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Pontesbury Cemetery

From The Church Wardens

Pontesbury Cemetery: an update

There has been some discussion of our local cemetery in “social media” recently. This has led to some changes which may affect all who visit the cemetery. But first, it may help if we set out the background….

We are fortunate to have a cemetery in Pontesbury that’s near the centre of the village, with sufficient consecrated space for some years to come. The cemetery is actually an extension of the Churchyard that surrounds St. George’s Church and so it’s the property of the Church of England, and it’s the responsibility of St. George’s Church to ensure it is available for use.

There are costs involved in keeping the cemetery in a fit and safe state. We need to ensure that boundary fences, walls and gates are sound, that bushes and trees do not encroach, that pathways and landscaped areas are suitably laid out, and the grass is kept down. Fees are charged to meet the cost of individual burials and these provide a small fund to help meet the costs of maintaining the cemetery. But – we get no financial help from head-office! In fact – like just about all churches across the country – we have to pay our way. Churches that don’t meet their costs face having to share their Minister with neighbouring parishes – or even…closure.

So we could say that we run the cemetery on a wing and a prayer. This task falls to a very small, ageing group of volunteers. We tackle jobs ourselves when we can, to save money – and we are very grateful to those who keep parts of the cemetery and individual graves neat and tidy. When we have no choice, we do pay for work – but we have to keep within our budget. It’s very true that with more money, we’d pay for more work and make things even better.

We do know that despite our best efforts at maintaining the cemetery, not everyone is happy at times. The recent “social media” discussion is evidence of an issue regarding upkeep around grave-stones. Criticism travelled quickly and before we knew it, we found ourselves without anyone to cut the grass. So now, we are faced with a choice: pay for more time than before to keep the grass down (with money we don’t have), or leave the cemetery to become a “wild area” (fine for birds and other wild life but not for human visitors and liable to create other problems).

We will let you know what we decide to do in due course. But we would ask you please to contact us by phone (details below) if there is an issue that you need to discuss about the cemetery. We can’t work miracles but we will do what we can! Pontesbury Cemetery is a very special place of peace and quiet which we can visit to remember our loved ones. We all want to keep it that way, don’t we?

Your humble, ageing volunteer Churchwardens,

Mary Worrall 01743 791069

Allen Marsden 01743 791822

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St George’s Blog

This is a message for all the villagers in Pontesbury.

We thought that we’d open up the church website to comments, stories and events within the village during this lock-down period, and if it works well, then we might even keep it in a different form after that nasty little microbe has gone.

So what are we looking for? How about articles on Home Schooling? How’s that turning out? You can share ideas across this blog. We could have a photo a day, a cartoon a day, a thought for the day, a prayer for the day, and so on, the possibilities are endless. We can add pictures too.

Here are the rules.

  • Remember where you are, so moderate language please.
  • You must sign in with a genuine email address – this will not be published, but you can use any name you wish. We’d prefer real names, but understand when it is not possible.
  • When commenting, your first comment will be moderated, thereafter you should get straight in.
  • Any article that you wish to publish as a full post should be addressed to webmaster@st-george.org.uk and the Webmaster retains the right to refuse or ask for edits.
  • That’s all, but we could add more in the light of experience

January 2021

From the Dragons’ Den

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Here we are again! Although not quite as usual! Due to Covid-19, we weren’t able to enjoy our Christmas Tree Festival but, in its place, we experienced ‘Light Up Pontesbury’ when lots of people decorated their businesses and houses to light the village up in delightful Christmas displays. We enjoyed a Service of Lessons and Carols, Crib Service, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day Services when, although only our choir were able to sing, we were glad of the Good News of the birth of a special baby.

Here we are in a New Year, 2021. In the past year we have had to leave aside many activities, such a Little Dragons, Messy Church, Friday Club and even many of the church services.  Now we live in hope that they all may be reinstated in the coming months. Several of our congregation members have been involved in new tasks such as leading services and keeping Members in contact with one another.  Our Church Wardens and PCC have worked hard to ensure continuity, and our choir, despite that lack of a regular organist, have done much to keep their area of expertise alive and well.

Thus, time passes and we look forward to an increasingly wonderful, happy and fulfilling New Year, enlivened by the arrival of our new Rector, Reverend Gregg Smith and his wife, Fran. We look forward to their arrival in February and hope that they will soon feel at home amongst us.

Sending you every good wish for the New Year and for many years to come, Val Butterworth  

P.S.     Also from we three: – George , Uncle Sam and Idris

The Gospel of Mark 6

A Study Course By Reverend Christopher Cooke

Comments

The Passion Part 2

Chapter 14:1-2 and 14:10-11 – The Plot to Arrest Jesus.

This is another of Mark’s trademark sandwiches. In the middle is the Anointing at Bethany which we have already considered. The woman is the contrasting admirable figure compared to the Jewish religious leaders and Judas Iscariot. We have also considered why Judas may have done it but that does not excuse that he did do it.

Who wants to arrest Jesus?
When do they want to arrest Jesus?
What do they want to do with Jesus?
What role did Judas play in facilitating the arrest?

The Jewish religious leaders want to arrest Jesus and dispose of him. However, they want to avoid inflaming Jesus’ enthusiastic supporters. Indeed, they did not want to stir up all those Galileans who had come to Jerusalem for the Passover who seem to be in an excited stated about Jesus. Jesus was teaching in the Temple and, at other times of the day, there were always crowds around him. If an arrest was to take place, it would have to be after dark in a quiet place. Judas was essential for this because only one of the insiders would know where Jesus might be that night. For this service Judas will be well paid.

We have considered before why Judas did it. “Iscariot” might suggest he was a patriot. He may have joined the movement from motives of high-minded patriotism. He might have had hoped that Jesus’ arrest would force Jesus into action. The other possible root for “Iscariot” is that Judas’ family originated from the village of Keriot. Keriot is in Judah and that would make Judas the only non-Galilean amongst the Twelve we know of. Coming back to his homeland, and possibly into contact with his relatives, coupled with Jesus’ attack on the Temple, may have meant he was a ‘weak link’ who could be worked on by the Temple authorities. Similarly, his patriotism may well have encompassed a love for the Temple and Jerusalem. When Jesus attacked these, this may have deeply troubled Judas. However, there is no indication that Judas reported on Jesus’ teaching to the authorities. He does not appear before the Sanhedrin as a key prosecution witness. Judas’ reputation was of the blackest amongst the early Christians but no-one accused him of doing that.

Chapter 14:12-21 – The Passover Meal.

Dick France heads this “Old Passover and new”.

What does the Passover celebrate?

The Passover was itself a commemorative meal, celebrating Israel’s original liberation from slavery in Egypt. This was an act of God and accomplished under the leadership of Moses. Through it Israel became a nation. At the heart of the Passover meal is death, the death of the lamb, whose blood on the doorposts kept safe the houses of the Israelites when the firstborn of Egypt were killed.

The Passover meal was made up of several courses interspersed by four cups of wine. For each course and each cup there were appropriate words of blessing and explanation by the head of the family. It is a family celebration. So, that Jesus celebrated this with the Twelve means this was also a family celebration – a new family – with Jesus as the head of the family.

Who is, as Dick France puts it, the cuckoo in the nest?

Why does Jesus remark on this now?

Jesus was aware that Judas is about to betray him. He gives the other disciples warning that there is a traitor amongst them. Jesus does not want the others to be taken completely by surprise. However, Jesus does nothing to stop Judas carrying out his intention. Nor does Jesus identify who the traitor is. If he did, the others would surely have stopped him leaving the room. Again, we see Jesus being passive and allowing events to take their course.

Chapter 14:22-25 – The Institution of the Lord’s Supper.

Tom Wright points out that, frustratingly for our rationalistic age, it is remarkably difficult to explain to an outsider the significance of this event. You have to live and experience Holy Communion/Eucharist at first hand.

What was Jesus doing?

What is the significance of the Last Supper to us?

Now a new Passover meal, under a new leader, marks the foundation of a people of God which is no longer national but international, the people of the new covenant. Now blood will be shed, the blood not of a sacrificial lamb but of the Son of God, by whose death ‘many’ will be saved.

The events of this meal were remembered and cherished. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians is the oldest account of the Lord’s Supper. There, Jesus says ‘do this in remembrance of me’ [11:23-26].

In fact, there are remarkably few instructions from Jesus about how we should worship. There is a reference, shortly to come, about singing Psalms (see below). The Lord’s Prayer is given in slightly different versions in Matthew’s and Luke’s Gospels but does not appear in Mark’s Gospel. We have seen the baptism of Jesus occurs in all four Gospels and this Last Supper appears in Mark’s, Matthew’s and Luke’s Gospels and in a different form in John’s Gospel. Baptism and the celebration of the Lord’s Supper would seem to be the foundational acts of worship for Christians.

The Twelve were slow at understanding but even they must have been aware that what Jesus was enacting was his own death. His body is about to be broken and his blood spilled. However, he is also inviting them to participate in all this. The broken body and the shed blood are to be food and drink for his people. This will be a new covenant. There are many covenants in the Old Testament between God and people. There is one with Noah and one with King David. Because this is set in a Passover meal, however, the most obvious covenant is the one with Moses on Mount Sinai.

So the death that Jesus is about to undergo is not a mistake or a disaster, but the means to the salvation of his people, the people of the new covenant. Dick France

Death is not the end but a beginning. Jesus is already looking beyond the cross to the new life of the kingdom of God. Jesus may well be thinking of the promised messianic banquet. This meal is also a foretaste of what is to come.

His death, however, will actually facilitate the coming of the kingdom and the redemption of Israel. It is probably in this sense that we should understand Jesus’ statement that his death is “on behalf of many”.
Craig Evans.
God’s kingdom is now coming on earth as in heaven. In that sense, the meal is a surprise party for the disciples, though it turns out to be a very sad one. This meal, with all its new-passover associations, was Jesus’ primary means of enabling his followers not only to understand his death but to let it do its freedom-work in their lives and in the world.
Tom Wright.
As Christians today share the bread and the wine of the Lord’s Supper, they do so with due solemnity indeed, for it is their Lord’s death which they are remembering, but also with thanksgiving (which is what ‘eucharist’ means) for the life which that death has achieved.
Dick France.

Chapter 14:26-31 – Peter’s Denial Foretold.

The Mount of Olives is the hillside which faces Jerusalem across the narrow valley of the Kidron. Many Passover pilgrims would have been camping overnight here. Previously, Jesus had returned to Bethany for the night but this night, he intends to stay nearer the city. The hymn that they sing would have been one of the Hallel Psalms sung at this time (Psalms 113 to 118 in our Bibles).

What does Jesus predict about Peter and the disciples?

Jesus predicts that all the disciples, including Peter, will desert Jesus in the end. Jesus knows that all the preparation has not been enough. He knows that they will not be able to withstand the pressure that is to come. The disciples’ loyalty is not so much in question as their strength which has not yet been tested.

Jesus quotes the prophet Zechariah which was itself a judgement upon Israel. Similarly, Jerusalem will be judged by God. There are links too with Chapter 13.

Peter also makes a prediction: others may fall away but he will not. Jesus’ predictions come true and Peter’s does not.

What does Jesus predict in verse 28?

After their pilgrimage trip to Jerusalem, the disciples would have expected to return home to Galilee.

Despite, Jesus’ gloomy prediction, his mind is still on the future. He can see beyond the cross to the resurrection. Beyond the rejection in Jerusalem, he looks towards a reunion with the disciples in Galilee. He thinks about his familiar homeland and a new beginning.

In addition, Jesus is ‘going ahead’ of them. Shepherds in the Holy Land usually led their flocks, so Jesus may be saying he will be leading them in Galilee.

Chapter 14:32-42 – Jesus Prays in Gethsemane.

Gethsemane means ‘oil press’. So this suggests this plot of land is probably an olive orchard. It is in the area of the Mount of Olives.

Who does Jesus take with him?
What is Jesus doing?
What are the three disciples doing?
What is Jesus feeling?

Jesus posts the bulk of his disciples as a watch while he goes to pray. Jesus takes with him Peter, James and John just as he did at the Transfiguration (9:2-8). That was a momentous occasion for them and we might have expected that they would be similarly alert on this occasion.

The prayer itself “Abba, Father… remove this cup from me” reveals the human Jesus who recoils from the coming suffering. It is an impressive picture. Jesus is fully aware of the severity of the trial that lies ahead. There is a contrast between the suffering expressed now and the way Jesus deals with the unfolding events. No aspect of the Passion seems to take Jesus by surprise when it happens. He meets it all with dignity and serenity.

Jesus’ prayer acknowledges that God can do all things. So this prayer underscores the idea that this is God’s will. It is not Jesus’ wish but God’s and Jesus accepts it. The reference to the “cup” reminds us of the question that Jesus put to James and John when they, shockingly, asked to sit at his right and left in heaven. (10:38-39). Despite this, they are with Jesus now!

Meanwhile, the three disciples are far from being alert and they keep falling asleep. Perhaps, the three times Jesus finds Peter and the brothers asleep, is meant to parallel Peter’s three denials.

As Craig Evans comments, while Jesus gains strength through prayer, his disciples lose spiritual fortitude, thus becoming vulnerable to fear and faithlessness. They are still unready for the ordeal ahead. They are probably exhausted, physically and emotionally, at the pace of events since arriving in Jerusalem. This will be the pattern of the Passion account as it plays out.

Mark’s portrait is of one who is master of the situation, not that of a fanatic who in bewilderment sees his plans go awry.
Craig Evans

Ironically, it is Jesus who announces the arrival of the betrayer and not the disciples who are supposed to be keeping watch!

Chapter 14:43-52 – The Betrayal and Arrest of Jesus.

How does Judas betray Jesus?
Who is with Judas?
What is Jesus’ reaction?
What is the reaction of the disciples?

