Mark 1 (day 958) 15 August 2012
1-8: Mark’s gospel begins with the mission of John the baptizer at the Jordan River, skipping over Jesus’ childhood altogether. Mark’s gospel is characterized by urgency. He uses the word “immediately” 28 times (compared to 12 in Matthew, 13 in Luke and 2 in John). John’s announcement in verses 7-8 sets the stage for the first appearance of Jesus in the story.
9-11: Unlike Matthew, Mark sees no need to report that John at first objected to baptizing Jesus (see Matthew 3:14).
12-13: In Mark, Jesus is “driven” by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted. In Matthew and Luke he is “led” by the Spirit (Matthew 4:1, Luke 4:1).
14-15: Again Mark skips quickly ahead in the story. Jesus begins his ministry in Galilee only after John is arrested, and his initial ministry takes up where John’s left off, with the call to repentance.
16-20: Note the urgency with which the four fishermen drop everything and follow Jesus; this is a hallmark of Mark’s style.
21-28: The very first miracle reported in Mark’s gospel is an exorcism.
29-34: The healing ministry expands, first to those inside the movement Jesus has started, then to all who would come.
35-39: The first missionary journey undertaken by the disciples with Jesus is within the territory of Galilee. Again, the same pattern is followed: first proclaim the message of repentance, and then cast out demons.
40-45: The healing of the leper is a touching story. Unfortunately for Jesus, instead of going directly to a priest and be pronounced “clean,” the former leper ran around telling people what Jesus had done for him, making Jesus “unclean.” Jesus has to stay out in the countryside. However, the people come to him anyway.
Mark 2 (day 959) 16 August 2012
1-12: Mark’s version of this story has some significant differences from Matthew and Luke (see Matthew 9:2-8 and Luke 5:17-26). In Matthew the incident apparently takes place outdoors, while in Mark and Luke is it indoors. Luke does not identify the location. Matthew has it in Jesus’ “own town,” and it is clear from the context that they are in Capernaum. Only Mark has Jesus “at home,” which invites speculation about how he supported himself. The other gospels give the impression that he depended on the hospitality of followers and well-wishers everywhere he went. Mark presents a more settled Jesus. All three sources present the story as a contest of Jesus against the religious authorities, and present Jesus as a miracle worker who has the power to heal both soul and body.
13-17: (See Matthew 9:9-13, Luke 5:27-32) Luke and Mark call the tax collector disciple Levi, while Matthew calls him Matthew. I don’t know why, and have found no suitable explanation. In fact, when Mark gives his list of the twelve disciples (3:16-19) he names Matthew, but not Levi! I wonder if the use of the name Levi is intended to emphasize the conflict between Jesus and the scribes, who are the equivalent of the Levites in the Old Testament. Like Peter, Andrew, James and John, Levi drops what he’s doing and follows Jesus, then hosts a dinner party at which Jesus is the honored guest, thus setting up another butting session with the scribes. The theme of forgiveness is thus emphasized and Jesus’ authority to forgive sins is reiterated through his association with sinners.
18-20: Jesus compares his movement to a wedding feast, which begs the question of the bride’s identity. Most commentators agree that the soon-to-be instituted Church is the intended bride.
21-22: The old wineskin would thus be Judaism. Jesus is presenting a new teaching and a new understanding of who God is and how God relates to people; a new vessel must be found to contain it. That vessel will be the Church.
23-28: (See Matthew 12:1-8) Step by step Jesus is challenging the way the religious leaders interpret the Law and the scriptures.
Mark 3 (day 960) 17 August 2012
1-6: (See Matthew 12:9-14) Confrontations in Capernaum continue with another healing incident, this time in the synagogue, a significant escalation in the conflict with religious authorities. This time he has gone too far, and the Pharisees, determined to shut him up, join forces with the Herodians. We suspect the Herodians were a small Jewish sect somehow connected with the country’s ruling family. It is significant that Pharisees would see Jesus as a big enough threat that they would choose such bedfellows.
