cruelty that would have shocked other more ancient empires, such as the supposedly more primitive Assyrians or Babylonians.
We "psychologize" the phrase "take up one's cross" today. Fred Buechner says it means "taking up the burdens of your own life." That would make a good sermon on its own merits, but that is not the message of Mark's gospel. In its original Markan context, the exhortation to "take up one's cross" would have been most likely understood as an exhortation to continue to oppose the Satanic, heirarchical worldly powers.
When a person was on the way to be crucified, they would indeed "take up their cross" and carry it to the place of execution. That would have been the first image that people in first century Israel would have brought to mind when they heard the phrase "take up one's cross."
In fact, the rest of the passage confirms the clear purpose of encouraging his followers to follow on the way of the cross. If his followers try to save their lives, as Peter will do, and Judas, they will lose it. If his followers are "ashamed" of him, he will be "ashamed" of them, which was a particularly powerful charge in a culture steeped in the psychological and social tensions of honor and shame.
Everything in Mark is oriented toward the cross, the place where the Crucified paradoxically reigns. Half the book of Mark is passion story. The shadow of the cross even falls from the end of the story back to the beginning when John is arrested (1:14).
It is precisely in his self-giving, in his "losing" his life, in his cross, that Jesus is revealed as God's Son (15:39). Faithful to the way of God to the end, even in the face of God's abandonment (15:34), Jesus is crushed by the powers, but vindicated by God in the resurrection.
Mark doesn't let his readers go to the resurrection too quickly, however, and never without the cross first. The first 15 chapters of Mark focus almost entirely on the cross, and chapter 16, the resurrection account, is rather vague and even somewhat discomfiting. (The women at the empty tomb were afraid, and fail to do what they are instructed.)
Mark wants the focus on the cross. There we see a stark demonstration of the violence and cruelty of the religious and political powers. Jesus' denial of himself shows not only his faithfulness to the way of God, but also shows the way for his disciples to follow.
Image: Yellow Christ, Paul Gauguin.
In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’
12 And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.13He was in the wilderness for forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.
14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.
Translation: And it happened in those days, Jesus from Nazareth of Galilee, and he was baptized into the Jordan by John. And immediately, rising up out of the water, he saw the heavens being split open and the Spirit, like a dove, descending into him. And a voice happened out of the heavens, "You are my son, the beloved. In you, I am pleased."
And immediately, the Spirit threw him out into the wilderness. And he was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan, and he was with the wild beasts, and the angels served him.
But after John was delivered over, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, "The time has been fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near. Turn and trust in the good news."
Background and situation: For background on the significance of Galilee see this previous post on Mark 1: 4-11, the lection from a few weeks ago which overlaps significantly with this week's reading for the first Sunday in Lent.
We are, of course, still in the densely packed first chapter of Mark. The lection is preceded by the title of the book, the invocation of the prophet Isaiah, and five verses relating the message of John the Baptist.
The baptism of Jesus: The actual baptism of Jesus is mentioned only briefly, and in the passive voice. He "was baptized into the Jordan by John." Those who went out from Jerusalem were baptized "in" the Jordan River while Jesus goes one better and is baptized "into" the Jordan. Characteristically, Jesus goes all the way in.
Mark's brief statement regarding the actual baptism is a way of sliding by John's involvement in that baptism. All four gospels are at pains to put John subordinate to Jesus in every way. None of them accent Jesus' actual baptism by John because that would imply Jesus' subordination to John. (Crassly but accurately put: The baptizee is subordinate to the baptizor, or so it was supposed in the world of that time.)
Mark wants to move quickly past the baptism in order to get to the voice from heaven. "Immediately" after Jesus goes "into" the Jordan, he "rises up out of the water." Upon rising up out of the water, Jesus "sees"--and only Jesus sees. The ensuing revelation is not meant for the crowds, but only for Jesus--(and Mark's readers).
What did Jesus see? "The heavens being split open." (The word is schizomenous. Schizo means "split." Schizophrenia, for example, literally means "split mind.") No doubt Mark intends a reference to Isaiah 64:1: "Oh, that you would tear open the heavens and come down."
Indeed, that is what happens. After the splitting of the heavens, Jesus also sees "the Spirit like a dove descending into him." Not only did the Spirit "come down," it went into Jesus. As Jesus went into the Jordan, the Spirit goes into Jesus. The plea of Isaiah is answered, and dramatically!
