Next week we begin to read the Gospel According to Matthew. For Study Materials on Matthew, Chapters 1-4, go to the end of this post
The Gospel According to Mark IV (11-16)
4th Sunday after Pentecost
June 24, 2012
Mark 14: 3-9; 22-28; 32-42; 53-72
Mark 15 and 16:1-8
Mark 14: 3-9: “While he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he sat at the table, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very costly ointment of nard, and she broke open the jar and poured the ointment on his head…”
Mark’s whole narrative has been moving steadily toward Jesus’ death. Here at the end the tension between the inner story and the outer story gets intense. Mark moves us back and forth between the events as they unravel and what they mean.
In the outer story, Jesus is caught up in the machinery of religious and political rejection which leads to his condemnation and death. And those who should be by his side become part of the apparatus of betrayal. Judas, we are told repeatedly is “one of the twelve.” Jesus will share a meal with him, and still he goes ahead with the plot, the ultimate perfidy in Middle Eastern culture. When Jesus is arrested, they will all will forsake him and flee. The ultimate failure of the disciples is not that they didn’t understand, but that they are disloyal and unfaithful. They were chosen to “be with him,” and they failed.
As the outer story falls apart Mark draws us into three scenes which reveal the inner meaning of the story: the anointing, the supper, and the garden. The woman who anoints him is remembered wherever Jesus’ story is told, even though she is never named. Women in this Gospel show more insight into Jesus’ identity than those who have been chosen. They are near the cross, they come to serve, they follow and minister to Jesus as he has ministered to others.
Chapter 14: 12-25, finds Jesus and his followers at the Passover meal. All turns out exactly as Jesus has predicted and they prepare the Seder. Jesus tells them that one of them will betray him. They are shocked. As the drama unfolds, the inner meaning is revealed in ritual. Jesus breaks the bread, as he has broken it and shared it with the crowds in the past, and as his own body will be broken. The cup he shares recalls the suffering he has promised his disciples, suffering which he himself will now face. This meal is transformed by his impending death “for many.” Even so Jesus points to a future beyond the betrayal and death which await him, “Truly I tell you, I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.”
As they enter the Garden, Jesus tells them that they will all become deserters, but that he will meet them again in Galilee. Peter is so sure of himself, promising to go to his death rather than desert.
Jesus’ suffering begins in the Garden. Verses 32 through41: “I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and keep awake….” Throughout this Gospel, Jesus’ has healed and cast out demons with the power of God at his disposal. In chapter 10, he claimed that all things were possible for God, and now again in verse 36, he says, ”for you all things are possible.” Jesus knows that it is possible for God to do what he asks, “remove this cup from me”. He sees so clearly what is ahead, what it will cost and how it will hurt, and that it will take everything he has. But God is silent. And his friends are useless. Jesus is alone to accept the task for which he came. And he does. It is Jesus’ faith that makes it possible for him to face the pain and suffering still to come. He trusts that the power that has changed the fate of so many whose lives he has touched will also be the power which saves him and brings him through death to life again.
After bringing us through the inner meaning of what appears to be a meaningless execution, Mark gets on with the story. We are quickly swept through the arrest, two trials and beatings, and at last the crucifixion. In all the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ arrest and trial and crucifixion, we find a meticulous, sustained narrative. Whereas the stories of Jesus ministry have been a series of episodes, loosely connected, and often vague in detail, the death of Jesus is specific in dialogue, time and order, the color of his robe and the casting lots for his clothes. Jesus dies surrounded by mockery from his enemies and desertion by his friends. He is alone before the mystery of God. The soldier who saw him breath his last was likely mocking him too, when he states that this is God’s son. Even the women who follow are far away.
Joseph of Arimathea, is not described as a disciple, but a member of the council “waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God.” Probably not looking for a messiah who has turned everything upside down and died such a shameful death. But as a respectable Jewish leader, he took it upon himself to see that this dead person was buried before the Sabbath.
