Don’t ever let anyone tell you there are no elephants in the Bible. And no, I’m not talking about implied elephants on the ark. Nor am I referring to Solomon’s importing of elephants’ tusks in 1 Kings 10:22. Did you know that ever since Genesis 12, Abraham has been traveling with an elephant? In Genesis 12, as you recall, God promised to make a great nation out of Abraham and to bless the entire world through him. But Abraham’s wife is well past child-bearing age, apparently infertile. How will he become a great nation if his line of descendants ends with him? The elephant Abraham is traveling with is the elephant in the room.
I’ve had an up-and-down relationship with the gospel of John. Of all the four gospels, it was the one that most saturated my childhood. I have these random memories: reading it with my mom at a TCBY as part of homeschool lessons, memorizing John 3:16 and thinking about God’s love for the world while swinging on a pull-up bar on the playground. In high school, I became increasingly aware of the scholarly skepticism surrounding it, its alleged late authorship and its authenticity. The sun moved, everyone’s favorite gospel suddenly became shrouded in shadow, and for years afterward reading through it became weird for me.
I’ve never celebrated Sukkot. Have you? Honest question. Leave me a comment and let me know if you’ve ever celebrated it. And if you don’t know what it is, you’ve almost certainly never celebrated it, because it’s not the sort of holiday you’d observe by accident. It’s the Jewish Feast of Booths, and according to the instructions in Leviticus 23:33-43, it lasts eight days, and it requires you to build and live in a temporary shelter, the titular “sukkah.” It also requires you to take leafy branches and rejoice before the Lord. I doubt you’ve ever said to yourself, “Whoops! I just built a booth with at least three walls and a thatched roof and lived in it for seven days, holding a sacred assembly for the Lord on the eighth, and all week long I accidentally rejoiced with leafy branches and presented food offerings to the Lord,” but…where was I going with this? I honestly don’t know. Let’s find out.
What is bread? The question has hounded philosophers and–wait, what? I’ve used that introduction already? What am I supposed to do for an intro? We’re going to be talking about Jesus’ use of bread as a spiritual metaphor again, and I need to create an engaging first paragraph to draw in readers! Oh, what’s that? Contrive a dialogue with an imaginary, unseen interlocutor who brings up the fact that I’ve already used the “What is bread?” introduction and posits an alternative? Seems a bit gimmicky. Do you have any better ideas? No? Neither do I. Okay, we’ll go with it. And with that out of the way, let’s talk about bread.
You know Robert Frost’s poem “The Road Not Taken?” Sometimes I open up the day’s passage and find it could not be more “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood” if it tried. Here, on the one hand, is the healing at the pool in Bethesda, and on the other, there is Jesus’ lengthy exposition of the relationship between the Son and the Father, defending his ministry as backed by the authority of God. But unlike Robert Frost’s existentially-minded traveler, I’m faced with two roads that countless expositors and theologians have trod before me; there is no “road less traveled by” here. Moreover, while the traveler doubts he may ever return to that fork in the road, I may find that I have time to cover both sections of John 5 today. But I have to pick one to begin with, so travel with me down the road to the Bethesda healing, or alternately, close the tab and leave the entry unread–for you as well have two roads before you.
The gospel of Mark contains some weird parts. For example, there’s that guy in a sheet shadowing Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane who escapes naked when the chief priests’ hired muscle try to seize him. And we didn’t even get to talk about the dudes that Jesus heals with his spit, two more Mark exclusives. (The blind guy initially remarks, in so many words, “Whoa, everyone looks like walking trees!”) Then there are the parts that other gospels include but Mark omits, like Jesus’ birth, and in fact any mention of Joseph. That’s right: in Mark, Jesus’ dad is completely absent! Mark doesn’t consider him important at all! But perhaps the weirdest part of Mark is its ending.
The day of Jesus’ crucifixion was a dark day in history. I mean that literally: the bulk of that afternoon saw Golgotha and its environs shrouded in darkness. It’s not clear from simply reading the gospels whether it was simply overcast, whether a solar eclipse occurred, or whether this was a supernaturally-caused gloom. Nor is it clear whether we’re looking at a localized phenomenon, a global one, or somewhere in between. Scholars have turned to outside sources to figure out just what went down, but we’ll leave it to them to sort out the details. My point is that vision rolls were taking at least a -3 darkness penalty.
Oh, and it was dark in the metaphorical sense too. You know, insofar as the chief priests killed God.
Did I already talk about how the night before the crucifixion is Judas’ fifteen minutes of fame? I did? Great. I guess I’ll have to find something else to talk about. And that shouldn’t be too hard, because while there is a lot of Judas in Mark 14, there is also a lot of other things, because it’s a big chapter. At 72 verses, it’s cleanly the biggest chapter in Mark. Let’s see what else it contains.
I’m having a bad post day today, so let’s scrap what I’ve written and start over. This is Mark’s take on the Olivet Discourse, Jesus’ private teaching to his disciples when one of them remarks on how dope the temple architecture is. In this passage, Jesus looks ahead prophetically to the AD 70 destruction of the Jerusalem temple, tells his disciples what to expect in their own future, and–depending on to what degree you embrace preterism–perhaps gives us a look into the end times as well.
Today’s chapter is Mark’s Endgame Debates Chapter. Each synoptic gospel features the Jewish religious leaders’ ongoing contention with Jesus during his last days in Jerusalem, and Mark packs it all into pretty much a single chapter. But among all the theological judo, we see one guy who isn’t looking for a fight. And we’ll get to him in a moment, but first I want to note a couple irrelevant trivialities from the Parable of the Vine-growers.