For the third time, the word egeneto appears in this short lection--"it happened." First, John "happened." Then Jesus "happened." Now the voice from heaven "happened." The voice, clearly God's, identifies Jesus as "my son, the beloved." This recalls Psalm 2:7--"You are my son"--and Isaiah 42:1: "I will put my spirit upon him."
The temptation of Jesus: Matthew's and Luke's version of this episode, amplified by Q, is more elaborate and features actual dialog between Jesus and Satan as well as three specific temptations.
Mark's story is simpler, and rather less focused on temptation than is Matthew or Luke. In Mark, the word "temptation" is used only once, but "wilderness" (eremos) is used twice. For Mark, the emphasis is less on being tempted than it is on Jesus being in uncharted territory, without maps or guides--more a wilderness experience, in other words, than a temptation experience.
Fred Craddock makes the interesting point that the first chapter of Mark recalls the early history of Israel. "In a new exodus," he writes, "Jesus recapitulates the journey of Israel." The baptism of Jesus recalls the Red Sea. Forty days in the wilderness obviously recalls the forty years the Israelites spent in the wilderness. The "good news" recalls the Promised Land.
Several commentators say that the Spirit accompanied Jesus into the wilderness, but, to me, the opposite is indicated by the word ekballei--"threw out from." There is no reason to assume that the Spirit went along with Jesus into the wilderness. The plain sense of the word would indicate otherwise. Jesus is not without divine help, however. In the face of temptation from Satan, Jesus is served by angels or divine messengers.
The wild beasts: He is also "with the wild beasts." People in the first century would have likely identified the "wild beasts" with those spoken of by the prophet Daniel: "I, Daniel, saw in my vision by night the four winds of heaven stirring up the great sea, and four great beasts came up out of the sea, different from one another (7:2)."
In Daniel, the "great beasts" are the political powers of the world. Traditionally, they have been identified as Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome. Thus, Mark proposes this basic confrontation: Satan and worldly political powers on the one side versus Jesus and the angels on the other. This theme will continue throughout Mark.
We are not told of an outcome of the testing in the wilderness, but the very next phrase indicates that the worldly political powers are continuing to assert their influence. Immediately after Jesus' encounter in the wilderness, Mark tells us that John the baptist has just been arrested by those same powers.
Mark is writing a devastating political commentary. He is saying that the powers of the world--the Jerusalem establishment and Rome--are in league with Satan. Jesus' struggle with these demonic powers takes place in the political realm, i.e. this world, but Mark also wants his readers to understand that that struggle is also a spiritual, i.e. cosmic, battle.
Jesus had come from Galilee and now, after John's arrest, he comes to Galilee. For Mark, Jesus is very closely identified with the region of Galilee. He had come from Galilee to go to the region of the Jordan. At the Jordan, Jesus is baptized, receives the Spirit and divine imprimatur, and is then tested by Satan in the "wilderness," a place of indeterminate geographical specificity.
Now, Jesus returns to Galilee, this time preaching the "good news of God." His first utterance in Mark's gospel is: "The time has been fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near. Turn and trust in the good news."
The time, of course, is kairos--"special time," or even "God's time." This "God's time" has been fulfilled. (The verb is past perfect, meaning already done with continuing effects into the present.) The arrival of the kingdom is "close at hand"--engizo. The "time" and the "kingdom" are presented both as having been done and having arrived. Both are immediate and momentous.
Jesus exhorts: turn and trust. For Mark, to turn (metanoeite) means to turn from the established order of the worldly political powers with their heirarchy and cultural division, and trust (pisteuete) Jesus who leads the way into a future of reconciliation and equality.
Image: Christ in the Wilderness, retablo by Virginia Maria Romero
2 Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, 3and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them.4And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. 5Then Peter said to Jesus, ‘Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.’ 6He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. 7Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved;listen to him!’ 8Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus. 9 As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.
Translation: And after six days, Jesus took Peter and James and John and he brought them into a high mountain, by themselves alone, and he was transformed before them, and his clothes began glistening dazzling white, such as no bleacher on the earth is able to make white, and it appeared to them Elijah with Moses, and they were talking together with Jesus. And Peter answered, saying to Jesus, "Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us make three booths, one for you, one for Moses, one for Elijah." For he did not know what he was thinking, for they became afraid. And a cloud happened, overshadowing them, and a voice happened out of a cloud, "This is my son, the beloved. Listen to him." And suddenly, looking around, they saw no one any longer but Jesus alone by himself. As they were coming down out of the mountain, he ordered them to describe to no one what they had seen until the son of man might rise out of death.
Background and situation: The transfiguration of Jesus is smack dab in the middle of Mark's gospel. This numinous and mystical scene is literally at the center of Mark's message.