We have seen that Judas’ role was to lead the arresting party to find Jesus when he was not surrounded by crowds. It was dark and so the kiss was to mark out which of these men in the gloom was indeed Jesus. Judas is accompanied by a rag band of men who worked for the ruling priests. Craig Evans calls them thugs. This is not a Roman action but the Sanhedrin (see below) using its delegated powers.

Seizure at night was intended to render Jesus’ following leaderless and powerless, so by avoiding any organized revolt. Someone draws a sword and strikes the servant of the high priest. Matthew’s Gospel tells us this was Peter and that Jesus then healed the man. It would seem that a disciple tried to come between Jesus and the arresting party which was a brave thing to do.

Jesus rebukes those who have come to arrest him secretly when he has been openly teaching in the Temple. However, Jesus does not resist and he is taken away to the Sanhedrin. As Dick France notes Jesus is not a desperado but a peaceful religious teacher. After all, he knew that Judas was going to betray him and he could have taken avoiding action and just been somewhere else. Jesus sees these events as fulfilling scripture.

The disciples flee away for their lives through the trees, including that “certain young man” (which we have looked at before).

Chapter 14:53-65 – Jesus Before the Council.

This is the Council of Jewish leaders – the Sanhedrin. The Sanhedrin had been set up by the Romans in the form of a liaison committee following the Roman occupation of Palestine under Pompey. As this was Jerusalem, this is probably the Great Sanhedrin with its seventy one judges. They met in the Hall of the Hewn Stones. It was made up of Jewish elites to deal with censuses and taxes as well as administrative and military matters. Because of this, and particularly because of the taxes, it was often viewed as a tainted institution involved in collaboration with the occupying Romans.

What do you make of the witnesses?

What is very interesting is that although Judas Iscariot has betrayed Jesus, he is not, as one might have expected called to be the star prosecution witness. Did he refuse? Were they not sure what he might actually say? Was he already regretting what he had done?

In the end, it seems they have to scrape the bottom of the barrel and end up with some far from convincing witnesses. The Law of Moses as found in Deuteronomy (17:6 and 19:15) requires that the testimony of witnesses must be in agreement. The accusation does not quite match the words we heard Jesus speak earlier in the Gospel. However, they are close enough so that we might expect this biased Sanhedrin would have convicted him. Craig Evans thinks they may not have agreed about the circumstances in which these words were said. Anyway, the witnesses are not convincing under cross examination. But who offered this cross examination we are not sure. Perhaps, Joseph of Arimathea was a possible person in light of what he does later (see below). If we take John’s Gospel into consideration, this may also include Nicodemus.

How does Jesus respond to the questions of the High Priest?

What is the High Priest’s reaction?

With the effect of the witnesses failing to convince, the High Priest goes on to the offensive himself. Jesus is, at first, silent. Then the High Priest asks whether Jesus is the Messiah. To this Jesus says “I am” and then alludes to the Book of Daniel and Psalm 110. While Jesus may have been mistaken for a political liberator, he remains silent. The High Priest is fully aware of what the Messiah will be and Jesus therefore affirms that he is. The High Priest is so enraged that he tears his clothes and accuses him of the crime of blasphemy. The Sanhedrin condemns Jesus to death.

Some of the members spit on and strike Jesus. They blindfold him and mock him. It looks as if things are getting out of hand and moving towards a lynching. Jews were allowed to stone people to death as they did Stephen (and that was the intention with the woman caught in adultery).

Why did they not stone Jesus to death?

They decide not to proceed to stone Jesus, no doubt, because of the volatile situation. If Jerusalem Jews stone a prominent Galilean preacher, this could have led to disturbances between Jerusalemites and Galileans. It would be far better if the Romans would do their dirty work for them.

Chapter 14:66-72 – Peter Denies Jesus.

How reprehensible was Peter?
Do you have sympathy for him?

If we can give Judas some credit that he did not turn prosecution witness, we can give some credit to Peter that he was as close as he could get to Jesus thereby placing himself in some jeopardy. There is a dogged loyalty about Peter but this undermined by his responses to the questions asked of him. Peter denies knowing Jesus twice and then as it all becomes uglier and Peter “began to curse, and he swore an oath…” Dick France wonders who he was cursing! It is all a great contrast from the promises Peter made to Jesus.

Mark’s portrait contrasting Jesus and Peter is masterful…
Craig Evans

Chapter 15:1-5 – Jesus Before Pilate.

This is a very short section compared to what is found in the other Gospel accounts.

Modern historians have differing assessments of Pilate as an effective ruler. While some believe he was a particularly brutal and ineffective governor, others argue that his long time in office (ten years) means he must have been reasonably competent.

How does Jesus reply to Pilate?
How does Pilate respond?

We notice that whereas the High Priest was interested in whether Jesus claimed to be the Messiah, Pontius Pilate wants to know whether Jesus is “the King of the Jews”. Jesus has always been trying to portray himself as the Messiah in a nuanced way. He would only be a king in a spiritual sense. He had no intention of being another Judas Maccabaeus. To Pilate Jesus replies “You say so”. Perhaps, this is because Pilate is partly right but not in the way he thinks. Jesus’ next words will be from the cross.

Pilate was not interested in issues of blasphemy. When Pilate points out all the charges brought against Jesus by the Sanhedrin, Jesus remains silent. The Roman Senate made kings (such as Herod the Great) but self-proclaimed kings were seen as treasonous. In the decades before and after Jesus there had been several would-be kings. Pilate was amazed that Jesus did not defend himself. Mark shows Jesus in a favourable light standing calmly before his accusers with great dignity.

Chapter 15:6-15 – Pilate Hands Jesus Over to be Crucified.

This is the most debatable event in the Passion account. There are no records of such a custom of releasing a prisoner at the Passover festival and it seems an unlikely thing for the Romans to do. However, it is attested not only here in Mark’s Gospel (and followed by Matthew and Luke), it is also attested in the independent source that is John’s Gospel. It would have been risky to make it up if it could be easily refuted. So, it may have been a one-off event in which Pilate wanted to let some of the steam out of a very tense situation. However, it is likely that the Jewish leaders stirred up the crowd to ensure that Pilate carried out the wishes of the Sanhedrin.

Who is calling for Jesus’ execution?
Who is encouraging them to do so?

Dick France has pointed out that those who hailed Jesus with “Hosanna, Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” on his entry into Jerusalem, were probably fellow Galilean pilgrims. So, here the crowd calling out for his death may have been mainly Jerusalemites stirred up by members of the Sanhedrin and their supporters. After all, the Temple was central to their worship. How would we react to someone who is said to advocate the destruction of our Cathedrals and Parish Churches?

Anyway, the crowds choose to save Barabbas rather than to save Jesus. In doing so, they do not have Rome’s interests at heart because Barabbas seems to have been a revolutionary. Nor are they over-concerned with the peace of the city because with Barabbas free, there is more volatility. But then rebels, like Robin Hood, can be attractive and are often popular with ordinary people.

Is Mark trying to lay the blame on the Jews here?

We know Luke, in his Gospel and Acts, often portrays the Roman authorities in a better light and puts more of the blame upon the Jews. After all, Luke was writing for Christians who resided outside the Holy Land. Mark, who we think was also writing for Christians outside the Holy Land, seems to be doing something similar. By the time the Gospels were written it would be clear that the Jews had turned their backs on Jesus and his message. Matthew, who was writing in the Holy Land and who was in debate with the Jews, gives a more nuanced and informed picture about the variety of Jewish views. However, the only change here is that Mark and Luke have “Crucify him!” whereas Matthew has “Let him be crucified!”

Pilate is not a man of principle and gives way to the pressure of the crowds. He orders Jesus to be flogged. Flogging seems to have been standard pre-crucifixion procedure.

What is surprising and chilling, however, is to hear a Jewish crowd calling for the barbaric Roman punishment of crucifixion to be imposed on any Jew, however unwelcome his political stance.
Dick France

Chapter 15:16-20 – The Soldiers Mock Jesus.

Is this unexpected?
In the light of what they accuse Jesus, is there irony here?

Members of the Sanhedrin have already mocked Jesus and now it is the turn of the Roman soldiers. They are acting out a mock salute of a Roman emperor. During a time of celebration, the emperor would wear an ivy crown and a robe with a purple mantle. The crowd would then proclaim “Hail Caesar!” This mock homage descends into horseplay. This also fulfils Jesus’ predictions before entering Jerusalem. For the soldiers it was a simple case of someone who was foolhardy enough to challenge the Roman occupying force. However, there is a further irony here because Christians believe that Jesus was indeed a king. The Roman emperors claimed to be sons of God, but Jesus was the Son of God.

Chapter 15:21-32 – The Crucifixion of Jesus.

Again, it is unusual for the condemned not to carry their cross-beam all the way to the execution site. Then again, crucifixion was usually reserved for the most hardened of criminals, slaves and insurrectionists. It was a particularly gruesome form of execution. Jesus may have been seen as an insurrectionist but he was not a hardened criminal. Nor was he a slave in their eyes although he might see himself as a slave of God.

There are some wonderful Good Friday hymns including “When I survey the wondrous cross”, “There is a green hill” and “O sacred head, surrounded”.

How does Mark’s account compare with these hymns?

The Roman Catholic Church developed “Stations of the Cross” for Christians who could not travel to Jerusalem to walk in the steps of Jesus along the Via Doloroso. I have led my more ecumenical version of this for many years. You walk round the Church and identify with Jesus’ last journey to the cross. You are invited to share in Jesus’ suffering. There are Stations of the Cross on the walls of St George’s. Similarly, the great Passion hymns ask us to identify with Jesus’ suffering for us on the cross.

It strikes me that Mark’s Gospel, in contrast with Luke’s Gospel, does not dwell on the suffering of Jesus. The suffering is in the Garden of Gethsemane and the one word Jesus speaks from the cross. These could be seen as much as spiritual torment as physical suffering. Yet, we know, from Chapter 13, that Mark can describe physical suffering vividly. Mark’s portrayal of the crucifixion seems to me to be very restrained. He portrays a dignified Jesus who goes to his death, saying very little and he does not resist. Yet there is the conviction that this is God’s work. As Christopher Evans writes, Mark’s Passion is full of both mystery and realism.

Was Simon of Cyrene just in the wrong place at the wrong time?
Or was he at the right place at the right time?
Should Simon Peter have helped carry the cross for Jesus?

Simon of Cyrene was compelled to help Jesus with the cross-beam. Perhaps, as Dick France suggests, he was a stranger who was in the wrong place at the wrong time. But as his sons are named by Mark, this suggests that this may have put Simon and his family on a new path. They had, perhaps, become Christians. Cyrene is in, what is now, eastern Libya. We do not know if he was also a pilgrim or whether he had relocated to the Holy Land or he was in the Holy Land on business. We do know that there were pilgrims from all around the Mediterranean fifty days later at Pentecost. Perhaps, if this was a life-changing experience, he may have been in the right place at the right time. We might have expected from his words, that Simon Peter would perform this task.

The narcotic drink was designed to alleviate the pain a little.

What does Jesus do?

Jesus refuses the narcotic drink, determined to undergo the ordeal in full consciousness. We notice that Mark gives no details about the actual fastening to the cross.

Why does Mark mention the dividing of Jesus’ clothes?

Mark does not record the central horrific act but rather the narcotic drink and the Jewish soldiers gambling for Jesus’ remaining meagre possessions. This was seen to fulfil Psalm 22:18 (a Psalm shortly on Jesus’ lips) and Psalm 69:21.

Josephus (the Jewish writer who records the Jewish Uprising against Rome) uses the term ‘bandits’ for insurrectionists and revolutionaries.

Does this suggest that Jesus was crucified between two of Barabbas’ associates?

This is almost certainly the case in Mark’s Gospel.

What about the superscription?
What did the Romans mean by it?
What does it mean to us?

There is a great irony that Jesus was condemned to death because he was accused of being an insurrectionist and he dies between two of the violent rebels.

So Jesus, who has refused the temptation to lead a political movement, dies in the company of revolutionaries. This underlines the depth of popular, and indeed official, misunderstanding of what Jesus’ mission had been all about.
Dick France

The Romans meant to be sarcastic with the superscription but for Mark, and all Christians since, it is, as Morna Hooker suggests, profoundly true.

But for Mark it is on the cross that Jesus is proclaimed to be the King of Israel, and by his death that he is affirmed as Messiah.
Morna Hooker

Who is mocking Jesus and what taunt are they using?

Morna Hooker thinks it is highly unlikely that members of the august Sanhedrin would be seen themselves at a site of execution. However, Mark probably gets the spirit of the occasion correct. We have seen Roman soldiers mocking Jesus and that is understandable but now Jews form a mocking chorus. The mockers are people encouraged to do this by members of the Sanhedrin who had previously encouraged Jerusalemites to call for Jesus’ crucifixion. We notice that again they initially taunt him about threatening the future of their beloved Temple. Of course, in AD70 it was destroyed by the Romans. The later taunt is not dissimilar to the demands of the Pharisees earlier in the Gospel that Jesus perform a miracle on demand.

To save himself would in fact be to deny that he was the Messiah, not establish it. It would also be to deny the principle set out by Jesus in 8:35 that it is by losing one’s life that one gains it.
Morna Hooker

Chapter 15:33-41 – The Death of Jesus.

We heard Jesus’ words in the Garden of Gethsemane. There were just the words “You say so” before Pilate. Here, is the only word from the Cross recorded in Mark’s Gospel.

The words recorded here are from Psalm 22. Psalm 22 is a lament but it ends, like many laments, on a more upbeat note. This is the only time in Mark’s Gospel, that Jesus does not address God as ‘Father’.

Is that significant?
Why does Jesus quote Psalm 22 now?
What is the darkness about?

Craig Evans argues that the darkness is God’s judgement of what is happening and Jesus’ words suggests that the divine judgement has, in part, fallen upon him. This is consistent with 14:27 (his words in the Garden of Gethsemane). In rejecting God’s Son (as in the Parable of the Vineyard 12:1-12), God strikes his own people, beginning with Israel’s shepherd.

