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.
As I’ve noted before, Mark happens fast. He keeps introducing things that I have to backtrack to discuss, because I didn’t have time and space to talk about them when they first showed up. For instance: throughout the last two chapters, he’s been hinting at his coming death, and yesterday, he identified Jerusalem as his final destination. His opponents have set a trap, and he intends to walk right into it, throwing the fight with the Pharisees in order to win a larger war. Well, today we’re in Jerusalem. This is the beginning of the end.
You know Switchfoot’s song “The Loser?” Of course you do. You’re no Johnny-come-lately Switchfoot fan, familiar only with their work from The Beautiful Letdown on. You’re a person of taste who has been there since Legend of Chin and appreciates the whole spectrum of Switchfoot’s corpus.
So of course you remember the first lines of “The Loser”: “Only the losers win; they’ve got nothing to prove. They’ll leave the world with nothing to lose.” Throughout the song, frontman Jon Foreman never once mentions Jesus or God even implicitly, but savvy listeners such as yourself understand that he’s banking on his loser status precisely because he believes in a God who loves the losers. And you’ll realize that those opening lines, along with the rest of the song, reflect Jesus’ own well-known teaching: “The last shall be first, and the first shall be last.”
Mark 9 contains a verse that I wish didn’t have to be quite so meaningful to me. You may be familiar with the scene where it appears: following the transfiguration, Jesus finds his disciples unsuccessfully attempting an exorcism. The father of the demon-possessed boy brings him to Jesus, begging Jesus to help, if possible. When Jesus responds that all things are possible to him who believes, the man cries out: “I do believe; help my unbelief!” (24).
What is bread? The question has hounded philosophers and theologians for centuries. Many have speculated and pontificated on the nature and meaning of bread, but even today, with our marvels of modern technology, the truth about bread eludes us. Its mysteries–okay, no. Bread has been around for ages and we know what it is.
Is Jesus Christ omnipotent? Today’s chapter might seem to suggest otherwise, because dang if the Son of Man can’t catch a break. Following a heated disagreement with the Pharisees over traditions and hand-washing, Jesus once again seeks out some alone time, but even in the remotest regions beyond the boundaries of Judea and Galilee, trouble still seems to find him, in the form of a Syrophoenician woman with a demon-possessed daughter.