The scene recalls both Daniel and Moses. See Daniel 10:5: "I looked up and saw a man clothed in linen...his face like lightning." Even more to the point, including the formula "six days," is Exodus 24: 15: "Then Moses went up on the mountain, and the cloud covered the mountain. The glory of the Lord settled on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it for six days; on the seventh day he called to Moses out of the cloud."
The transfiguration--this "glimpse" of resurrection--immediately follows Jesus' rebuke of Peter, his first prediction of the passion, and his instruction on the way of the cross (8:22ff). Mark thus juxtaposes both cross and resurrection at the heart of his story. Cross and resurrection, held together in tension, are the "hinge"--the center point--around which revolves all of Mark's gospel.
Metamorphosis: The episode is unusual for Mark. With its oft-repeated themes of cross and suffering, accompanied by the repeated failure of the disciples, most of Mark has a rather "dark" feel to it. Mark is all about what Luther called "the theology of the cross." Yet here, along with the cross, at the heart of Mark, is also the Glory of the Lord!
Jesus takes Peter, James, and John--the inner circle of the inner circle--to a high mountain. (This episode is, incidentally, the only mountaintop story in Mark.) Jesus "was transformed" before them--metamorphothe means "changed" in form.
N.T. Wright uses these transfiguration texts to argue that the Biblical symbol of resurrection is fundamentally a "transformation" into a new mode of existence--not a continuation of time and history as we know it, but rather a "new heavens and a new earth."
Time and history are not rejected, but "transfigured" into God's new reality. (The Markan phrase, "such as no one on earth could bleach them" seems to say that the transformation of the cosmos is beyond the capability of humankind and can be done only by God.)
The garments of Jesus are "flashing white brilliantly." This recalls Daniel--"his clothing was white as snow (7:9)" It also points forward to the "white robe" of the young man who meets the women in Jesus' tomb at his resurrection. These are all signs of resurrection.
The association of light and God begins in Genesis, and is frequent through the rest of the Old Testament. Here, we might especially recall Psalm 104: 1-2: "O Lord my God, you are very great. You are clothed with honor and majesty, wrapped in light as with a garment."
Elijah is "with" Moses and they are "talking together" with Jesus. Ched Myers calls this a "salvation history summit conference." He argues that both Moses and Elijah had their own epiphanic experiences in the Old Testament, and that these occurred precisely at times of special difficulty for their mission.
That would be true also in this instance. Jesus has just told the disciples of the difficult road ahead, one culminating in suffering and death (8:31-38). This transfiguration vision of Christ in Glory is an encouragement to Mark's community, and subsequent readers, to hang in there in the face of trial and difficulty.
Peter promptly blows it, which he does in three ways. First, he calls Jesus "rabbi." The only other person to call Jesus "rabbi" in Mark's gospel is Judas (14:45). For Mark, Peter is lumped in with the arch-traitor!
Second, Peter proclaims the awesomeness of their presence--"it is good for us to be here"--and wants to get right in there and get to work--"let us make." He makes it sound like they should all get busy right away.
Third, in a spasm of enthusiastic though utterly misplaced piety, Peter wants to make three booths, "one for you, one for Elijah, one for Moses." In effect, Peter wants to make three shrines, three worshipping centers.
In response to a glorious epiphanic experience, Peter proposes religion. (No way Jesus wanted to start another religion--or three. He had enough trouble with one, his own.)
Mark quickly discounts Peter's comment, saying flatly that Peter didn't know what he was talking about because he was affected by fear--and not only Peter, "for they became afraid." Peter's remark is quickly rejected, but all three of the disciples are indicted for fear.
The cloud overshadowed them--clouds are a frequent symbol for direct encounters with God--and a voice spoke out of the cloud with words that recall those spoken at the baptism of Jesus: "This is my Son, the Beloved." Instead of "with him I am well-pleased," now the injunction is made to the disciples: "Listen to him."
These two episodes--baptism and transfiguration--are the only ones in Mark's gospel in which a heavenly affirmation is made about Jesus. At his baptism, the heavenly message was only for Jesus only. At the transfiguration, the divine Voice begins to branch out and now shares the message with Peter, James, and John.
In the passage previous, Jesus had rebuked Peter (8:33). Here, alas for Peter, God breaks into Peter's speech and tells them all to listen to Jesus. In effect, now God rebukes Peter. Ouch!
Jesus then appears alone. As they are decompressing and coming down from the mountain, Jesus tells the disciples not to tell anyone what they had seen until after he "might rise out of death." Mark always rejects any interpretation of Jesus which is made before his crucifixion. They are all, ipso facto, incomplete.
