Still reading Last Week. I have finished through Easter Sunday so will post Monday thru Saturday now. (Hopefully I will finish Easter Sunday by Easter Sunday!)
I got a lot out of reading about Palm Sunday, but to be honest, I’ve found the subsequent days somewhat tedious. A lot of it isn’t new information so that could be part of it. But there is something about Borg and Crossan that doesn’t quite settle with me all that well. I attended their conference on Mysticism and Activism last year and I felt the same way. I can’t quite put my finger on what it is because the information they provide is sound and I don’t disagree with it. I think it is something they are leaving out. But I just don’t quite know what that is.
But, there is still a lot of good information here. I’ll try and keep each day as brief as possible – please know that Borg and Crossan pack in tons of information under each day that I’m not covering here. This is simply what I found to be important/interesting:
Jesus overturns the temple (Mark 11:12-19)
The term sacrifice derives from the Latin “sacrum facere”. Facere means “to make”; sacrum means “sacred”. In animal sacrifice, the animal is “made sacred” and given to God as a sacred gift or returned to the offerer as a sacred meal. It has nothing to do with suffering or substitution. (Sacrificial animals were killed swiftly and humanely and were not made to suffer).
During first century ACE, faithful Jews could be against the temple as it was at that time (under control of the Roman Empire), without in anyway being against the theory or the practice of the temple and the existence of high priests or animal blood sacrifices. What they were against was the corruption that was occurring within the temple at the time, not the idea of the temple or high priests.
There was an ancient prophetic tradition where God insisted not just on justice and worship, but justice over worship. In the OT, God repeatedly rejected worship that lacked justice, but he never rejected justice that lacked worship. (See: Amos 5:21-24; Hos. 6:6, Mic. 6:6-8, Isa. 1:11-17)
What will happen if worship in the house of God continues to be a substitute for justice in the land of God? According to Jeremiah 7:12-14, God will destroy the temple. Jeremiah was almost put to death by the authorities of his day for having said this. There is nothing wrong with prayer and sacrifice, but if worship lacks justice, God will destroy it. (In Jesus day it was the temple, in our day it is the church.)
It’s important to realize that the money changers and animal sellers were perfectly legitimate and an absolute necessity to the functioning of the temple. This is how the temple could be paid by the multitude of visitors in the appropriate coinage. Plus, the only way pilgrims would have an adequate sacrifice was by buying the animals at the temple. Jesus symbolically destroyed the temple in the same way someone might have poured blood on draft papers in a single draft office during the Vietnam War. Such an act doesn’t end the draft or the war. But it most definitely makes a statement.
This act by Jesus was pre-planned just as his entrance into Jerusalem on Sunday was pre-planned. He knew what he was doing. Jesus’ criticism is not only of violent domination, but any religious collaboration with it.
Jesus’ authority is challenged & Jesus challenges the authority through parables (Mark 11:27-33 to 12:1-27)
The authorities are pissed because Jesus has threatened the system. So, they question him hoping to trap him and arrest him. But Jesus has no trouble seeing through their games and manages to turn the trap back on his questioners. The guys a genius and extremely slippery. (And not necessarily all that sweet.)
Mark 15: 5-37 – “the little apocalypse”
(The big one being Revelation, of course)
Apocalyptic literature speaks of great suffering and deliverance from suffering. This apocalyptic message is about the destruction of the temple. Mark wrote his gospels after the temple had already been destroyed. Mark wasn’t being prophetic, he was placing his knowledge of the events in 66 CE in Jesus’ time. The Jews were suffering horribly during this time period. The temple was destroyed, the entire city of Jerusalem desecrated, and anyone not killed was enslaved or forced to flee their homes. Starvation and disease was rampant. The water supply was ruined. Food was scarce. It was horrible. Most apocalyptic literature occurs during times of great strife. This “little apocalypse”, like Revelation, mirrors David who wrote during the Babylonian exile – another horrible time for the Jews when all Jews were in exile and enslaved.
The message in Mark is that what has begun in Jesus (the actualization of the Kingdom of God – a Kingdom ruled by justice rather than domination) will triumph, despite the tumult and resistance of the world.
Why the need for a traitor? (Mark 14:1-11)
We typically think of it being a huge crowd of common Jews that cheers for the arrest of Jesus, but this makes no sense. Why would such a huge crowd of people that had been clearly pleased by Jesus’ teaching turn on him so suddenly? They wouldn’t. The crowd that loves Jesus is not the crowd that condemns him to death. If it was, then why would the high priest find it necessarily to arrest Jesus at night and in secret? He didn’t want to upset the crowds. And they didn’t want to let him go on teaching because the was drawing larger and larger crowds of Jewish peasants all the time and – horror of all horrors – making them feel empowered. To participate with Jesus is to negate the normalcy of civilization’s lust for domination and to deny the legitimacy of what lords and kings have always been and what nations and empires have always done. And anyone who wants society to remain as it has “always been” will do all in their power to destroy those who have the capacity to empower those upon whose backs the system is maintained. Jesus wasn’t against the Jews, he was against the domination system. Jesus was a Jew and he empowered those Jews oppressed by the domination system to envision a world beyond it. This is very dangerous stuff.