7-12: At this point Mark presents a summary statement of Jesus’ ministry to show how his fame is spreading. The demon-possessed insist on calling him the Son of God, and Mark makes a point of Jesus insisting that they not spread that word around. I wouldn’t want demons praising me, either.
13-19: (See Matthew 10:2-4, Luke 6:14-16) Mark’s list of disciples is identical to Matthew’s, though not in exactly the same order. Luke’s list differs only in that there is Judas son of James in lieu of Thaddaeus. The gospel writers (except John, who does not list the disciples) seem to think it is important to draw a connection between the beginnings of the Church (twelve disciples) and the beginnings of Israel (twelve tribes).
20-27: The opposition to Jesus grows. His fame is spreading and people are wondering about him. Some of them speculate that he is insane, alarming his family who react predictably. Their attempt to restrain him is described in verses 31-35. The scribes are meaner, telling people Jesus is possessed by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, a popular part of the religious ideas of the time. Jesus refutes them with impeccable logic. He has been plundering the devil’s “property,” so it must be the case that he has somehow restrained the devil rather than being in cahoots with it.
28-30: The saying about sinning against the Holy Spirit (see also Matthew 12:32, Luke 12:10) has invited much speculation through the centuries. What exactly is the unforgivable sin? Mark offers a very simple explanation: the scribes say that Jesus has an unclean spirit when instead he has the Holy Spirit. The blasphemy that cannot be forgiven is simply to claim the Holy Spirit is an unclean spirit.
31-35: Read this paragraph as a continuation of the preceding scene. His family, who had set out in verse 21, finally arrives. It is his mother and brothers. Mark doesn’t say Jesus refused to see them. He simply reports that their arrival gives Jesus the occasion to make the point that faith and obedience form a familial bond between Jesus and future believers.
Mark 4 (day 961) 18 August 2012
1-9: Jesus’ fame is growing, and the crowd is now so numerous that there is no appropriate meeting place where he can teach except at the lakeside. Mark presents the scene as an example of what was likely a series of lessons Jesus delivered as a kind of informal school to which everyone who was interested could come. The invitation Jesus gives is an open one: “Let anyone with ears to hear listen.” It is natural that what people remembered from these lessons were some of the stories he told, and these verses recount one of the most popular parables about the kind of soil needed to produce a suitable crop. The application of the parable seems to me to be obvious: Teaching is a community transaction in which the students have at least as much responsibility as the teacher.
10-12: Many of his parables, however, are not so easily understood, and Jesus explains his reason for using parables as a teaching method: The parables reveal things that are hidden, but in such a way that the character of the listener is as important as the words of the teacher.
13-20: Surprisingly, he has to explain the parable of the seed and the soil to them, a hint that his closest followers are not going to understand him very well. There are also hints that Mark includes this explanation for the benefit of the future church as a way of warning the first Christians that following the teachings of Jesus in the Roman world is not going to be easy.
21: It is not clear at what points Jesus is addressing the crowds and at what points he is instructing just his disciples, but it is clear that Jesus is preparing the disciples to take over the task of proclaiming the gospel and calling the world to repentance. They are not to keep his teachings to themselves.
22-23: The movement Jesus is instituting will not be a secret society. His teaching is to be shared freely with anyone who will listen.
24: The Christian faith is an ever-rising spiral of understanding. He tells them that if they attend to his teachings they will be rewarded with understanding and will then be able to receive more teaching.
25: In that way what they have (in terms of understanding God’s will) will grow. If they don’t attend to his teaching, what little they understand will soon dissipate.
26-29: Scholars call this a parable, but it really is a metaphor for how, once some understanding has taken root, the Holy Spirit works quietly within us to help us go on to perfection
30-32: Another metaphor to describe how faith grows until it is the most important thing in our lives, and enables us to become the kind of people in whom others can find shelter.
33-34: Mark indicates here that the preceding parables were delivered to the crowds. Jesus explains them to his disciples in private; unfortunately he doesn’t record those explanations.