Only after the crucifixion may one tell the story of Jesus, only after the whole story has been told may we understand that the same one we see at the transfiguration is the one who was also crucified--and even that is just the beginning (1:1).
Image: Transfiguration, Fra Angelico
As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John.30Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. 31He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.
32 That evening, at sunset, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. 33And the whole city was gathered around the door. 34And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.
35 In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. 36And Simon and his companions hunted for him. 37When they found him, they said to him, ‘Everyone is searching for you.’ 38He answered, ‘Let us go on to the neighbouring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.’ 39And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.
Translation: And immediately, going out of the synagogue, they came into the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. But Simon's mother-in-law was lying down with a fever, and immediately, they spoke to him about her. Coming near, he raised her up, took her hand, and the fever released her, and she was serving them.
But evening happened when the sun set, they were bringing to him all who were sick and possessed by demons, and the whole city was gathered together at the door. And he healed many who were sick with many maladies and threw out many demons, and he was not allowing the demons to speak because they knew him.
Early in the morning, before day, he rose up and went out and went into a deserted place, and there he was praying. And Simon and the ones with him pursued him, and they found him and said to him, "All are seeking you." And he said to them, "Let us go elsewhere into the neighboring villages so that there we might proclaim to them for this I came."
And he went, proclaiming into their synagogues, into the whole of Galilee, and throwing out the demons.
Background and situation: Mark is an action-oriented gospel. In the first chapter alone, John the Baptist appears and baptizes Jesus, then Jesus is tempted in the wilderness, then calls the disciples, then enters a synagogue and exorcises a demon-possessed man--all this in 27 verses!
The repeated use of the word "immediately"--I count 28 in 16 chapters--also gives the story a head-long thrust. (These aren't always translated in NRSV. For example, in the reading this week, "immediately" appears twice in the Greek text, but not at all in the NRSV translation.)
Our reading follows upon Jesus' casting out the unclean spirit in the synagogue in Capernaum (1:21-28). First, Jesus has shown exousia--power, authority--in casting out a demon. Now, he will show his exousia in healing.
What the kingdom looks like in Mark: In Jesus' first direct confrontation with religious power, he had been confronted by a demon, threw it out, and then bested the religious authorities by being described as one having authority, unlike them.
The origins of the synagogue system are murky. They appear to have been getting started in the first century (though some trace them back to Babylon). The synagogue portrayed in Mark 1 appears to be one that had a worship and study function. People are gathered there on the sabbath, and teaching itself is not portrayed as remarkable.
Entering a synagogue on the sabbath, teaching with authority (unlike the authorities), and casting out a demon would have been quite a provocative move. It would have generated notice and "buzz" throughout the community, from which, incidentally, news could travel fast. (Capernaum had a good communications network with the region.)
After all this very public activity, Jesus then goes to a private home. Jesus "immediately" left the synagogue in Capernaum and went to the home of Simon and Andrew. After a foray into public controversy, he withdraws from public. (Later on in 6:10, as Ched Myers notes, a "house" is portrayed as a safe place.)
Jesus had just previously cast an unclean spirit out of a man. Now, he heals a woman, the mother-in-law of Simon. Not only are the two episodes gender-balanced, in my view deliberately, but together they show the twin characteristics of the kingdom in Mark's gospel: casting out of unclean spirits, and healings. The kingdom has come near! Jesus cleanses and heals the world!
Jesus "raised" Simon's mother-in-law, took her by the hand, and the fever "released" her. (NRSV has Jesus first taking her hand, then "lifting" her up.) The word is egeiren, which is also the word for resurrection. To me, "raised" would be the preferred reading since, in my view, Mark intends its' implication of resurrection.
Then, Jesus took her hand and the fever "released" her. The word is apheken, a word often used for the forgiveness of sins, and which means "released" or "let go." Demons and disease are countered by resurrection and forgiveness, you might say.
It is still the sabbath incidentally. Jesus had been in the synagogue on the sabbath and had immediately gone to Simon and Andrew's house, which means that Jesus had healed Simon's mother-in-law on the sabbath. Since it happened in private space, Jesus was safe from attack. In 3:1-7, he will heal someone publicly on the sabbath, and the pharisees and Herodians will conspire against him.
Mark then notes that "evening happened when the sun set." Sunset means that the sabbath is now officially over and it is then that the whole city was "gathered together" at their door. The people are portrayed as religiously observant on the sabbath, but also as people who went to Jesus as quickly as they could.
