Thursday, March 02, 2017

Mark 14:43–65

Mark 14:43–65 (ESV): Betrayal and Arrest of Jesus, A Young Man Flees, Jesus Before the Council


This passage takes up where the previous passage left off. As Jesus is still speaking to the disciples, saying that his betrayer is at hand, Judas approaches and kisses Jesus, as a sign to the crowd that this is the man. The crowd then seizes Jesus, and one of Jesus’ followers takes his sword and cuts off the ear of the servant of the high priest. (We are told in John that it is Peter who cut off the servant’s ear, and we are told in Luke that Jesus healed the ear.) Jesus then gives what I believe to be a bit of a taunt to the people who are seizing him: “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs to capture me? Day after day I was with you in the temple teaching, and you did not seize me. But let the Scriptures be fulfilled” (verses 48–49 (ESV)). The disciples then fulfill Jesus’ earlier prophecy, by fleeing.

After this we are given a very brief detail about a man who was following Jesus. The crowd tried to seize him, but he ran off naked, leaving his clothes behind (presumably in their hands). I’ve read a couple of commentaries saying that scholars believe this was probably Mark himself.

The crowd then brings Jesus to the high priest, to be judged. In fact, all of the “chief priests,” elders and scribes come together, and try to come up with some testimony that will make Jesus deserving of death, but they can’t come up with anything. They even bring false witnesses, but the false witnesses’ testimonies don’t agree with each other, so the evidence isn’t good enough to properly charge him. (Included in this is a misrepresentation of the event reported earlier, when Jesus told his disciples that the temple was going to be torn down; the way the witnesses tell it, Jesus claims that he is going to tear the temple down, and then rebuild it in three days. They were obviously telling it wrong, but they clearly heard Jesus taking to his disciples about his death and resurrection at some point.)

The high priest finally stands up, and asks Jesus if he’s not going to defend himself, but Jesus remains silent. So he asks more directly: “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” (verse 61 (ESV)). This time Jesus does answer:
And Jesus said, “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” (verse 62 (ESV))
This marks the end of the trial, for the high priest; he clearly views this as blasphemy. (It doesn’t hurt to remember at this point that it would be blasphemy for anyone other than Jesus to say this!) He tears his clothes, and asks the others for their decision, and they all condemn him as deserving death. They also spit on him, and sarcastically ask him to prophesy as they strike him. (That last point doesn’t seem to make much sense, until you compare it to the same verse in Matthew 26:68 (ESV), where they say, “Prophesy to us, you Christ! Who is it that struck you?”)

Meanwhile, Peter has followed Jesus (at a discreet distance), and ends up in the courtyard outside. He is sitting out there with the guards, warming himself at the fire.


The first thing that strikes me as interesting about this passage is the fact that Judas felt he had to betray Jesus, and point him out to the crowd. I feel there must be some details missing here, because otherwise it seems very unnecessary. What did the religious leaders need Judas for? What was he accomplishing by pointing Jesus out to them? They already knew exactly who Jesus was; they’d been arguing with him for about three years by this point. So I’m missing something about Judas’ betrayal. The fact that is is a betrayal is, of course, without question, I just don’t understand how Judas’ actions were necessary for the religious leaders.

The second thing that strikes me as interesting are the different details that are recorded by the different gospels when it comes to the incident with the sword and the ear. What’s important to Mark is only that someone cut off an ear; only John finds it important enough to mention that the person who did it was Peter, and only Luke informs us that Jesus healed the ear—even though, to me, that detail is always in the back of my mind, whenever I read about this incident in any of the other gospels.

When we read this passage right on the heels of the previous passage where Jesus told the disciples that they’d leave him and they all said they never would, it seems very striking. To the disciples, though, that conversation was hours ago. I don’t think it will be until later—maybe even much later—that they’ll put two and two together, and think to themselves, “He told us that we’d abandon him, and we abandoned him!”

When Jesus is being tried, there’s a dichotomy of motives at play here: the chief priests and elders and scribes have come together with one intent, to find Jesus guilty of blasphemy—and therefore death—and they’re even willing to bring in false witnesses to that end. And yet, at the same time, they’re not willing to find Jesus guilty because the testimony of these false witnesses don’t agree! “We want to put him to death,” they seem to be saying, “but we want to do it right.” At first blush I’m wanting to give them a bit of credit; they’re coming together firmly believing that Jesus really has committed blasphemy, but don’t want to put an innocent man to death. And I’m often trying to give the religious leaders of Jesus’ day the benefit of the doubt on certain points, even though they were clearly wrong with the big picture. But upon further reflection, I’m actually not inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt in this case. I think this is a kangaroo court, intended to find Jesus guilty at all costs; the idea of them wanting to “do it right” is just one more example of what is wrong with them in general: they’re so stuck on the details (making sure the trial is run according to the minutiae of how trials are supposed to be run), but ignoring the big picture (Jesus being, you know, God). (Tongue in cheek on that last point: they clearly didn’t believe he was.)

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