How are the words understood by those nearby?

The bystanders mishear what Jesus is saying and think that he may be calling on Elijah. Would Elijah come and rescue this righteous man?

Why was the curtain of the temple torn in two?

This, for Mark, foreshadows the coming doom of the Temple in AD70.

What do you make of the centurion’s words?

This is in many ways the climax of Mark’s Gospel. This is Mark’s comment on all that has happened. The centurion is switching his allegiance from Caesar, the official ‘Son of God’ to Jesus, the real Son of God. Here too we see Mark looking towards a better relationship between Romans and Christians.

Mary Magdalene and the other Marys are looking on faithfully witnessing the crucifixion. They stand in stark contrast to the male disciples who have fled. Christians ever since must be grateful for their witness and the Church’s testimony rests upon their witness.

Most victims of crucifixion lingered on in pain for many hours, and gradually lost consciousness. Jesus’ death is very different… His work is done, and his death comes suddenly and with a loud cry. It is as if he is deliberately letting go.
Dick France

Chapter 15:42-47 – The Burial of Jesus.

The bodies of the crucified were usually left on the cross to decay and were then simply thrown on the ground unburied. Pilate would have been surprised to be asked to allow the burial of a victim and especially to be asked by a prominent Jewish member of the Sanhedrin.

Was Joseph of Arimathea a brave man?
Was he a generous man?
Did Joseph believe that Jesus did not deserve to die in this way?
Was he a follower of Jesus?
Where were the male disciples?
Where were the female disciples?

Jewish custom was opposed to leaving bodies unburied. Of course, for many proven miscreants, there was no alternative. Perhaps, there is a feeling amongst some Jewish circles that Jesus did not do anything to warrant such a death. Craig Evans suggests that Pilate was probably only too happy to have the corpse of Jesus removed from public view and thereby putting an end to the whole sorry affair. He ascertains that Jesus is indeed dead and then releases the body. Normally, the bodies of the crucified were not returned to their families and after days on the cross were thrown into a common pit. So, this is exceptional treatment granted by Pilate. Does he also have doubts about Jesus’ guilt? Did he do it because he knew it would not please the Sanhedrin who had put him in such an awkward situation?

Yet, Joseph was an exceedingly brave man because he could have enraged Pilate and he certainly went against the wishes of the Sanhedrin, as a whole, who had condemned Jesus as a blasphemer. Mark says that Joseph was “waiting patiently for the kingdom of God”. He was probably not a follower of Jesus at this time. But perhaps we can apply some words Jesus used 12:34: Joseph was “not far from the kingdom of God”. To have such a tomb available meant that Joseph was a wealthy man. (A mediaeval legend has Joseph coming to Glastonbury as a Christian missionary).

However, there is little time left before the Sabbath begins and it is a rather rushed burial. Perhaps this is why Joseph omitted to provide the customary spices for burial.

The women witness the placing of Jesus in the tomb and the tomb being sealed by the stone. There is no mention of the male disciples or Jesus’ family.

Morna Hooker remarks that the story of Jesus’ burial was important because it confirmed the reality of Jesus’ death. There were some who argued that Jesus did not die on the cross.

Chapter 16:1-8 – The Resurrection of Jesus.

We can tell from the vocabulary and general writing, that Mark’s Gospel ends at verse 8.

The question is whether this is the intentional end or whether Mark was interrupted and could not finish his Gospel or whether the ending is lost.

The women return after the Sabbath to anoint the body of Jesus.

What has happened to the stone sealing the tomb?
Where is the body of Jesus?

Because Jesus had been buried in haste and probably because his criminal status had placed restrictions on the burial rites, three brave women risk going to the tomb early on Sunday morning to complete the burial process and to weep at the tomb. They wonder who will roll the stone away. As Craig Evans remarks, it is ironic that not one of Jesus’ male disciples was available to offer this assistance. Anyway, the stone has been rolled away.

Who is the young man dressed in white?
What is his message?
How does 14:28 fit in with this?

Mark does not call the young man an angel (although Matthew does do so in his version). Craig Evans and Dick France think that Mark intends him to be an angel. If so, this is the only time that an angel appears in Mark’s Gospel. Angels do not appear in John’s Gospel either. Angels appear in Matthew and Luke’s Gospels in their birth narratives and in their accounts of the empty tomb.

The young man’s message is that Jesus “is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him” and this is a very similar message to 14:28. Craig Evans writes that the male disciples who deserted Jesus are probably already on their way back to Galilee. Ironically, Jesus will be there before them to greet them.

Galilee, as we have seen, is also a more mixed area with Jews and Gentiles sharing the shores of the Galilean Lake. ‘Galilee’ was used as a way into the Gentile world. Mark may also be saying that the Gospel will spread in the Gentile world rather than in the Jewish nation.

What is their response?

Ernest Best (amongst others) argues this is how the Gospel was intended to end.

What do you think about the ending?

We know the Gospel spread exponentially.

Could the women have remained silent?

Mark’s Gospel ends abruptly with the notation that the women were so astonished that they were left frightened and speechless.
It also ends with a dramatic finish emphasizing once again the awesome power of Jesus, who not only astounded people during his ministry but also astounded people in his death and resurrection.
Craig Evans
We can well understand the women’s ‘terror and amazement’. To go to a tomb looking for a body would unnerve the strongest of us. What is not so easy to grasp is their fear and their silence.
Dick France
Up to this point, the women in Mark’s story have done well: they alone witnessed his death and burial. But at this point, even they fail.
Morna Hooker

Mark’s Gospel ends in awe. The Gospel began abruptly and it ends abruptly as well.

However, the women are commissioned to pass on to the disciples a message of hope and joy. Dick France asks whether their fear and their silence were only temporary, and that in due course they delivered their message. Perhaps, this was when they got back to Galilee if the male disciples were already on the way back.

Ernest Best believes the ending is appropriate because it is ended by our response.

Is that convincing?

I have always been convinced that Mark’s Gospel ends at 16:8 but whether this was an intentional ending is so very debatable. As I have written this course, I have been undecided with arguments for both points of view. It is one of the great imponderables.

Mark’s ending is missing. I am convinced of it.
Tom Wright

Dick France tends to go in the same direction but Morna Hooker, like Ernest Best, could not disagree more. Perhaps because the other Gospels have resurrection appearances, we assume that the first Gospel must have them as well. A resurrection appearance is definitely foreshadowed in the words of the young man/angel.

I have found Ernest Best’s suggestion that the Gospel is only completed by our response as a useful tool when preaching the resurrection. However, I have to agree with Dick France that it is a modern or even post-modern way of thinking and probably does not represent Mark’s way of thinking.

On the questions paper, I quote Craig Evans pointing out that the transition from verse 8 to verse 9 (the beginning of the later Long Ending) is very clumsy. What has been exercising me is in what way Mark could have continued onwards from verse 8 which would not be as clumsy.

The other important insight is Morna Hooker’s view that the women failed. We looked at Mark’s treatment of characters in an earlier session.

According to Mark:

  • Jesus’ family failed.
    • But we know from other sources that Jesus’ brother was to head up the Jerusalem church.
    • The other Gospels give a much more prominent and faithful role for his mother Mary (and, indeed, Joseph).
  • The male disciples failed.
    • But we know that Simon Peter was to become the leader of the church.
    • Other apostles were prominent in spreading the Gospel and James was the first to lose his life.
  • Now even the female disciples fail.
    • But the other Gospels say they did pass the message on.
    • And they must have done so because the Gospel spread so quickly.

As we have seen those who appear only once in the Gospel are the models. And in this week’s study we have Simon of Cyrene, the centurion and Joseph of Arimathea.

But the only figure who has not failed at all is Jesus himself and the God who works his purposes through him.

I have been groping towards an answer while writing this course. I have been struck by the number of occasions there appears to be a similar outlook between Mark and Paul as expressed in his Letters.

Paul argues that we cannot help and save ourselves. It is purely through God’s grace that we are saved and given new life. This is based only on the death and resurrection of Jesus.

The words of the boy’s father in Mark 9:21-24 are important here: “I believe; help my unbelief!”

Is Mark saying that all humans fail and

  • Despite our failings God achieves everything through the death and resurrection of Jesus?
  • And despite our failings the Gospel is proclaimed throughout the world?
  • Nothing is the same because of Jesus Christ and nothing else really matters.

This was too much for the Gospel writers who followed Mark. They wanted to rebuild the reputation of Jesus’ family and Jesus’ disciples. But for Mark, like Paul, that was not really the point. All that matters to Mark is Jesus Christ and God.

Questions

The Passion Part 2

Chapter 14:1-2 and 14:10-11 – The Plot to Arrest Jesus.

This is another of Mark’s trademark sandwiches. In the middle is the Anointing at Bethany which we have already considered. The woman is the contrasting admirable figure compared to the Jewish religious leaders and Judas Iscariot. We have also considered why Judas may have done it but that does not excuse that he did do it.

Who wants to arrest Jesus?
When do they want to arrest Jesus?
What do they want to do with Jesus?
What role did Judas play in facilitating the arrest?

Chapter 14:12-21 – The Passover Meal.

Dick France heads this “Old Passover and new”.

What does the Passover celebrate?
Who is, as Dick France puts it, the cuckoo in the nest?
Why does Jesus remark on this now?

Chapter 14:22-25 – The Institution of the Lord’s Supper.

Tom Wright points out that, frustratingly for our rationalistic age, it is remarkably difficult to explain to an outsider the significance of this event. You have to live and experience Holy Communion/Eucharist at first hand.

What was Jesus doing?
What is the significance of the Last Supper to us?

Chapter 14:26-31 – Peter’s Denial Foretold.

The Mount of Olives is the hillside which faces Jerusalem across the narrow valley of the Kidron. Many Passover pilgrims would have been camping overnight here. Previously, Jesus had returned to Bethany for the night but this night, he intends to stay nearer the city. The hymn that they sing would have been one of the Hallel Psalms sung at this time (Psalms 113 to 118 in our Bibles).

What does Jesus predict about Peter and the disciples?
What does Jesus predict in verse 28?

Chapter 14:32-42 – Jesus Prays in Gethsemane.

Gethsemane means ‘oil press’. So this suggests this plot of land is probably an olive orchard. It is in the area of the Mount of Olives.

Who does Jesus take with him?
What is Jesus doing?
What are the three disciples doing?
What is Jesus feeling?

Chapter 14:43-52 – The Betrayal and Arrest of Jesus.

How does Judas betray Jesus?
Who is with Judas?
What is Jesus’ reaction?
What is the reaction of the disciples?

Chapter 14:53-65 – Jesus Before the Council.

This is the Council of Jewish leaders – the Sanhedrin. The Sanhedrin had been set up by the Romans in the form of a liaison committee following the Roman occupation of Palestine under Pompey. As this was Jerusalem, this is probably the Great Sanhedrin with its seventy one judges. They met in the Hall of the Hewn Stones. It was made up of Jewish elites to deal with censuses and taxes as well as administrative and military matters. Because of this, and particularly because of the taxes, it was often viewed as a tainted institution involved in collaboration with the occupying Romans.

What do you make of the witnesses?
How does Jesus respond to the questions of the High Priest?
What is the High Priest’s reaction?

Mark’s ending is missing. I am convinced of it.
Tom Wright

Jews were allowed to stone people to death as they did Stephen (and that was the intention with the woman caught in adultery).

Why did they not stone Jesus to death?

Chapter 14:66-72 – Peter Denies Jesus.

How reprehensible was Peter?
Do you have sympathy for him?

Chapter 15:1-5 – Jesus Before Pilate.

This is a very short section compared to what is found in the other Gospel accounts.

Modern historians have differing assessments of Pilate as an effective ruler. While some believe he was a particularly brutal and ineffective governor, others argue that his long time in office (ten years) means he must have been reasonably competent.

How does Jesus reply to Pilate?
How does Pilate respond?

Chapter 15:6-15 – Pilate Hands Jesus Over to be Crucified.

This is the most debatable event in the Passion account. There are no records of such a custom of releasing a prisoner at the Passover festival and it seems an unlikely thing for the Romans to do. However, it is attested not only here in Mark’s Gospel (and followed by Matthew and Luke), it is also attested in the independent source that is John’s Gospel. It would have been risky to make it up if it could be easily refuted. So, it may have been a one-off event in which Pilate wanted to let some of the steam out of a very tense situation. However, it is likely that the Jewish leaders stirred up the crowd to ensure that Pilate carried out the wishes of the Sanhedrin.

Who is calling for Jesus’ execution?
Who is encouraging them to do so?
Is Mark trying to lay the blame on the Jews here?

Chapter 15:16-20 – The Soldiers Mock Jesus.

Is this unexpected?
In the light of what they accuse Jesus, is there irony here?

Chapter 15:21-32 – The Crucifixion of Jesus.

Again, it is unusual for the condemned not to carry their cross-beam all the way to the execution site. Then again, crucifixion was usually reserved for the most hardened of criminals, slaves and insurrectionists. It was a particularly gruesome form of execution. Jesus may have been seen as an insurrectionist but he was not a hardened criminal. Nor was he a slave in their eyes although he might see himself as a slave of God.

There are some wonderful Good Friday hymns including “When I survey the wondrous cross”, “There is a green hill” and “O sacred head, surrounded”.

How does Mark’s account compare with these hymns?
Was Simon of Cyrene just in the wrong place at the wrong time?
Or was he at the right place at the right time?
Should Simon Peter have helped carry the cross for Jesus?

The narcotic drink was designed to alleviate the pain a little.

What does Jesus do?
Why does Mark mention the dividing of Jesus’ clothes?

Josephus (the Jewish writer who records the Jewish Uprising against Rome) uses the term ‘bandits’ for insurrectionists and revolutionaries.