Again, the twin signs of the kingdom are manifest: healing and casting out demons. The word "many" is used three times--"many" sick, "many" maladies, "many" demons. "Many" is an expression that often means "untold number."
He would not allow the demons to speak, however, because "they knew him." Werner Kelber explains:
The reason the identity of the Son of God must not be revealed at this point is that Jesus has not yet lived his destined life to the end. It is only after he has ended on the cross that he will have fulfilled his identity. Then and only then can the Roman centurion make the one and only appropriate confession (15:39). (Mark's Story of Jesus, p. 11)
In other words, we do not yet know the whole story about Jesus and it will not be known until Jesus' death on the cross. The central theme of Mark's gospel is the paradoxical victory of the Crucified, and we are not there yet. Any identification of Jesus prior to his crucifixion is incomplete and to be avoided or contradicted.
The campaign begins: It is "early morning." Jesus "rose up" and went to a deserted place--not just a home this time, but a place completely void of people. Does anyone in the four gospels, except for Jesus, ever go off by themselves to pray? Mark portrays Jesus as a man apart--even a man alone. This adds to his mystique.
The group with him, apparently now led by Simon, "pursued" Jesus. They tell him that "all are seeking you," a statement reflective of Jesus' sudden popularity and one also of timeless existential import. Who isn't seeking freedom from demons and healing from maladies? No one, says Mark. The whole town of Capernaum had gathered at his door, and Simon tells Jesus that "all are seeking you."
Jesus says an interesting thing: "Let us go elsewhere." This is subtle. Jesus wants to go in a different direction than Simon. He wants to go "elsewhere." The disciples and Jesus will be at odds throughout Mark's gospel, and here is an early and nuanced hint of that tension.
Jesus then identifies "elsewhere." He plans to go "into the neighboring villages." The word is komopoleis. This is the only place it is used in the New Testament. The word appears to mean small, clan-based villages, of which there were many in Galilee. (Galilee was relatively heavily populated, but had no large cities.)
"And he went, proclaiming into their synagogues, into the whole of Galilee, and throwing out the demons." We are only at the 38th verse in Mark's gospel, and already Jesus has been identified as both coming from and going to Galilee. Then, after he threw the unclean spirit out of the synagogue in Capernaum, "his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee (1:28)."
Note the political and social strategy of Jesus. First, he goes to the heart of religious power in the region by going to a synagogue on the sabbath and besting the established religious authority. Capernaum was the most well-connected town in the region and news of this encounter would have traveled fast.
While that news is getting around, Jesus decides to go to the hinterlands and "proclaim." The people in these countryside villages would have been among the poorest people in Galilee. Most of the people would have been subsistence farmers. What's more, a significant percentage of the population of Galilee--some estimate as high as 15%--were absolutely destitute and lived off the land, some as homeless poor, some as brigands.
Jesus' first missionary foray is among the rural poor and the dispossessed. His approach was to rally the countryside, generating social momentum along the way, which would then pressure the larger towns and cities to follow. This formula has been used by many leaders of mass movements over the centuries. So far as I know, Jesus was the first to employ it. In addition to being the Savior of the World, Jesus was a shrewd political strategist and innovator.
Image: Bertrand Bahuet, Healing of Peter's Mother-in-law, St. Peter Chapel, Curbans, France
They went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. 22They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. 23Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, 24and he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” 25But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” 26And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him.27They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, “What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” 28At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.
Translation: And they go into Capernaum, and immediately the sabbaths, he went into the synagogue (and) was teaching. And they were shocked at his teaching, for he was teaching them as having power and not as the scribes. And immediately, there was in their synagogue a man in an uncleansed spirit and he cried out, saying, "What are you to us, Jesus of Nazareth? You came to destroy us. I know you, who you are, the holy one of God." And Jesus rebuked him, saying, "Shut up and come out of him!" And the uncleansed spirit tore him apart, and calling out a loud voice, came out of him. And all were astounded so that they discussed to themselves, saying, "What is this? A new teaching, with power, and he commands the uncleansed spirits and they obey him." And immediately, the report of him went everywhere into the whole surrounding area of Galilee.
We are only at verse 21, still very early in Mark's gospel. After leaving the wilderness, the first thing Jesus did was begin to assemble a community. The next thing he did was to engage the religious power.
Teaching with authority: The word is exousian--he teaches with power! Jesus has it, and the scribes do not. Right off the bat, the scribes--the "lawyers" of religious power--are put down, their authority suspect. (In 3:22, Mark will associate the scribes directly with Temple power in Jerusalem.)