And so it is that we come to this strange ending, over which so many scholars have debated. The women come, the faithful women, wanting to serve. When they find the tomb open and a man with a message, they are too shocked to do what he asks. “Go and tell the disciples and (even) Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him just as he told you” They flee, not saying anything to anyone, because they are afraid.
I think I like the short ending, because it makes sense to me that even the faithful women cannot grasp how new a thing is set before their eyes. It takes awhile to figure out where you are when everything you expected has been challenged. All of them saw God’s power displayed so often to change things: cure epileptics, raise the dead, cleanse lepers and heal blindness. Even thought Jesus told them clearly that he would suffer, die, and be raised, all of them expected that God could avert the disaster that was bearing down on their beloved teacher. And God didn’t. God had another ending in mind. So often our prayers seem not to be answered, certainly not in the way we expect. We think God has said no. But the Gospel tells us that God’s yes can be so different than anything we can imagine, that we can find our faith shaken to the very core before we understand that it is a yes. Mark says that his story is the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ. This open ending leaves room for us to grasp for ourselves that this good news is continuing in our own lives. That Jesus goes ahead of us, even if we have deserted him, waiting to meet us in the dark places of our lives with the dawn of new life which begins in this story and lasts forever.
Now may the peace of God which surpasses all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.
The Gospel According to Matthew I
Matthew’s Gospel is longer than Mark’s, even though it compresses many of the Markan stories. Matthew includes a birth narrative and a genealogy, as well as resurrection accounts. Mark tells us that Jesus teaches, but is much more focused on what Jesus does than what Jesus says. Much of Matthew’s material is teaching.
Although the specifics of the writing of any of the Gospels is unknown, Matthew’s context suggests an audience who understood Jewish tradition. The traditional guess is that Matthew was written in Antioch, a large urban center and the home of a vibrant early Christian community. A date of 85 CE reflects a time in which Christians are defining themselves against the emerging Rabbinic tradition of post-temple Judaism. The image of Jesus as Rabbi and Teacher is certainly prominent in Matthew, and in this Gospel we find the first use of the term ekklesia, Greek for church.
Some scholars think that Matthew’s community struggled with the issue of spiritual gifts in the same way as the Church in Corinth. Pride in charismatic gifts of tongues and prophecy made people judgmental and split communities. Matthew emphasizes ‘righteousness’ as being humble in service and faithful to God’s love rather than being able to claim some special status.
Matthew is a systematizer; he writes with order, fullness, and symmetry. Jesus’ teaching is organized into five thematic units, and teaching alternates with narrative. This Gospel has been used as the “church’s Gospel”, with the Lord’s Prayer, the Beatitudes, and the Sermon on the Mount among the most widely known treasures of the Christian heritage. Matt uses dramatic and unforgettable images, giving this Gospel priority as a teaching instrument.
Pay particular attention to:
Symmetry: Note the order and balance of the genealogy. Is that really all the people in the generations between Abraham and Jesus? Notice the balance between people you’ve heard of and people you haven’t. Is Matthew telling you something?
Genealogy: A weird place to start the story of Jesus…or not? What is the writer establishing? And what about those women, doesn’t the line come through men? How might the women be telling us something important about what Jesus will do and be?
Joseph: “A righteous man.” The difference between doing what’s right and what is righteous begins here. How is this annunciation story different from the one you’re used to?
Scripture Citations: “all this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the prophet.” You will get used to this in Matthew’s narrative, even from the mouth of Jesus. What do you see as it’s purpose.
Wise Men from the East: If the context of Matthew’s community is hashing out the rules for Gentiles to enter the “church,” how might this story tell them something important?
Out of Egypt: There are powerful references to the Jew’s salvation story of the Exodus all through Matthew’s Gospel. Can you see some in these early chapters?
First words: What are Jesus’ first words in Matthew? What is Jesus proclamation as he begins his ministry? Is there a connection?
Temptation: This is a much more interesting story than Mark tells. Is there a connection between these specific temptations and Jesus’ ministry? Is all the temptation over? What do you think?