Does this suggest that Jesus was crucified between two of Barabbas’ associates?
What about the superscription?
What did the Romans mean by it?
What does it mean to us?
Who is mocking Jesus and what taunt are they using?

Chapter 15:33-41 – The Death of Jesus.

We heard Jesus’ words in the Garden of Gethsemane. There were just the words “You say so” before Pilate. Here, is the only word from the Cross recorded in Mark’s Gospel.

The words recorded here are from Psalm 22. Psalm 22 is a lament but it ends, like many laments, on a more upbeat note. This is the only time in Mark’s Gospel, that Jesus does not address God as ‘Father’.

Is that significant?
Why does Jesus quote Psalm 22 now?
What is the darkness about?
How are the words understood by those nearby?
Why was the curtain of the temple torn in two?
What do you make of the centurion’s words?

Chapter 15:42-47 – The Burial of Jesus.

The bodies of the crucified were usually left on the cross to decay and were then simply thrown on the ground unburied. Pilate would have been surprised to be asked to allow the burial of a victim and especially to be asked by a prominent Jewish member of the Sanhedrin.

Was Joseph of Arimathea a brave man?
Was he a generous man?
Did Joseph believe that Jesus did not deserve to die in this way?
Was he a follower of Jesus?
Where were the male disciples?
Where were the female disciples?

Chapter 16:1-8 – The Resurrection of Jesus.

We can tell from the vocabulary and general writing, that Mark’s Gospel ends at verse 8.

The question is whether this is the intentional end or whether Mark was interrupted and could not finish his Gospel or whether the ending is lost.

The first performances of Puccini’s last opera “Turandot” ended where Puccini had laid down his pen and died. However, these days we usually hear the opera as it was completed (using previous themes) by Alfano. Similarly, Mozart’s Requiem is often heard in the completion by Sussmayr.

It is therefore not surprising that others provided, at least, two endings for Mark’s Gospel.

At least two of Mark’s readers in antiquity shared the feeling of many modern readers that his Gospel was unfinished. To some extent, this feeling results from our knowledge of the other gospels:
we expect more because they include more. Yet clearly the other evangelists considered more was necessary and by their own endings demonstrated for them, too, Mark stopped short.
Morna Hooker

Of the Long Ending (16:9-20).

The entire passage appears to have been composed from the resurrection accounts of Matthew, Luke and John, and even has alluded to events described in the book of Acts. The parallels with Acts and the other Gospels, the high concentration of vocabulary found nowhere else in Mark, the absence of these verses in the oldest copies of Mark… and the awkward connection between 16:8 and 9 led most scholars to conclude the Long Ending of Mark was not part of the original Gospel.
Craig Evans

Of the Short Ending:

Some manuscripts preserve the so-called Short Ending to Mark. Almost all those that do also contain the Long Ending… This ending, too, has no compelling claim to authenticity, for it contains a higher percentage of non-Markan vocabulary and exhibits a rhetorical tone found nowhere else in Mark.
Craig Evans

16:1-8.

The women return after the Sabbath to anoint the body of Jesus.

What has happened to the stone sealing the tomb?
Where is the body of Jesus?
Who is the young man dressed in white?
What is his message?
How does 14:28 fit in with this?
What is their response?

Ernest Best (amongst others) argues this is how the Gospel was intended to end.

What do you think about the ending?

We know the Gospel spread exponentially.

Could the women have remained silent?

Ernest Best believes the ending is appropriate because it is ended by our response.

Is that convincing?

December 2020

  From the Dragons’ Den

George, Uncle Sam and Idris writing:

Such an anti-climax. We three had grown very excited as we thought that things were getting back to normal.  We knew that people have been coming along on the day known as Sunday and we really thought that we might be taken for our wash and brush-up, ready to greet our Little Dragon friends again.

What a disappointment! We have heard the words – ‘another lockdown’ – and we know enough to realise that we will be staying in our basket for a bit – or maybe a lot – longer than we thought. 

Never mind! Just one of those things!  We are feeling happy though, as we have heard something special.  This special thing is that, after a long, long time, someone known as a Rector is coming before too long.  Everyone has worked really hard to keep things going, even though they have for the most part ignored us in our basket, in our cupboard.  They have worked really hard to keep everyone’s spirits cheerful, and to keep the things called Services going.  Soon, we have heard, the new Rector will be joining us and we three are really looking forward to meeting him.

What with the new arrival and the hoped-for end to this lockdown thing, perhaps we will receive our wash and brush-up soon and be back in action.  (Hope it isn’t too cold when we are hung out on the washing line to dry off.

In the meantime, we know that the time of Christmas is coming soon.  We won’t be able to have our Little Dragon party this year and the funny man in the big red coat won’t be calling in. However, we do know that it won’t be too long after that when the excitement of the new Rector will be upon us.  We really look forward to it.

So, to all of you, we send the Season’s Greetings.  (Oh, how we will miss all those lovely trees this year!)   Hope we are out and about before too long.

Val sends every good wish. 

Best wishes from we three:-

George
Uncle Sam

Idris

The Gospel of Mark 5

A Study Course By Reverend Christopher Cooke

Comments

The Passion Part 1

Tom Wright commented that the extreme political turbulence of the last centuries BC and the first century AD in the Holy Land is perhaps only matched by that of twentieth century Europe.

Take for instance Pressburg in Slovakia. This was a city with a German name in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Just before the First World War, its population was about 40% German, 40% Hungarian and 15% Slovak. It was thrown into the First World War on the side of Germany and was thus defeated. After the war, it was separated from Austria and Hungary which became small independent states. It was joined to Bohemia to form Czechoslovakia. The city’s name was changed to Bratislava. Czechs and Slovaks moved in and the Hungarian population was greatly reduced. Hitler’s German forces invaded Czechoslovakia and the Allies bombed Bratislava during the Second World War. At the end of hostilities, most of the German population of Bratislava was evacuated back to Germany. It found itself behind the Iron Curtain in the Soviet Bloc. Eventually, Czechoslovakia got its freedom and then joined the European Union. Since then, the Czech Republic and Slovakia have split into two separate states and Bratislava is now the capital city of Slovakia. We could do this with any number of mid-European areas. Poland has had a particularly tragic history like the Holy Land.

At the moment, there is a documentary programme on television about Berlin in 1945. This is contrasted with the bustling prosperous city of a few years earlier. At that time, British cities were suffering under the blitz. In 1945, Berlin was being bombed and then it was overrun by Soviet troops. Berliners loyal to Hitler must have felt it was the end of the world.

Chapter 8:31 – The First Prediction.

This follows on from Peter acclaiming Jesus as the Messiah. It must have been a profound shock for the disciples to hear what Jesus said next. Once again, Jesus chooses the term “Son of Man” to describe himself. Jesus says that great suffering, rejection and death await him. He says that he will rise again. The inevitably of the cross is mentioned on five occasions in this section of the Gospel: here, the two other predictions below as well as 9:9-12 and 10:45. The first is in the tailpiece to the Transfiguration account. The second is part of the discussion following James and John’s request to sit at his right and left in heaven. Jesus says we must be servants and slaves and: “For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many”.

According to Mark, this will be “after three days”. Matthew and Luke correct this in their accounts to “on the third day” which is what indeed did happen. The expression “after three days” can, according to Morna Hooker, mean ‘a short time later’. That Mark is slightly less precise here may indicate that this was the original version of what Jesus said. However, Jesus was sure that suffering was in front of him. After all, Jesus has seen what happened to John the Baptist. This comes to a climax in Jesus’ suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane (which we will look at in the next session).

The more-than-a-prophet Jesus had a good understanding of what might be in front of him in the coming weeks, but he may not have known the precise details. Similarly, he was certain that the Jewish nation was heading for disaster but would not have known the details (see below).

Chapter 9:30-32 – The Second Prediction.

Between this prediction and the previous one, Simon Peter, James and John have witnessed the Transfiguration. Here, Jesus says he “is to be betrayed into human hands”. This obviously references Judas’ betrayal. Morna Hooker translates the phrase: “is to be delivered into the hands of men”. This does refer to the betrayal but also to the underlying point made by Christopher Evans: other men will determine what happened to Jesus and Jesus, himself, is a passive recipient.

Again, we notice the reaction of the disciples. They “did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him”. Morna Hooker writes that their reaction is similar to that when Jesus performs miracles. They are full of incomprehension and fear. Craig Evans argues that the disciples feared to ask further questions which might result in an explanation that would only confirm the grim pronouncement. The disciples’ fear and ignorance contrasts sharply with Jesus’ self-assurance and composure.

Chapter 10:32-34 – The Third Prediction.

Dick France points out that this prediction is more detailed than the others. There will be an official trial. The Roman authorities will take over from the Jewish religious leaders. Mocking, spitting and flogging would take place, but it is not clear whether this will be during and following the Jewish trial or the Roman one. Morna Hooker believes here that Mark could be including some details of what actually happened and be putting them back into Jesus’ original words.

Again, the initial response is fear and amazement, and this heightens the sense of drama (Craig Evans). It is clear the disciples do not fully appreciate all this because it is followed by James and John requesting to sit on Jesus’ right and left in heaven.

“Mark’s three passion predictions serve to remind his readers not only that Jesus’ death and resurrection were part of God’s purpose, but that Jesus himself was totally obedient to God’s will”. Morna Hooker

Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem – 11:1-11.

Up to this point Jesus has been very keen to deflate Messianic expectations. However, here he enters Jerusalem as the Messiah. Jesus’ welcome is very enthusiastic however there may be some caveats.

Jesus enters Jerusalem in some style. As Dick France notes, this is the only occasion in Mark’s Gospel when Jesus rides an animal rather than walking. Pilgrims would normally enter the Holy City on foot.

And what is this animal? We normally envisage a donkey, but, as Craig Evans points out, Mark describes it as a ‘polos’ which could be a young donkey but is probably a colt. His readers would have understood it to be a young horse. Morna Hooker in her translation uses ‘foal’. (It is Matthew’s Gospel that mentions a donkey as one of the animals). Morna Hooker argues that a Jewish king might ride a donkey anyway. It depended on the king’s intention. A king might ride a donkey or colt if he came in peace but if he were going out to war, it would be an impressive horse in its prime. So, Jesus’ statement is, at least, ambiguous: He is the Messiah but he comes in peace.

The people who are getting excited at Jesus’ entry are probably not the people of Jerusalem. They may have taken a rather dim view of this Galilean upstart. The people shouting “Hosanna” are, as Dick France and others argue, fellow Galilean pilgrims who have travelled with Jesus up from Jericho. “Hosanna” means ‘save us’ although it had also become a shout of praise. The disciples may well have arranged the cutting of branches and the laying of clothes on the road. King David had entered Jerusalem to claim it as his new capital city. These people believe Jesus is walking in David’s steps and is a new Messiah. Many would have hoped that this would be the start of a revolt against the Romans and mirror what happened under Judas Maccabaeus.

“So, Jesus, the prophet from the north, throws down the gauntlet to the authorities of the capital city. Will they recognise in this popular but already suspect teacher from Galilee ‘the one who comes in the name of the Lord’?” Dick France

Tom Wright and Morna Hooker agree that Jesus’ first visit to the Temple is a bit of an anti-climax. However, it does leave the reader and/or listener in suspense. It is far more likely that Jesus went to the Temple and surveyed what was going on. Then he returns to Bethany for the night where he no doubt pondered upon and prayed about what he saw. The city would have been jammed pack and so many pilgrims spent their nights in the nearby villages. In contrast, Matthew and Luke have Jesus going straight into the incident in the Temple. Matthew also writes that the people of Jerusalem were stirred by Jesus’ entry.

Jesus Cleanses the Temple and the Fig Tree – 11:12-25.

This is another of Mark’s sandwiches. What Dick France describes as this “Holy Violence” in the Temple is sandwiched between the instalments about the Fig Tree. This is a strange event. Craig Evans argues that Jesus was hoping to find edible buds on the fig tree (which can appear in spring). The figs themselves would not appear to much later in summer. He is disappointed just to find leaves. Then Jesus condemns the barren fig tree.

The fig tree probably does not represent Israel. The context suggests that it represents the temple establishment.

The stalls of the traders were set up before the Passover in ‘the Court of the Gentiles’. This was the huge open area surrounding the inner courts of the sanctuary itself. This was a place of general concourse and not a worship area. They were set up with the approval of the temple authorities to enable pilgrims to change their money into the special coinage demanded by those temple authorities as well as to buy the animals for sacrifice.

Some people think that Jesus was protesting about commercialization. In this case, Jesus wanted to clean up the Temple. Tom Wright comments that this is a suspiciously modern attitude. Mark carefully places the incident between the two halves of the fig tree story in which he curses the fig tree. So, this was not a spontaneous expression of disgust (as the Gospels of Matthew and Luke might suggest with Jesus acting immediately on his arrival in Jerusalem). Rather like the entry into Jerusalem the previous day, this was a defiant gesture. It would have recalled prophecies by Malachi and Zechariah. The restoration of the Temple was one of the tasks expected from the Messiah (as did Judas Maccabaeus). Tom Wright therefore sees the ‘cleansing’ of the Temple as a dramatic acted out parable.

“Now supposing you were convinced that this building was shortly to be devastated, say in an earthquake, or by enemy action. And supposing you believed that this was God’s judgment upon it, because the rulers of your country were wicked beyond repair. And supposing you felt obliged to tell people – to warn them solemnly, to give them a sign of what was to come, to urge them to change their ways while there was still time… This was Jesus’ way of announcing God’s condemnation of the Temple itself and all that it had become in the national life of Israel”. Tom Wright

This is rather like some of the acted-out judgements that the prophet Jeremiah performed.

The temple authorities were left with little choice but to oppose such actions because they undermined the existence of the Temple.