We are not told the actual content of Jesus' teaching, but whatever it was, it "shocked" and "amazed" those who were present. (The "they" is indefinite. It probably means the people present at the synagogue that day.)
The first demon in Mark's gospel pops up in church: Mark employs the "sandwich technique" at several points in his gospel. He tells a story within a story, you might say, and each story is a commentary on the other.
That's what he does here. The episode begins and ends on the question of authority and teaching, and, inbetween, we meet the "uncleansed spirit."
Mark's gospel is awash in the demonic. After Jesus' confrontation with Satan himself (1:13), the demonic first makes a geographically-specific appearance within the precincts of religion. Note that the "uncleansed spirit" pops up in "their synagogue."
In People of the Lie, Scott Peck said that the people of the world recoil from evil whenever they see it directly. This is why evil likes to disguise itself, and what better way for evil to disguise itself than to hide under the good? It is not at all surprising that Jesus would encounter a demon in church. It's a perfect place for evil to hide.
To sum up thus far, Jesus has purposefully entered the place of scribal authority and directly confronted it. In response, the demonic rallies to defend itself. Organized religion is presented as hosting a demonic power, one which, somewhat surprisingly, recognizes Jesus immediately.
"You came to destroy us": The man "in an unclean spirit" cried out: Ti hamin kai soi, Iesou Nazarene!--literally: "What are you to us?" or "Why do you meddle with us?" You are merely "of Nazareth." You are a nobody. The "uncleansed spirit's" tone is dismissive.
Not surprisingly, the demon is lying. His opening remark quickly turns out to be false bravado because the next statement reveals fear on the part of the demonic. "You came to destroy us," they say. Correctamundo.
In a last ditch effort to re-establish control, the "man in an uncleansed spirit" says, "I know you, who you are, the holy one of God." Knowing and identifying is a way of trying to exert mastery. It is why Moses asked for God's name. If a person knew the name of another entity, they felt they could exert some influence through the use of the name--(which is why the Lord God gave Moses a name that we're still trying to figure out).
With one exception, no human being in Mark's gospel ever gets Jesus' identity quite right. The reason is because Mark wants the reader to know the whole story first. You can't know who Jesus is unless you see him as the Crucified, which is why the only human statement of Jesus' identity that is allowed to stand uncontested in Mark's gospel is the statement of the Roman centurion at his death: "Truly, this man was God's son (15:39)."
Nevertheless, though human beings don't know who Jesus is, the demonic realm certainly does. Yes, he is the "holy one of God" and, yes, he has come to destroy them. Whatever else one might say about the demonic, it correctly discerns a true threat.
Jesus rebuked the man and said, "Shut up and come out of him!" ("Rebuked" is a common word in Jewish exorcisms. See Zech 3:2, Ps 80:16. "Shut up" is phimoo, which is also the word Jesus uses to calm the storm in 4:39.)
The reaction is violent. The "uncleansed spirit" tore the man apart. The word is sparaxen, which means "tore apart, mangled, convulsed, rent in pieces." The violence at the heart of religious power is exposed. But Jesus' power is stronger, which Mark makes clear by saying that the spirit "came out out of him."
Mark then continues on the subject of authority and teaching. "All were astounded" and they discuss the question among themselves. They don't know exactly what has happened--"What is this?"--but they now call it a "new teaching," one with, again, authority and power. "He commands the uncleansed spirits and they obey him."
"And immediately, the report of him went everywhere into the whole surrounding area of Galilee." If you were going to circulate news in the region of Galilee in the first century, Capernaum would likely have been the best place from which to do it. The town was one of the largest in the region and had the biggest harbor. Do something in Capernaum and news could travel fast.
Jesus is beginning to establish his movement, and making some waves. He is striking quickly.
Image: Healing of the demoniac in the synagogue, James Tissot
Borg wrote 21 books. I've often recommended his books, especially The Heart of Christianity. His two recent book with John Dominic Crossan, The First Christmas and The First Paul, shed new light on both subjects.
Borg was raised as a Lutheran in North Dakota. Later in life, he became an Episcopalian. (His wife is an Episcopal priest.) Borg always claimed his Lutheran heritage. When he asked how many Lutherans were at a recent conference, he said, "I have half my hand up."
Sometimes, I regret to say, the Lutherans were a negative example. He still remembered the parish pastor from his youth who pronounced the forgiveness of sins all the while shaking his finger at the congregation. This had the effect of making the good news feel not-so-good.