The Last Supper (Mark 14:12 – 72)
“Yet not my will but thy will be done” does not mean that Jesus’ death is the will of God. The prayer reflects not a fatalistic resignation to the will of God, but a trusting in God in the midst of the most dire of circumstances.
As far as Jesus’ interrogation by the high priest goes, it is very likely that neither Mark nor any of the other gospel writers knows what happened. We can be fairly certain the trial scene represents a post-Easter construction and not history remembered. This is the way Mark tells the story around 70 ACE. Mark is writing for those Christians who have undergone lethal persecution in the Jewish homeland during the great rebellion of 66-74 CE. The depiction of the betrayal of the disciples is meant to offer comfort. Just because you lose your nerve doesn’t mean you lose your faith. Yes Peter betrayed Jesus, but there is hope, repentance and forgiveness. If you start running, that’s OK. Just don’t keep running. The worst sin is despair.
Our understanding of Mark’s story of Friday is often clouded by a pre-understanding that gets in the way of what it is Mark is saying. This pre-understanding is that the real reason for Jesus death is as a substitution for our sins. (Jesus died for my sins). This idea came into being through St. Anselm, archbishop of Canterbury, in 1097. It took more than a thousand years to take hold. But to understand Jesus’ sacrifice in terms of substitution is to not understand it. The substitutionary sacrificial understanding of Jesus’s death is not present in the Gospel of Mark at all.
In Mark, Jesus’s death is the domination system’s “no” to Jesus (and God). Jesus didn’t die as a substitute for our sins, he died because most people do not have the courage to go up against the system. They’d rather kill the “righteous” than face the reality of the system in which they live. Dying for our sins means he died because of them, not as a sacrificial substitute for them.
Back to the crowd that condemns Jesus… The crowd that is jeering Jesus and calling for his death are in Herod’s palace. Jesus primarily taught the peasants and peasants are not going to be in Herod’s palace. The people in Herod’s palace are the aristocrats and high priests – those who have good reason to maintain the system because they are in cahoots with the Roman leaders. Of course they are going to want Jesus killed. He’s a nuisance as far as they are concerned because he empowers the peasants. It’s not the Jews who killed Jesus. It was a corrupt power structure.
Jesus knew what he was doing when he rode into Jerusalem on a donkey and overturned the money changers. He knew this would likely get him killed. He was willing to sacrifice his life for a cause. A soldier will sacrifice his life for his country. Martin Luther King Jr. knew he would probably get killed yet continued to preach a message of equality. Jesus was willing to sacrifice his life for the kingdom of God.
To say Jesus gave “his life as ransom for many” means he gave his life as a means of liberation from bondage. Ransom sounds like sacrificial language, but in Mark, ransom is translated from the Greek lutron. Lutron is a means of liberation from bondage, not a substitution. In contrast to the rules of this world, “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a lutron – a means of liberation – for many.” And this is a path for his followers to imitate; so it shall be “among you”.
That people believe the Old Testament prophecizes the New Testament is silly. The reason the New Testament makes so many references to the Old Testament is to give the events in the New Testament credibility. It is prophecy historicized which means an older passage in a newer story is used in an attempt to connect that newer story to the earlier tradition (with which most were familiar), and lend credibility to it.
The execution of Jesus was virtually inevitable. It happened to John the Baptist before him and Paul, Peter and James after him. Jesus was not an unfortunate victim of the domination system, he was a man who was passionate about the kingdom of God and the kingdom of God has no place in a domination system. Good Friday was the collision of the normalcy of civilization and the passion of Jesus.
It’s important to realize that no one is saying that the high priests and aristocracy were inherently evil. The problem was the system they upheld.
The Descent into Hell
No real notes on this. The descent into hell doesn’t exist in Mark at all. When I was Catholic, we included it in the Apostles Creed. But I grew up Methodist and Saturday didn’t show up in the Creed. We went straight from Good Friday to Easter Sunday and skipped the Sabbath altogether.
My understanding of the descent into Hell is purely mythological. I’ve never come at it any other way – not even in my more fundamentalist days. Borg & Crossan try to show how well this descent fits into the poetic parts of the Bible and how awkward they are in the narratives. It’s myth and myths always lend themselves better to poetry than to narratives.