The next morning, Jesus and the disciples pass the fig tree that Jesus had cursed. They observe that it had withered to its very roots. Jesus understands this as a matter of faith. Jesus has destroyed a tree, but his followers will be able to remove mountains. They must pray with faith, and they must forgive others as they pray.

“The cursing of the fig tree… and the discovery of its withered condition here, surrounding the temple action… foreshadow the temple’s judgment and doom. If the temple establishment has no fruit to offer God, that is, no more than the fig tree had to offer Jesus, then it, too, is in danger of destruction”. Craig Evans

Chapter 13.

Hugh Anderson writes: “With chapter 13 we appear to enter a different world of thought and expression from the rest of the Gospel”. Nevertheless, each end seems to be tied into the context. Of course, it could be something that Mark has taken over from elsewhere. Ernest Best argues Moses can be seen as an archetype for Jesus which points to the prophetic tradition. So, if you take the line of Tom Wright, Dick France and Craig Evans in seeing Jesus in the line of the great prophets, then it may not be so different from the rest of the content of the Gospel.

Dick France argues that many commentators seem to argue that Jesus begins with the events AD70 and then goes to an indeterminate future before reverting to his own day.

Of course, it is conceivable that Jesus’ teaching was not delivered on the one occasion as portrayed in Mark’s Gospel. However, we have tried to avoid such flip-flopping and have attempted to interpret this chapter as Jesus foreseeing what may well happen in the next hundred years or so.

We consider now the two most recent commentators. Morna Hooker thoroughly considers that ‘apocalyptic’ or ‘revelation’ element of this chapter. She concludes that Mark is employing imagery current in his day. This seems to suggest that she thinks this is a Markan creation and that it does not go back to Jesus. However, she does write: “Mark 13 repeats, therefore, Mark’s persistent message that the path of discipleship involves suffering, and it is those who follow this way faithfully who will be vindicated”. The message about suffering is surely part of Jesus’ overall message.

Craig Evans argues that this chapter flows naturally on from what has happened previously. He also argues that there is a fairly consistent argument here whereas Morna Hooker thinks there are opposing tendencies. He also sees connections with the prophetic witness and judgments.

Verses 1-8: The Destruction of the Temple Foretold.

It would seem, not unnaturally, the Galilean disciples are in awe of the Temple. Indeed, they might, as Craig Evans suggests, think they might rule Israel from some of these very buildings. But Jesus predicts that the Temple would be destroyed. Jesus does not really answer the disciples’ question about when this will happen. Jesus is interpreting the times and extrapolating likely consequences rather than predicting the details of future events which he does not know.

Indeed, Jesus was right because Jerusalem and the Temple were destroyed by the Romans in AD70.

Birth pangs can be terrible but they do usher in, in most cases, a new life. The destruction of the Temple will necessarily bring in new life and a new relationship with God. The stewards of the Temple will find themselves redundant and

  • Christians will find a new relationship with God through the Son of Man.
  • Jews will remodel their faith on the Scriptures as taught in synagogues.

I suspect the disciples had only a vague glimmer of understanding about Jesus’ teaching here. And we are still discussing what it means.

Verses 9-13: Persecution Foretold.

Jesus was clearly right to talk about suffering and even persecution which was to mark the Christian experience for the next three hundred years.

Again, this must have been alarming for the disciples. The truly magnificent phenomenon was that Christianity spread and spread despite this.

The AD50s and 60s were a particularly turbulent time politically for the Holy Land and it would be easy to be distracted from the task of spreading the Gospel by being cowed or dispirited.

Dennis Nineham argues that Mark was written for a community which was already unpopular with non-Christians. Hugh Anderson thinks Mark’s Gospel reflects a community experiencing incipient persecution and is one that is agitated by great theological turbulence particularly over the true nature of Jesus’ authority.

Verses 14-23: The Desolating Sacrilege.

The Roman Emperors were increasingly making claims of deity rather similar to Antiochus Epiphanes. Indeed, after AD70, Jerusalem was no more and had become Aelia Capitolina.

It does seem that the followers of Jesus did flee Jerusalem in time before the siege took effect. There are many references to Galilee in the Gospel. It is, at least possible, that many of them fled to Galilee to regroup.

Although, the Zealots, as a party, did not emerge until after AD70, there were zealots and revolutionaries at the time of Jesus. One of the Twelve is described as ‘Simon the Zealot’ and he may, possibly with Judas Iscariot, have sympathies with those who wanted to overturn the Roman Empire in the Holy Land by force. Barabbas who was released in place of Jesus, seems to have been involved in an insurrection against the Romans. These could be seen as false messiahs and false prophets. In AD132-136 Bar Kokhba led a further revolt against the Romans largely because of the transformation of Jerusalem into Aelia Capitolina. A temple dedicated to Jupiter was erected on the site of the Jewish Temple. This revolt was also a disaster.

Verses 24-27: The Coming of the Son of Man.

There is, no doubt, that the earliest writers in the New Testament, including Paul and Mark, expected Jesus to return as Son of Man in the near future. As time went on, other writers had their own views. John’s Gospel has a rather sophisticated position of “both and”. Jesus has come as Son of Man but there will be a greater revelation when he comes again. Mark’s position may be similar. Paul often writes about being “in Christ” and that seems to involve communion with Jesus and with God. Luke in his Gospel and Acts relates the coming of the Holy Spirit. To be inspired by the Spirit is to be in communion with Jesus and God. This is one of the most debated questions in theology.

Verses 28-37: The Lesson of the Fig Tree and the Necessity for Watchfulness.

It would seem that the disciples and the early Christians did heed Jesus’ teaching here. They saw what was happening and escaped from Jerusalem in time. The destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple must have felt like ‘the end of the world’ for those who lived through it. The trenches of World War I, the Holocaust, the fall of cities in World War II and the bombing of Hiroshima offer horrible parallels.

Verse 31 is of universal importance: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away”.

Questions

The Passion Part 1

We have already seen how the Passion plays such a prominent role in terms of space in Mark’s Gospel.

We will now look at this wonderful achievement more closely.

I have always been greatly influenced by my teacher Christopher Evans. He has studied and written about the four Passion accounts – or, rather, three accounts.

As with everything so far, Mark’s Passion account is the first and the original.

Indeed, so impressive was it, Matthew hardly changes the overall structure and viewpoint and so we can say that Matthew’s is a variation of Mark’s Passion.

Matthew omits a few things of which he cannot see the relevance. He also clarifies the role of the Jewish religious leaders and the distinctions within them. Matthew was probably writing, later, in the Holy Land and much of his Gospel is portrayed as a debate with the Pharisees etc.

Luke changes Mark’s Passion a good deal more. His main concern was the relationship between Jesus’ followers and the Roman Empire. Indeed, he was to write the Acts of the Apostles as a second volume.

John’s account is largely independent and is at variance with Mark over the precise timings of Jesus’ death.

Mark’s Passion is full of both mystery and realism.
Luke’s Passion is more about pathos and humanity.
John’s Passion centres on the majesty and the irony with Jesus’ glorification on the cross.
Christopher Evans

Christopher Evans makes another important point. We usually call it the Passion because of the suffering Jesus went through for us.

However, Professor Evans argues that there is another root for the word. There is a Greek word for “to do” but there is no passive version. Instead, “paschein” is used and from this we can also get the word passion.

“Up to the arrest of Jesus, Jesus seems to be active and in charge. At his arrest, he allows himself to be handed over and men are permitted to do what they would to him. In Mark’s Passion, Jesus is patient although God is mysteriously active in all this.” Christopher Evans

Mark uses an important device to link the first part of his Gospel with the Passion. That is the Three Predictions of Jesus’ Death and Resurrection. Matthew and Luke follow Mark with these predictions but slightly change the first.

We have looked at the first passage before when considering the role of the disciples (in the last session) and so we will concentrate on the key verse.

Chapter 8:31 – The First Prediction.

This passage follows on immediately from when Simon Peter acclaims Jesus as the Christ/the Messiah. It is followed by Peter wishing to protect Jesus which earns the rebuke: “Get behind, Satan!”

How does Jesus describe himself? Why does he do this?

What does he say about what lies in front of him?

What does he say about the resurrection?

Is Mark exactly correct about this latter prediction?

Matthew and Luke change “after three days” with “on the third day”. Who is right?

Chapter 9:30-32 – The Second Prediction.

Between this prediction and the previous one, Simon Peter, James and John have witnessed the Transfiguration.

Are there any significant differences here from the first prediction?

What is your reaction when you are told an important piece of news a second time?

How good are we at listening?

What is the reaction of the disciples?

Jesus has told his disciples many parables which were stories that were not necessarily factually true. Are the disciples having difficulty sorting out what is story and what is preparation?

Chapter 10:33-34 – The Third Prediction.

Are there any significant differences here from the first two predictions?

This is followed by James and John asking for the places of honour in heaven and Blind Bartimaeus. These are examples of bad faith and good faith.

Then we enter the Passion proper.

Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem – 11:1-11.

This is such a famous passage and perhaps we have become too familiar with it. Matthew and Luke largely follow Mark’s account. Matthew quotes scripture (from Isaiah 62 and Zechariah 9) but in so doing, suggests Jesus is astride two animals! (Matthew 21:7).

It is important to remember large numbers of pilgrims would be arriving in Jerusalem at this time for the Passover celebrations. All those who had made the long journey from Galilee would be arriving at this time. Many would have journeyed together from Jericho and climbed up to Jerusalem.

Tom Wright points out that the Passover celebrations were very much associated with freedom and the kingdom of God. Two hundred years earlier, Judas Maccabaeus had defeated the Syrian king Antiochus Epiphanes who had defiled the Temple. Judas Maccabaeus had then cleansed and rededicated the Temple.

What is Jesus’ welcome like?

Who is welcoming him?

Who do they think Jesus is?

Why does Jesus do this?

Was there anything unexpected in Jesus’ version of Entry into Jerusalem?

How orchestrated is all this?

What is Jesus doing?

What happens when Jesus goes to the Temple? Is this an anti-climax?

Jesus Cleanses the Temple and the Fig Tree – 11:12-25.

There were many synagogues but only one Temple. The Temple complex of buildings and courtyards covered some thirty acres. We must remember that according to Mark’s Gospel, the visit the previous day was Jesus’ first visit to the Temple.

This is another example of Mark’s envelopes.

The Temple incident is encased by the Fig Tree incident.

Why does Jesus curse the fig tree when it was not time for figs?

Craig Evans argues that Jesus was looking for the edible buds which will signify that the fig tree will fruit.

Still, why does Jesus curse it?

What is Jesus doing in the Temple?

Why is he doing this?

What is the reaction of the chief priests and scribes?

And what about that fig tree?

Chapter 13.

Norman Perrin takes this chapter as the key to understanding the whole Gospel. Indeed, part of this chapter is set for St Mark’s Day in Common Worship. The Gospel of Mark, according to Norman Perrin, is an apocalyptic drama. I think he has got this completely wrong and I do not think scholars would have come to that judgement if the later Book of Revelation had not been written. Ernest Best thinks this chapter was written to deflate apocalyptic expectations.

Looking at Mark’s Gospel in its own right, we would like many commentators, including Dick France and Tom Wright (both in his Commentary and his magisterial ‘Jesus and the Victory of God’), see this chapter more in the line of the great Old Testament prophets who prophesied calamity if the people and the nation of the Jews did not change their ways. It is less about the end of the world and more about the impending calamity. Jesus, like the prophets, could read the times. If you continue to do this, then this may well happen…

Now we know that the calamity did take place.The Jewish revolt began in the mid-60s and was ruthlessly put down by Vespasian and his son, Titus, in the summer of AD70. There are parallels in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. Luke clearly rewrites it with the Roman victory and suppression in mind. There is a great debate whether Mark’s account was written after AD70 or shortly before that in AD66-69 say. Of the most recent commentators, Morna Hooker favours after AD70 and Craig Evans before AD70.

Catastrophe and calamity were well known to the Jewish people before Jesus’ time.

  • Of course, the Passover celebrated the escape of the Israelites from Egypt where they had been enslaved.
  • Amos, Hosea and the first Isaiah proclaimed at a time when the small kingdoms of Israel and Judah were threatened by the Assyrians in the 8th century BC. Judah survived as a vassal state, but Israel was totally incorporated into the Assyrian Empire and its peoples were dispersed across the Empire. People from elsewhere in the Empire were resettled in Samaria. This is one reason why Jews considered Samaritans were so alien. The poorer Jews probably remained. Micah, at this time, predicted the Temple would be destroyed.
  • Jeremiah and Ezekiel proclaimed during the 6th Century BC when Judah was threatened by the Babylonian Empire (which had replaced the Assyrian one). The leading people, including Jeremiah, were taken off to prison camps ‘by the waters of Babylon’. Jeremiah predicted the Temple would be destroyed. When the remaining Jews rose up again a few years later, the Temple and the city including its walls were destroyed. When the Persians replaced the Babylonians, they allowed some Jews to return to Jerusalem, but it was many years before the Temple and the walls were rebuilt.
  • Then there were the Greek and Egyptian invasions. Judas Maccabaeus established an independent country (see below). However, this came to an end in 63BC when Pompey captured Jerusalem for Rome and Judah was added to the Roman Province of Syria.

Chapter 13, I feel, should be read against this background. Tom Wright in his magisterial tome ‘Jesus and the Victory of God’ argues that Jesus is in the great line of prophets here. In fact, the destruction and death of AD70 resembles previous calamities and Jesus’ words of warning seemed to have been justified by hindsight.

Verses 1-8: The Destruction of the Temple Foretold.

The first Temple had been destroyed by the Babylonians. The second Temple was the much more modest affair built under Persian rule. Herod the Great had started the rebuilding during his reign as a client king of Rome at the turn of the millennium. His building work was so extensive that it was less of a restoration and more like a third Temple and it was vast. It had not been completed by Jesus’ day and, indeed, had not been completed by AD70 when it was destroyed. Now only the West (or ‘Wailing’) Wall survives.