Borg's question was how to interpret the Christian faith for people living the modern world. This is the task of modern theology, which Marcus Borg understood, and why he chose that task for his life's work. Dietrich Bonhoeffer tried to do the same, as did Teilhard de Chardin and several others.
I'm honored to have been acquainted with him and blessed to have heard him speak on a number of occasions. He was a gentle and learned man of unfailing graciousness who made an immense contribution to both church and world. May he rest in peace and rise in glory.
Romero has recently been declared a "martyr", which means that he only needs one more miracle to qualify. Normally, two miracles are needed, but the category of "martyr" counts for one of them.
The ruling by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints was unanimous. Reports RNS:
Romero’s cause was started nearly two decades ago when St. John Paul II gave him the title of Servant of God in 1997. But his case never advanced amid lingering Vatican suspicion of Liberation Theology, an economically progressive approach to Catholicism that flourished under Romero and was suppressed by both John Paul and Benedict XVI.
Pope Francis, the first pontiff elected from Latin America, reopened Romero’s cause soon after his 2013 election, and is said to be supportive of Romero’s sainthood. Last year, the current archbishop of El Salvador, Jose Luis Escobar Alas, and three other bishops met with the pope and said all Salvadoran bishops support Romero’s canonization.
“To enter the United States from the border with Mexico would be a beautiful thing, as a sign of brotherhood and of help to the immigrants,” said Pope Francis, expressing some regret that his upcoming visit to the United States will be too short to accomodate a trip to the border.
Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.' 16 As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake—for they were fishermen. 17And Jesus said to them, ‘Follow me and I will make you fish for people.’ 18And immediately they left their nets and followed him. 19As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. 20Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.
Translation: But with the delivering over of John, Jesus came into Galilee proclaiming the good news of God and saying, "The time has been fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near. Turn and 'faith' in the good news."
And moving alongside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew, the brother of Simon, casting a net into the sea for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, "Come after me and I will make you to be fishers of people." And immediately, letting go the nets, they followed him. And stepping a little forward, he saw James son of Zebedee and John his brother in the boat restoring the nets. Immediately, he called them and, letting go their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired hands, they went after him.
Background and situation: We are only 13 verses into Mark's gospel. Thus far, Mark has introduced John the Baptist, told of the baptism of Jesus and the voice from heaven proclaiming him "beloved son," and, in only one verse, told of his subsequent temptation in the wilderness.
Our lection begins with the "delivering over" of John the Baptist. The same verb would be used later in Mark to describe the arrest of Jesus. We are not even half-way through the first chapter of Mark and, already, a shadow hangs over the story--the shadow of institutional violence.
Galilee: Following John's arrest, Jesus, a Galilean, goes "into Galilee." In the first 15 verses of Mark's gospel, Jesus is presented as being both of Galilee and going into Galilee. Mark ties Jesus firmly to his home region. The Jesus movement would later be widely known as a Galilean one.
For its time, Galilee was "multicultural." It had a significant gentile population, owing mostly to Greek and Roman settlements following their respective conquests. Gifts of land in conquered territories would be given to high-ranking soldiers and major politicians--the so-called "spoils of war."
The vast majority of the indigenous native population was poor. Agriculture and fishing were the two major "industries" and workers in both lived at a bare subsistence level.
The region of Galilee was looked down upon by the "sophisticated" of Jerusalem. Galileans were "hicks from the sticks." This attitude no doubt had some effect in alienating Galileans from their co-religionists in the south.
Adding to that alienation was the physical geography of Galilee. It was separated from Judea--the region of Jerualem--by Samaria, which lay between the two, a land which was avoided by both Galilean and Judean.
In addition, the land of Galilee was on at least one major and ancient trade route, whereas the city of Jerusalem was not. Galilee, therefore, had been exposed to various foreign influences through foreign traders moving through the region. (The concept of a general resurrection, for example, is believed to have "leaked" into Israel from Persia through Galilee in the fifth century B.C.) Jerusalem, on the other hand, tended to be more insular and conservative.
All these influences--poverty, alienation, exposure to "new ideas"--may have contributed to a Galilean "rebellious streak." Before Jesus, the only Galilean to be widely known was Judas the Galilean who had led a rebellion against the census of Quirinius in 6 BC. (The zealots are believed to have emerged out of the revolt led by Judas.) It was among these Galileans--the poor, the alienated, the "rebellious"--that the Jesus movement first began.
First words: In any great work of literature, the first words of the main character have special weight. Jesus' first sentence in Mark is: "The time has been fulfilled." The word for "time" here is kairos, which means the special moment, the breaking in of God, "God's time." NRSV has "is fulfilled," though the verb peplerotai is perfect passive and should be translated "has been fulfilled." "The kingdom of God has come near" is likely based in a semiticism which means "arrived."