How do Jesus’ fellow Galilean disciples view the Temple?

What does Jesus say about the Temple?

Was Jesus right?

How does this relate to the incident when Jesus drove the traders out of the Temple?

What are the birth pangs?

Do you think the disciples understood Jesus here?

Verses 9-13: Persecution Foretold.

  • Jesus was about to be killed at the instigation of the Jews but at the hand of the Romans.
  • Not long afterwards, Stephen was stoned to death by the Jews under the auspices of Saul/Paul who was persecuting the followers of Jesus.
  • Peter and Paul were martyred in Rome during the persecution under Emperor Nero of Christians in 64AD.
  • James, the brother of Jesus, emerged as a leader of the Jerusalem Church. He seems to have been killed in the disturbances of the Jewish Revolt but before Jerusalem was destroyed.
  • What of the countless men and women we do not know about?
  • Most commentators think that Mark’s Church had experienced some form of persecution itself.
  • And then there were the later persecutions of the Roman Empire.

How do you think the disciples receive this news?

Was Jesus right?

Verses 14-23: The Desolating Sacrilege.

“The desolating sacrilege” is a reference back in history and there is a link with the triumphal entry into Jerusalem. In 167BC, King Antiochus IV (who was of Syrian descent) desecrated the Temple. He tried to introduce Greek culture and he set up an idolatrous statue of himself in the Temple. He is often called ‘Epiphanes’ because he saw himself as godlike. There is a reference to the “Desolating Sacrilege” in the Book of Daniel. This is what sparked the successful revolution led by Judas Maccabaeus.

Why might Jesus be concerned that a similar desecration as that of Antiochus Epiphanes would occur in the near future?

This section does seem to foreshadow a great calamity as in the past. Of course, AD70 lived up to these events in many ways. Fleeing for one’s life is an important course of action and may have been used in the past. It does seem that the Christians vacated Jerusalem in the early years of the Jewish Revolt (AD67-69). However, most Jews left it too long.

And, notice verse 18.

Of course, we have the benefit of hindsight which even Jesus did not possess.

We know that Titus encircled the city and the end came in the summer of AD70. So, there was little chance to flee away at that stage and the siege occurred in summer not winter.

Titus flattened the city except for the three great towers and the Temple was destroyed. In its place of the Jewish holy city, the Romans built Aelia Capitolina. The city became a Roman and pagan colony.

Did the Christians heed Jesus’ advice to flee?

With the creation of Aelia Capitolina, did Jesus get it right in the slightly longer term?

We also remember that many Christians lost their lives in the first four centuries AD because they refused worship the Emperor as God.

What do you make of the false messiahs and false prophets?

Verses 24-27: The Coming of the Son of Man.

There is no doubt that Mark, like Paul, expected the Son of Man to return very shortly. This seems to be part of Jesus’ proclamation. There are, undoubtedly, more correspondences with the Book of Daniel in these verses. However, the quotes come from Isaiah 13 and 34. Notice that even Jesus does not claim to know when this day will be (verse 32).

Up until now, Jerusalem has been the focus of the faith. What happens when Jerusalem is no more?

Was Jesus wrong in this prediction?

Or has Jesus come already in some way?

Verses 28-37: The Lesson of the Fig Tree and the Necessity for Watchfulness.

A fig tree appeared either side of the Temple incident. Once again, Jesus uses a fig tree but this time for teaching. Jesus says his disciples must learn from the fig tree, the lessons he is teaching. They need to watch events carefully and react appropriately.

Did the disciples (and early Christians) discern the times leading up to the Jewish Revolt?

Earlier, we looked at Jesus’ Parable of the Tenants in the Vineyard. That ended with the vineyard being entrusted to different tenants.

Jesus may have been prophesying about things that came to pass forty years later.

However, does this have an impact on us now?

Do we need to be watchful and interpret the times?

November 2020

From the Dragons’ Den

George, Uncle Sam and Idris writing:

We three have been really excited lately as we have heard people coming in and out of church at different times.  Sometimes they come in and spend a little time near the candle stand. First of all, they sit quietly for a little while, then they light one of the candles.  We like that very much as it makes us feel less lonely. 

Sometimes those people who call themselves the choir come in and they are a bit noisier.  They sing songs and have a really enjoyable time. We always join in with them as we know some of the songs they sing.  We especially like the one they sing which says:

‘Calm me Lord, as you calmed the storm. Still me Lord, keep me from harm.

Let all the tumult within me cease. Enfold me Lord in your peace.

They like singing that one and we love listening to it as it makes us feel that everything might return to normal sometime. 

We don’t know when all the Little Dragons will come back but we feel that if our friends keep singing, then everything will sort itself out.  We hope so as we miss all our church friends who we have got to know over the past 14 years. 

We will know when things are getting back to normal because we will be taken out of the cupboard and given a bath, ready to face the world.  So, if you see a new picture of us hanging on the washing line, you will know that things are looking good.

Val sends every good wish. 

Best wishes from we three:  – George     Uncle Sam   and Idris.

October 2020

  From the Dragons’ Den

 Covid-19 still rules much of our lives and many of our activities.  George, Uncle Sam and Idris remain in their cupboard and are, no doubt, feeling rather neglected.  However, we press on and optimistically hope that at sometime in the near future, we will be able to meet safely and enjoy our Little Dragon sessions once again. 

Gradually, opportunities have been available for some members of our church society to meet for worship in a safely-socially-distanced way, whilst other activities such as Little Dragons and Friday Club are still ‘On Hold!’.  This is probably of greater significance when considering the health and welfare of our Group Leaders rather than that of our little people.  I must say, on a personal note, that it is rather uncomfortable to realise that one is firmly placed in the ‘old and vulnerable’ group.  Quite a knock to the self-esteem.  However, there it is and one must be realistic. Just don’t look in a mirror!

In the meantime, we continue from day to day, washing our hands, not touching our faces and keeping spaces; remembering to smile from behind our masks, caring about each other, remembering each other in our prayers and looking forward to calmer, more normal days ahead. (And naturally, singing ‘The Grand Old Duke of York!’ at least three times a day!)

Query: normal – or – new normal?

Every good wish, Val

September 2020

From the Dragons’ Den

September already and still uncertainty about if, when and how we will continue to meet at Little Dragons. We await further advice and instruction from the Diocese of Hereford.

In the meantime:  a pinch of doggerel.

George, Sam and Idris, feel all alone

Here in the cupboard without laptop or phone.

Where are our friends? Dragons big or small?

No sign of anyone, no one at all!

If you are passing, please open our door.

Our basket awaits you, there on the floor.

We are so lonely and hope you will peep

Into our dwelling, though we might be asleep!

And even if sleeping, we will know you have been

To visit the dragons, alone and unclean!

For Val hasn’t bathed us to be ready to share

With all Little Dragons the toys waiting there.

So, please, please remember, as you’re passing by

Thinking and wondering, as well you might!

As you perhaps light a candle or say a small prayer;

Remember three dragons, awaiting you there.

Best wishes from we three:  – George     Uncle Sam   and Idris.

The Gospel of Mark 4

A study course by The Reverend Christopher Cooke

This coming session looks at Some Special Characteristics of Mark’s Gospel.

Normally, I suggest that folk study the questions before reading my comments. However, when it comes to Mark’s treatment of Peter and the Twelve, you may want to refer to my comments below, because I have had the Parallels in Matthew and Luke in front of me. They were often embarrassed and confused by Mark’s treatment of Mary, Peter and the Apostles and this is one of the areas where they changed the earlier Gospel considerably.

Chapter 5:21-43: A Girl Restored to Life and a Woman Healed.

The two healings are linked by faith. Morna Hooker thinks there may be a connection between the many years that the woman has suffered and the life of the young girl. We know the woman had been suffering for twelve years and perhaps that was the age of the child as well.

Jairus is one of the rulers of the synagogue and he asks Jesus to lay his hands on his dying girl. Normally, the Jewish religious leaders are shown in a very poor light in Mark’s Gospel but Jairus is shown in a much more positive way. This is the first time in the Gospel that laying on of hands on the sick is specifically recorded. He touches the leper but specifically laying on of hands happens here first and then to the sick (6:5), a deaf mute (7:32) and a blind man (8:23-25). This was to become a feature of the infant Church. Jesus also lays his hands on the children but that was a form of blessing.

Jesus’ progress to Jairus’ house is interrupted by the actions of the suffering woman. Whereas, Jairus has formally asked Jesus for help, the woman secretly touches Jesus’ clothes. Elsewhere, in the Gospels, people touch Jesus’ clothing for healing and in this Gospel at 6:56. In Acts, we are told that people brought the sick out so that Peter’s shadow may fall upon them (Acts 5:15). The woman does not immediately own up to her actions because touching someone else whilst one was impure would have been very offensive (almost as bad as a leper trying to touch someone). She was, like them, an outsider. It would have made the other person impure as well. However, she does pluck up courage to admit what she has done. She receives no rebuke from Jesus, and he says to her: “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace and be healed of your disease”.

Meanwhile, Jairus must have been experiencing torment at the delay in what was his last hope. And then the message comes that his daughter has died. Jesus has words for Jairus at this point: “Do not fear, only believe”. Seeing the woman healed through her faith, Jairus should have faith that his daughter will also be well. When Jesus arrives at Jairus’ home, the mourners are already lamenting the girl’s death. Jesus’ assertion that the girl is only sleeping, strikes the mourners as profoundly silly. As far as they are concerned, nothing can be done now that she is dead but mourn. Jesus speaks to the girl in Aramaic, their shared native tongue. She is not only brought to life, but she brought back to full health.

The command that the family is to keep silent about this is, of course, impractical. Craig Evans thinks this was just long enough so that Jesus could slip away and not be caught up in the melee. There may also be a hint here of the “Messianic Secret”. Jesus was anxious that people did not jump to the wrong ideas about what sort of Messiah he was going to be. It may also be part of Mark’s explanation why the Jewish people had not turned to Jesus and become Christians in greater numbers.

We should also note that this, in some ways, is rather like the raising of Lazarus in John’s Gospel. It prefigures the resurrection of Jesus and, indeed, the hoped-for resurrection of the Christians who first heard Mark’s Gospel. [We must bear this in mind when we consider the rather truncated Easter account in Mark’s Gospel]. Gentile Christians would also have identified with the woman because like her, they were once outsiders.

“Both stories would have brought reassurance of the new life and salvation which came to believers through the power of Jesus”. Morna Hooker.

A Thread Running Throughout the Gospel.

Leslie Houldenstressed the importance of Bread in Mark’s Gospel.

I am reading Carol Meyers’ “Rediscovering Eve” currently. In this book, she examines Eve in refreshing ways. She also examines what life would be like for ordinary women during Old Testament times. She points out that the heartland of Israel in the hill country provided a livelihood that could be undermined by water shortages, pestilence and illness. Wheat and other grains were the main subsistence crops and nearly all meals involved bread. It may have been dipped in olive oil if that was available. To “break bread” was synonymous with having a meal. Obviously, wealthier people would have a better diet and the diet was more varied in cities such as Jerusalem. On the shores of Lake Galilee, this diet was supplemented with fish. Wine was the staple drink.

Mark 6:30-44 concerns the return of the Twelve from their mission and the Feeding of the Five Thousand. So, we have the staple foods for an area around Lake Galilee. It is a famous passage. Lying behind this, and the other Feeding, is the God’s provision for the Israelites escaping from Egypt. God provided manna in the desert (Exodus 16 and Numbers 11). Jesus views the crowd as like sheep without a shepherd. This is also full of Old Testament imagery: Jesus says that the people of Israel, in his day, are leaderless and have no guide. The Feeding is linked to Jesus’ ministry of teaching. We notice everyone was satisfied. Jesus feeds those who are God’s people and Morna Hooker remarks on the amount of bread and fish left over. This was more than enough for those who were not there including Mark and those who first heard his Gospel. Some commentators think that the numbers are significant for the Israelites. Five thousand men and five fishes may have echoes of the five books attributed to Moses (Genesis to Deuteronomy) which were the bedrock of the Jewish scriptures. There were twelve baskets left over which might echo the twelve tribes of Israel (and, indeed, the twelve disciples).

Mark 8:1-10 is the Feeding of the Four Thousand. Some scholars believe this is a duplicate of the earlier feeding. It is certainly interesting that the disciples show the same incredulity as before. The fish come into the story a little later and they are of some indeterminate number. That there are fewer people than the previous occasion might seem to be a slight anti-climax. In the previous feeding, we are told the crowd were following Jesus’ movements. There are fewer Old Testament references, but we are told that some had come from a great distance. There were seven baskets of leftovers. Seven is an important number throughout the Middle East of the time and relevant to many peoples. This has led some scholars to suggest that this Feeding was in those parts of the shores of Galilee which were in Gentile occupation. The last geographical reference in the Gospel was to the Decapolis which was Gentile. This may be Mark’s understanding, but Morna Hooker thinks that Mark found a Feeding narrative in two different sources. She thinks that it is the leftovers that fill the Gentiles.

Mark 7:27-28 is part of the Jesus’ discussion with the Syro-Phoenician woman where she elegantly demonstrates her wit and faith by saying “even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs”. This rather underlines Morna Hooker’s point that there are plenty of leftovers for the Gentiles. This passage also demonstrates that people who only appear once in Mark’s Gospel are shown in a good light (see below).

Mark 8:14-21 is a discussion about Bread. It is a passage which shows the Twelve in a poor light (see below). Here, as elsewhere, they get the wrong end of the stick entirely. They are roundly rebuked by Jesus. When Matthew uses this passage in his own Gospel, he rather softens Jesus’ words. Jesus feels that having witnessed these miracles, the Twelve should have more faith. It follows the Feeding of the Four Thousand and a debate with the Pharisees about following ritual cleaning rules when eating. This is more characteristic of the Jesus found in John’s Gospel who takes an image and discusses it. We have some sympathy with the Twelve for not understanding Jesus at this point. The point Jesus is making seems to have been lost in its transmission. Mark does not make this clear. What is clear is that Jesus uses bread for teaching purposes.

Mark 14:12-25 is one of the most important episodes in the whole Gospel. It concerns preparations for the Passover and the institution of the Last Supper. The Last Supper is Jesus’ reinterpretation of the Passover for his followers. It was to be the central way that his followers worshipped him across the Mediterranean world, and it is central to our worship today. Jesus uses the staple food, bread, and the staple drink, wine, to inaugurate a new relationship between his followers and Jesus and, indeed, God. This is the oldest account in the Gospels which Matthew and Luke use. There is an even older account in the New Testament in Paul’s Letters: 1 Corinthians 11:23-34. There is a remarkable similarity between the two accounts. Morna Hooker points out that this is a brief account “and almost certainly reflects the form of wording used at the celebration of the eucharist in [Mark’s] own church”. The meal is a Passover which celebrates Israel’s escape from Egypt. Jesus’ conversation at the meal concerns his imminent betrayal and death. Matthew largely follows Mark’s account in his Gospel (as he does throughout the whole Passion Narrative). Luke tries to combine Mark’s version with Paul’s. Leslie Houlden said that the eucharist speaks of God’s freedom, faithfulness and mysteriousness. Its importance is both once for all and something to be perpetuated time and time again. And at the very heart of all this are bread and wine.

Mark’s Treatment of his Characters.

Mary and Jesus’ Family.

There are no birth stories in Mark’s Gospel which means references to his family are very limited. I have found only one reference by name to ‘Mary’ his mother: 6:3. One of the reasons for Jesus’ rejection in the Nazareth Synagogue is: “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon…”

15:40, 15:47 and 16:1: Although, we see at 6:3 that Mary was also the mother of James, Joses and Simon as well as Jesus. However, most commentators (including the more conservative C.E.B. Cranfield), do not argue that these are references to Mary, the mother of Jesus. Both Cranfield and Hooker believe these people were known in the early Church. The women may have died by the writing of the Gospel but their sons were living witnesses.

15:21 is also relevant here. Simon of Cyrene was compelled to carry Jesus’ cross. Mark describes him as “the father of Alexander and Rufus”. Matthew and Luke omit this detail because, presumably, they do not see its relevance. Most commentators believe that Alexander and Rufus were again known in the early Church either in person or by name.

3:21, 31-35 is a profoundly disturbing passage as Tom Wright and Dick France state. The Greek word translated “brothers” can include cousins and both sexes. In verse 21, we read that people were saying that Jesus was out of his mind and his family are concerned for him. There does appear to be an estrangement between Jesus and his family. Luke is embarrassed by this and omits this section. As Craig Evans writes, we must take into account that Jesus often used hyperbole and exaggeration in his teaching. Jesus defines his true family. His kinsmen are not those who are related to him by blood but those people who do the will of God.

“Has he literally rejected his family? Probably not, for his family will come to believe in him, and his brother James becomes an apostle and one of the ‘pillars’ of the church (Galatians 1:9, 2:9). But his language indicates the seriousness of his message and the need to commit to it”. Craig Evans.

The Disciples and Peter.

We have already seen that the Twelve are slow to understand the Parables which Jesus then explains to them. On the other hand, we have seen the enthusiastic response of Peter, Andrew, James and John (the Fishermen) to become his disciples. This is also true of Levi/Matthew (2:13-15). Jesus appoints The Twelve in 3:13-19 and sends them out on Mission in 6:1-6.

8:27-33 is an interesting passage particularly as it concerns Peter. It begins well for Peter who has one of his flashes of insight: Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ. Again, it is followed by the command to secrecy. However, it then all goes wrong. Jesus teaches that he must suffer and die. Peter, not unnaturally, wants to protect him. He gets the rebuff: “Get behind me, Satan!” In the Gospels, Satan is the prosecution counsel (and the Holy Spirit is the defence counsel). These harsh words may betray a real temptation. Matthew adapts this passage with Jesus extolling Peter and giving him the keys of heaven. Luke leaves out the second part concerning Satan.

9:17-19 and 9:28-29 is an occasion when the disciples fail in a healing and Jesus accuses them of a lack of faith. When they ask him about this later, Jesus says some rather puzzling words. Presumably, the disciples had already been praying when trying to heal the boy. It may reflect two sources which Mark has put together rather clumsily. However, the overall message is clear: Jesus thinks that the disciples have not come up to the mark.

9:33-37 is an even more disturbing passage. The Twelve are arguing about who was the greatest. We know this is all too common of most institutions but here we find it amongst the Twelve! Luke shortens his account and Matthew omits entirely the verses about the Twelve arguing about who was the greatest.

10:13-16 is the famous passage where the disciples are trying to protect Jesus from the attentions of children. Jesus rebukes them and says that the children should be allowed to come to him. Matthew and Luke do not alter this very much. Children, at that time, held the lowest position in Jewish society and the disciples are viewing them as of less worth than other people.

10:23-27 also contains a passage where the disciples’ attitude is wrong. There was a long Jewish tradition that those people who were wealthy had been blessed by God. This is very typical of the wisdom literature and traditions of the Old Testament. The Book of Proverbs often asserts this while the Book of Job questions it. Both Matthew and Luke remove the verses where the disciples express incredulity.

10:28-31 shows Peter in a better light. He points out that the Twelve have left so much behind so that they can follow Jesus. Jesus says they will be rewarded. However, it is followed by the challenging saying that the first will be last and the last will be first. Again, there are no gradations of service.

10:35-45 is another extremely shocking passage. The apostles James and John ask to sit on Jesus’ right and left in heaven. This infuriates the other ten. Of course, it leads into profound teaching from Jesus. Matthew and Luke were very uneasy about this. Luke omits all of the first section and so it becomes rather like 9:33-37. Matthew puts the request on the lips of James and John’s mother!

Then we come to the Passion account.

14:26-31 is set immediately after the celebration of the Last Supper and contains Jesus’ prophetic words that the Twelve will deny him. Peter is adamant that he will not let Jesus down and the rest of the Twelve agree in backing Jesus to the last. Luke leaves out this prophecy and replaces it with special words about Peter. All the Gospels include Peter and the Twelve’s promise.

“Throughout the Gospel, Mark has stressed the failure of the disciples to comprehend, but they have at least followed him. Now they will fail to do even that”. Morna Hooker.

Verse 28 is important for understanding Mark’s view of Jesus. He will be raised and go before them into Galilee.

14:37-42 is immediately afterwards in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus takes Peter, James and John with him. Despite the tense situation, they are unable to stay awake with Jesus. Luke omits the sections where the three apostles are sleeping on the job.

14:43-50 concerns Judas Iscariot’s betrayal of Jesus and Jesus’ arrest. In contrast to elsewhere in the Gospels, Matthew and Luke lengthen this section and there is a corresponding tendency to amplify the heinousness of Judas’ actions. As Leslie Houlden says, there is no further mention of Judas in the Gospel. Why did Judas do it? I am very unpersuaded by John’s argument that it was for the money. ‘Iscariot’ may be a reference to swords. Some scholars think that Judas was in favour of a revolution. Whether this is right or not, it would seem that Judas was trying to force Jesus’ hand. He seems to have had his own agenda. I would like to agree with Leslie Houlden that even Judas could have received Jesus’ forgiveness after the resurrection as Peter did. Matthew 27:3-6 says that Judas was filled with remorse, tried to return the money and then hung himself. Luke in Acts 1:16-19 argues that he died because his “he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out”. John, like Mark, has nothing to say about the fate of Judas. In all probability, he did die and quite possibly by suicide (hanging or falling on a dagger). Otherwise, the infant Church would not have been able to elect Matthias in his place.

14:66-72 is Peter’s denial of Jesus. Matthew and Luke also include the denials although Luke changes the order of events somewhat. In Mark, the three denials match the three times Peter falls asleep in the Garden of Gethsemane. There is a general moral decline in Peter’s denials. First, he denies Jesus to one girl. Then he does so again when bystanders are present. The third denial is accompanied by curses and oaths. This is the very opposite of sharing the Gospel.

“The story of Peter and his testing stands in sharp contrast to that of Jesus before the Sanhedrin, and Mark draws attention to this by interleaving the two stories… The story may have been a timely reminder to Mark’s readers that following Jesus was by no means an easy thing: when persecution threatened, it was all too easy to be ashamed of Jesus and his words”. Morna Hooker.

It is a nuanced picture of fallible men!

Why does Mark give us such a complex picture of the founding apostles of the Church?

Normally, we build up the saints and the apostles so that they can be role models. We use role models in many other aspects of life as well.

  • Hugh Anderson supports the view of A.E.J. Rawlinson (who was writing as early as 1927). The utter frankness of Mark’s portrait of Peter makes sense now that Peter has been recently martyred. Peter’s loyalty unto death after previous failures would have been very encouraging to a church facing its own problems and, perhaps, persecution.
  • Leslie Houlden suggests that all disciples are failures and all need forgiveness. There are no gradations in Mark or Paul on this matter. We all rely upon Jesus Christ.
  • Ernest Best argues that the Twelve act as a foil to Jesus. They often fall short but Jesus is the supreme figure who is always right and good.
  • The great Canadian spiritual writer, Henri Nouwen, described Jesus as the “wounded healer”. There is a great tradition that Jesus saves just because of his weaknesses. Perhaps, Mark is offering the very mature viewpoint that the apostles are our role models just because of their weaknesses and fallibility. Morna Hooker’s quote above seems to suggest this.

People who appear once in the Gospel.

7:24-30 describes how the Syrophoenician Woman displays comprehension and wit when dealing with Jesus which contrasts with the lack of understanding of the Twelve. Jesus’ words are rather shocking, but we do not know whether his facial expression was less off-putting than his words. As Craig Evans writes that “the apparent harshness and insensitivity argue strongly against the invention of this story in an increasingly Gentile church. On the contrary, Jesus’ disposition reflects genuine tradition in which Israel enjoyed priority”.

We have already looked at 9:21-24 when considering the limitations of the Twelve. Surely, the climax of the story is the wonderful words of the Father of the boy.It is a sentiment that might be said to sum up much of the intent of Mark’s Gospel: “I believe; help my unbelief!”

10:46-52 concerns Blind Bartimaeus. He refuses to be put off by the people trying to quiet him. He addresses Jesus as ‘my teacher’ and asks for his sight back. However, before that he has been calling out “Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me!” That has a definite messianic ring to it. So, Bartimaeus has already acclaimed Jesus to be the Messiah and the Christ. This is not much longer after Peter’s similar acclamation and Bartimaeus has not had the benefit of Jesus’ teaching or experienced the Transfiguration. Jesus says, “Go, your faith has made you well”. Immediately, he regains his sight “and followed him on the way”. “The way” was the first description for being a Christian. In other words, Bartimaeus becomes a believer and a disciple. His earlier acclamation prepares for Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem.

12:41-44 is about the Widow’s Offering. It follows on from Jesus’ argument with the scribes where he accuses the scribes of devouring the estates of widows. Traditionally, we have seen her as a model of sacrificial giving. We also stress that her gift is proportionately more than the ostentatious gifts of those who had great wealth. Craig Evans points out that the widow cannot afford her tiny gift. He writes that the “example of the widow’s mite is a tragic example of the exploitation of a temple establishment that has become oppressive, not generous and protective”. Morna Hooker writes, the “story is a reminder to Mark’s readers that the humblest and the poorest of them can make a worthy offering to God”.

14:3-9 describes the Woman who Anointed Jesus with expensive ointment and shocked those who saw it. Olive oil would have done but she uses pure nard. The money could have been used for good causes. Craig Evans points out that money would be necessary if Jesus were to set up an alternative government as some hoped. This, of course, occurs after Jesus triumphal entry into Jerusalem. There was also a tradition of giving alms during the Passover festival. Morna Hooker sees this as a pair with the Widow’s offering because this woman also spent much more than she should. Jesus links her actions with his coming burial and so, here is another foreshadowing of his death. Jesus’ words are the highest accolade: “Truly, I tell you, wherever the good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her”.

15:21 describes how Simon of Cyrene was compelled to help carry Jesus ’cross. We might have expected that such assistance would have been given by Simon Peter! This passage would have been most relevant if Simon and his family then became Christians (see above).

15:39 isprobably the climax of the Gospel when the Centurion makes the great acclamation: “Truly this man was God’s son”. Up to now, it has been the unclean spirits that have acclaimed Jesus as such. God has done so at the Baptism and the Transfiguration. Even Peter’s acclamation “You are the Messiah” does not go as far. During his trials, Jesus has been taunted and ridiculed by both the Jewish religious leaders and the Roman soldiers. The Centurion was a servant of Caesar and the Emperors acclaimed themselves as “son of God”. By the time, Mark had written his Gospel, Caligula and Nero had claimed themselves to be gods.

14:51-52 concerns the young man running away. Morna Hooker thinks these two verses are a total enigma. However, because we cannot find an obvious theological point being made, she suggests this may be part of a genuine historical tradition.

Morna Hooker and Craig Evans see a connection with Amos 2:16. Morna Hooker tends to think the connection is too tenuous (and I rather agree with her). In Amos 2:16, the prophet foresees that even Israel’s stalwart defenders will flee away naked. Craig Evans argues that in rejecting the Messiah, Israel has brought upon itself the judgement described by Amos.

Hugh Anderson makes a good point here. The previous verse is: “All of them deserted him and fled”. This refers to The Twelve. And this young man also flees. In contrast, Jesus makes no attempt to escape and he calmly accepts his destiny. This is the essence of Mark’s Passion account as my teacher, Christopher Evans, stressed. In the Passion, Jesus is largely passive and he rarely speaks. The main actors are everyone else and we will look at this in our final two sessions.