The other half of Jesus' introductory speech is an exhortation to "turn and 'faith' in the good news." The Greek word metanoiete is a second person plural imperative--"you-all turn." (The overwhelming majority of "you"-words in the New Testament are you-plural. They are addressed to many, not just individuals.)
Metanoia, of course, does not mean feeling sorry for getting caught and then crying your eyes out at what a jerk you've been. It is not, in other words, a word that is primarily about emotions, but more about action. It means "turning"--the literal meaning of the word--and moving in a new direction.
The direction toward which Jesus points and leads is the "kingdom of God." The "way" (1:2-3) of this kingdom, its modus operandi, will be exhibited and given meaning by Jesus as we move through Mark's gospel.
"Believe" is a poor translation of pisteuete. Contrary to popular belief, the word does not mean "intellectual assent" or something like "theological agreement." It should be understood as "faith-as-a-verb." (Using faith as a verb sounds funny in English which is how we got in the bad habit of translating pisteuein as "believe.") The word should be thought of as meaning "radical trust"--trusting with all of who we are.
"Good news" is euaggelion, a word which was more frequently used, in the world of that time, to refer to the great acts of Caesar. "Euaggelion! Good news! Caesar is victorious in Gaul!" In Mark, the "good news" has nothing to do with Caesar, and everything to do with Jesus. The specific content of this "good news" has yet to be described. Whatever it will prove to be, it has arrived in Jesus.
Forming the New Community: Moving "alongside" the Sea of Galilee, Jesus sees Simon and Andrew, two brothers involved in the fishing business.
The fishing business in first century Galilee was not a free-enterprise system. The Sea of Galilee belonged to Caesar. (The Sea of Galilee is occasionally called "the Sea of Tiberias.") Since it was Caesar's lake, you had to get Caesar's permission to fish on it. Licenses were usually obtained by family-based groups, such as that represented by the brothers Andrew and Simon, for example, or James and John.
It appears that Jesus relied upon fisherman for his first base of support, an indication that the fishing economy was stressed and that those whose livelihood was drawn from it were in a state of unrest. Indeed, Jesus would travel to many fishing villages along the Sea of Galilee, most particularly Capernaum, home of the Sea's largest harbor. (For more on the fishing economy of first century Galilee, see K.C. Hanson's article, "The Galilean Fishing Economy and the Jesus Tradition.")
Theologically speaking, the first thing Jesus does after announcing the fulfillment of "God's time" and the arrival of the "kingdom" is to begin assembling a New Community. Put another way, the recruitment of Andrew, Peter, James, and John is symbolic of the "relational" nature of the gospel. "God's kingdom" has a fundamentally communal dimension.
"Come after me and I will make you to be fishers of people." The Greek word genesthai means to generate, to make happen, to create--in my tranlation, "to be." In a fresh act of creation, Jesus will make his followers into "new people" following a new "way" in a New Community.
Put another way, "fishers of people" has nothing to do with today's popular notion of evangelism. The idea is assuredly not to go around trying to "hook" people into Christianity so they can be "saved" according to our definitions.
Rather, Jesus is calling these fishermen onto a new path--a new way of living. He has more important things for them to do than participate in the current, and corrupt, market system.
The reference to "fishers" recalls Jeremiah 16: 16: "I am now sending for many fishermen, says the Lord, and they shall catch them..." The context of Jeremiah is to "catch" those who have been cast out--those cast out by Yahweh! In Mark's theology, this is exactly what Jesus will do. He will redeem everything, including those who would have been rejected by God's law.
In response to Jesus' call that they have more important things to do than catch fish from Caesar's lake, Andrew and Simon "immediately" left their nets and followed Jesus. The Greek word commonly translated here as "left" is aphentes. It means released, or let go. Andrew and Simon left their nets--that is, they "let go" of their economic livelihood, and "released" their participation in the current market system.
The Greek text then says that Jesus "went a little further" to James and John. Indeed he would. James and John would "let go" of something even more central than economic livelihood. They "released" themselves from their family. They left their father in the boat.
In other words, the New Community would indeed be new. It would be a "turn" from existing social structures and time-bound traditions. People in the New Community would derive their identity not from their present economic condition or their past familial relationships, but rather be given a new identity as followers of the "way" of the "kingdom of God" as taught and lived by their leader, Jesus of Galilee.
Image: Calling disciples, He Qi