Questions

Some Special Characteristics

We will look at three things:

  1. There is a device that Mark uses in his construction. As we have seen, Mark’s Gospel is not very literary. Partly, this was because it was written to be spoken.
  2. In the Retreat, Leslie Houlden led at Cuddesdon, he drew attention to a theme running through Mark’s Gospel which perhaps has not had the attention it deserves.
  3. Then there is the much-discussed subject of how Mark treats his characters and particularly Mary, Peter and the apostles.

Chapter 5:21-43: A Girl Restored to Life and a Woman Healed.

Mark uses a ‘sandwich device’ from time to time. This is usually taken over by Matthew and Luke when they write their Gospels using Mark as a major source. This shows that Mark does possess more skill than some scholars give him credit. The most celebrated example of this is Chapter 5:21-43. Luke shortens the account to sixteen verses and Matthew reduces it to eight verses, but they keep the same pattern. We have already looked at miracles and so we will be more concerned about the pattern and the interruption.

It may well have come to Mark this way (either through tradition or from St Peter) but the temptation would have been to separate out the two distinct narrative lines:

  • The Healing of Jairus’ daughter in verses 21-24 and 35-43, and
  • The Healing of the woman with haemorrhages in verses 24-34.

Indeed, Dick France and Tom Wright consider them separately in their Commentaries.

The healing of Jairus’ daughter is rather similar in form to other healings we considered in Chapter 1. However, the healing of the woman with haemorrhages is atypical.

Do you think that Mark’s way of telling these events is effective?

Or is Mark muddying the waters?

Does this capture how it must have been like for Jesus juggling many requests?

What is Jairus feeling as the hoped-for prompt response from Jesus is delayed?

Does this heighten the tension?

In most of the healing miracles, the afflicted person or their friends and family ask Jesus for help.

What happens with this woman?

Notice, again, the use of the word “IMMEDIATELY”.

What is the result of the secret touch?

  • For the woman?
  • For Jesus?

How do the disciples respond?

What does the woman do when she realizes Jesus knows?

What is Jesus’ response?

Then the dreadful news arrives from Jairus’ house.

What are Jairus’ feelings now?

How is Jesus welcomed by the mourners at the house?

What are Jesus’ instructions after the healing?

Do these two stories shed light on each other?

Does this tell us something about how we are to deal with interruptions to our plans?

A Thread Running Throughout the Gospel.

Look at the following passages and references and see if you can pick up Leslie Houlden’s theme?

Mark 6:30-44Mark 7:27-28
Mark 8:1-10Mark 8:14-21
Mark 14:12-25

Mark’s Treatment of his Characters.

We have already seen Jesus’ clashes with the Jewish religious leaders when considering the Parable of the Vineyard and the Tenants last week. Mark portrays them in a bad light, and this becomes even more obvious in the Passion Story. Matthew and Luke largely follow this presentation.

We now consider Mark’s portrayal of:

  • Mary and Jesus’ Family.
  • The Disciples and Peter.

Here, Matthew and Luke do give us a rather different picture than Mark does. They sometimes change Mark’s Gospel when they write their versions of his episodes. They also included a lot more material from other sources (which Mark presumably did not have). We get the impression that Mark was writing with urgency whilst Matthew and Luke writing a little later, take the opportunity of doing more research and incorporating more material.

Mary and Jesus’ Family.

There are no birth stories in Mark’s Gospel which means references to his family are very limited.

I have found only one reference by name to ‘Mary’ his mother: 6:3.

One of the reasons for Jesus’ rejection in the Nazareth Synagogue is: “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon…”

Later, in the Passion and Burial accounts, there are references to Marys but is this the Mary, the mother of Jesus? If so, it is a strange way of referring to her!

Look at 15:40, 15:47 and 16:1.

What do you think?

3:21, 31-35 is the main passage that refers to Mary and Jesus’ family.

Try to read it as if you are hearing it for the first time! (And without the knowledge of what appears in the other Gospels).

This is part of another of Mark’s sandwiches.

Jewish society put the greatest emphasis possible on family relationships.

Elsewhere in this Gospel, Jesus insists we must honour our mother and father (7:9-13).

So, what does Jesus mean here?

What does it say about his mother and family?

What do you think they felt when Jesus’ response was relayed to them?

Does this suggest that Mary and the family were not part of the new movement?

Are we part of a new family as Christians?

How does that relate to our other family responsibilities?

“Unless you read verses 34 and 35 as deeply shocking, you haven’t got the message”. Tom Wright.
“As long as Jesus’ family are unable to join that movement, the blood relationship must take second place to the new family which is coming into being through Jesus’ ministry”.
Dick France.

Most scholars believe that Mary and Jesus’ family play no further part in Mark’s Gospel!

Do you find that shocking?

No wonder, Matthew and, particularly Luke and John present a very different picture. Luke in Acts and Paul in his Letters have Jesus’ brother James leading the Jerusalem Church. We have seen a lot of correspondences between Mark and Paul, but this is a point on which they diverge.

The Disciples and Peter.

Mark’s description of The Twelve is also very interesting. Matthew and Luke often tone down and even alter Mark’s picture. Luke writes a second volume ‘Acts’ where Peter is a prime figure as well as Paul and James the brother of Jesus.

We have seen that Mark’s Gospel was probably written in response to the martyrdoms of Peter and Paul during Nero’s persecution. They were not the first martyrs. Stephen had been stoned to death by outraged Jews. James (the brother of John) had been martyred by Herod Agrippa. It seems that James the brother of Jesus also lost his life in the turbulent period that led up to the Jewish Revolt.

The normal reaction is to build up the reputation of such figures and this is a concern for Matthew and Luke. But we must remember that Mark, like Paul, thinks that the Second Coming of Jesus is about to happen and there is urgency to all Christians do. 9:1 is an example of this expectation.

What is Mark’s view of the The Twelve?

We have already seen that they are slow to understand the Parables which Jesus then explains to them. On the other hand, we have seen the enthusiastic response of Peter, Andrew, James and John (the Fishermen) to become his disciples. This is also true of Levi/Matthew (2:13-15).

Jesus appoints The Twelve in 3:13-19 and sends them out on Mission in 6:1-6.

Briefly, look at the following passages and consider what this sounded like for those who first heard Mark’s Gospel.

8:27-33.9:17-19 and 9:28-29.
9:33-37.10:13-16.
10:23-27.10:28-31.
10:35-45.14:26-31.
14:37-42.14:43-50.
14:66-72.

It is a nuanced picture of fallible men!

Why does Mark give us such a complex picture of the founding apostles of the Church?

Unlike Matthew’s Gospel and Luke’s Acts, Judas Iscariot is not mentioned again. There is no reference to his death (and replacement). Leslie Houlden suggests that if we just had Mark’s Gospel, we might assume that Judas, like Peter, was forgiven by Jesus and remained one of The Twelve.

What do you make of this?

People who appear once in the Gospel.

We look briefly at these passages.

What do you think of these individuals?

7:24-30 – The Syrophoenician Woman.

9:21-24 – The Father of the Boy with a Spirit.

10:46-52 – Blind Bartimaeus.

12:41-44 – The Widow’s Offering.

14:3-9 – The Woman who Anointed Jesus.

15:39 – The Centurion.

Here we see some wonderful instances of faith.

The accolades that Jesus applies to the Widow and the Anointing Woman are reminiscent of how Luke later treats Mary the mother of Jesus.

The climatic words that sum up the Gospel are given to the Centurion rather than to Peter and the disciples.

One final enigma is 14:51-52.

Who is the young man? Matthew and Luke omit him when they write their versions of the Passion account.

The author of the Gospel? This was favoured at one time but less so these days.

A Source of the Passion Account?

Is he related to the young man found in the Empty Tomb in 16:5?

As Leslie Houlden says:

We too are disciples. The first disciples failed, and we fail.

The one-offs cheer us, and they are the best of us by the sheer gift of God which comes through Jesus.

Mark does not grade failures. In this he is like Paul. All have sinned and are lost and are ready to be saved.

  • There is no acceptance of second best.
  • But there is no despair at failure.

The Gospel of Mark 3

A study course by The Reverend Christopher Cooke

Parables

Parables play an important part in Mark’s Gospel. The Parables he includes are usually taken up by Matthew and Luke. However, both Matthew and Luke contain parables not found in Mark.
Mark’s Parables are mainly grouped into two sections.

  • Mark 4: 1-34.
  • Mark 12:1-12.

Most of them are very short. They are almost aphorisms or perhaps sermon illustrations. There are only two longer Parables in Mark’s Gospel:

  • The Parable of the Sower in Mark 4:1-9 which has an explanation in 4:10-20.
  • The Parable of the Wicked Tenants in Mark 12:1-12 concludes with Scripture.

At one time, scholarly thought was that an explanation could not be from Jesus’ own mouth because that would be something akin to explaining a joke. Therefore, the explanation was the addition of the infant Church as apostles and preachers commented on Jesus’ parables. I am not so sure that is correct now.

This is in part because of the variety of parables and stories that Jesus told. In the other Gospels, there are some quite long Parables rather different to those found in Mark’s Gospel. To name the most obvious:

  • The Ten Maidens or Bridesmaids in Matthew’s Gospel.
  • The Sheep and the Goats in Matthew’s Gospel.
  • The Prodigal Son (or better The Loving Father) in Luke’s Gospel.
  • The Good Samaritan in Luke’s Gospel.

The sheer variety of Parables may well allow for an explanation of an important one.

In Mark’s Gospel, the two longer Parables have pivotal roles:

  • The Chapter 4 Parables seem to sum up Jesus’ ministry and put down guidelines for the ministry of his followers.
  • The Chapter 12 Parable introduces the Passion and death of Jesus.

Dick France, I think, expresses the meanings of parables well:

“A parabole is a striking pronouncement, short or long, which leaves the hearers to work out for themselves what it was all about. It is likely to leave them stimulated, exhilarated, challenged, perhaps puzzled, but it will not spoonfeed them with a simple prosaic statement. And this means that the same parable may have a very different effect on different people… Parables have been usefully compared with political cartoons in a newspaper… how much you get out of a cartoon depends on how much you bring to it, in terms of knowledge of what is going on in the world…” Dick France.

Chapter 4. Questions

Verses 1-9: The Parable of the Sower.

If we hadn’t already supplied a title for this parable, could it have had a better name?

  • The Parable of the Seeds?
  • The Parable of the type of the Soil?

Do you understand this parable?

If you do, why didn’t the Disciples understand?

Jesus is often described as the greatest of teachers, so what does this say about his teaching methods?

What is this parable telling us?
Try to do this without remembering the explanation!

What do you think about the ending? [Thirty, sixty, a hundredfold…] Compare this with Matthew’s version at Matthew 13:8.

Verses 10-12: The Purpose of Parables.

Here we are presented with another awkward question:
Would this parable have meant one thing to the Disciples and something different to the crowds?

Is the greatest teacher withholding some of his teaching from the crowds?
We notice that the Disciples (the Twelve and others) seem bemused and confused about the Parable.

Do verses 10-12 suggest that there are insiders and outsiders as regards Jesus’ teaching?

Is this fair?

Or does the explanation come to those who ask?

Were the crowds more interested in the spectacle than in understanding?

Is this reflecting the conditions of the soil?

Verses 13-20: An Explanation of the Parable.

Is this explanation helpful?
The seed needs to be sown but the soil needs to be in a condition to receive it:

  • What condition were the Disciples in?
  • What condition were the Crowd in?
  • What condition are we in?

In the end, is it up to each one of us to understand the meaning of this parable and fit it to our own questions and situation?

Does this help us with our understanding of other parables?

Verses 21-25: A Lamp under a Bushel Basket.

There are two little sayings here. The first is well-known and straight forward. Or is it?

What do we do with sources of light?

What do we do with the light that comes from us?

How does this fit in with Jesus’ teaching above that some things are still hidden or unexplained to the crowds?

Or is he looking a little into the future? What is, at present, unclear will soon be clear to everyone?

Rowan Williams sees this as having both a promise and a warning. Do you agree?

It is followed by an even more cryptic saying. What is the measure that is given and got?

Does this point to our responsibility in the process?

Verses 26-29: The Parable of the Growing Seed.

This parable begins: The kingdom/kingship of God is… Dick France paraphrases: This is how God works out his purpose in the world.

Here we have an illustration of arable farming. This is something we celebrate with Rogation-tide and Harvest.

What does God do here?

What does the farmer do?

Tom Wright points out that the word used ‘rise’ night and day is the same word that is used for the resurrection.

Is that relevant?

Do we take pride in a good crop?

Verses 30-32: The Parable of the Mustard Seed.

This is not our mustard and cress, but a bush that can grow to nine feet tall.

So what is this parable about?

Verses 33-34: The Use of Parables.

These verses round off this section of parables.

Does the second part of verse 33, help us understand why Jesus used parables?

Chapter 12.

Verses 1-12: The Parable of the Wicked Tenants.

We notice this follows important events in the previous chapter:

  • Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem (11:1-11).
  • Jesus Cleanses the Temple (11:15-19).
  • Jesus’ Authority is Questioned (11:27-33).

Do these events inform how we read this Parable?

A vineyard is often used as an image for Israel (Isaiah 5:1-7).

“Of course, there is an element of exaggeration, even of burlesque, in the violence with which the tenants treated the messengers, and still more in the naïve assumption that if they killed the son and heir they would somehow gain a right to property. But this is not the depiction of real life, but a story meant to convey a message”. Dick France.

Is the meaning of this parable obscure or transparent?

If Israel is the vineyard:

  • Who is the owner of the vineyard?
  • Who are the messengers?
  • Who is the son?

Why was his audience so cross (verse 12)?

The quote comes from Psalm 118. This psalm was well-known because it was used for pilgrims going up to Jerusalem to worship in the Temple.

What is rejected?

What is the cornerstone?