35-41: We return to the scene established in verse 1. They are already in the boat, and having finished his “school” for the day Jesus orders them to cross the lake. Mark mentions that there are other boats with him but that detail disappears as the story unfolds. Jesus is asleep when a storm strikes, and the scene described reminds us of the story of Jonah (Jonah 1:5-6). The disciples, though some of them are experienced fishermen, are afraid, which says something about the severity of the storm. They are dismayed that Jesus is unconcerned. Many scholars have commented that Jesus addresses the storm in the same way he might have addressed a demon. Mark’s earliest readers surely read the story as an account of an attack on Jesus by the forces of evil. If that is the case, then Jesus’ words juxtaposing fear and faith take on different shading. I am reminded of Martin Luther’s hymn: “And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us, we will not fear, for God has willed his truth to triumph through us. The Prince of Darkness grim, we tremble not for him; his rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure; one little word shall fell him.” The experience leaves the disciples wondering about Jesus’ true identity.
Mark 5 (day 962) 19 August 2012
1-13: The story of the poor demon-possessed man of Gerasa is somewhat confusing, as we are never quite sure who is speaking; the man or the demon, or is it demons? He has the kind of incredible strength sometimes exhibited by insane people who are able to ignore the pain of strained muscles and joints and distressed flesh and accomplish feats of physical power. The casting of the demons into the herd of pigs reminds me of the “scape goat” of Leviticus 16:6-10.
14-20: The locals are understandably distressed and ask Jesus to leave. The insane man is now sane, and begs to come with him, but Jesus refuses. He is, after all, a Gentile (Gerasa is on the eastern shore of the lake) whose presence would be problematic as Jesus continued his mission in Jewish territory. Besides, the task of everyone who has had a life-changing encounter with Jesus is to go and tell others “how much the Lord has done for you.”
21-34: The chapter began with an exorcism. Mark moves now to describe two healing stories when they arrive back in Capernaum. A certain leader named Jairus begs Jesus to come heal his daughter, and on the way a woman afflicted with constant menstrual flow is healed by simply reaching out her hand and touching him. It is a demonstration of the power of faith Jesus has been telling his disciples about.
35-43: When news arrives that the little girl is dead, Jesus presses on. At this point he dismisses everyone but Peter, James and John, the three who will also accompany him on the Mount of Transfiguration and at Gethsemane. Those three and the parents witness the miracle of the little girl being brought back to life. Jesus orders them not to tell what happened; perhaps the crowd will think she really was only asleep.
I think it is important to note that Mark has arranged his material to show that Jesus ignored social pecking orders: Jairus, being a synagogue leader, would have been wealthy and important, while the woman who touched his garment had no social standing.
Mark 6 (day 963) 20 August 2012
1-6: All three synoptic gospels attest to the cool reception Jesus receives in his home town (see Matthew 13:54 and Luke 4:24). Only Luke specifically names Nazareth, but we can assume Mark and Matthew intend the same location for this incident. Mark and Matthew name Jesus’ brothers: James, Joses (Joseph in Matthew), Simon and Judas, and mention his sisters as well. The brothers named here will join the ranks of the disciples after the resurrection (see Acts 1:14).
7-13: Jesus’ response to his rejection in Nazareth is first to go around the countryside teaching, and then to send his disciples out as apostles to rid the countryside of unclean spirits. They are to go without visible means of support, depending on the hospitality of people in the villages they visit, and where hospitality is not found they are to shake the dust of that place off their feet, as if to make sure the rudeness of those people doesn’t stick to them.
14-29: The twelve will return at verse 30. While they are wandering about, Herod receives word of what is going on, and is afraid that John the baptizer has come back to haunt him. Mark then flashes back to John’s execution at Herod’s hands.
30-44: Jesus’ fame has spread so that he cannot find a place of solitude. The crowds are now following him everywhere. He goes across the lake with his disciples for debriefing after their mission, but the “deserted place” they go to is no longer deserted. Through the centuries commentators have offered various explanations about how Jesus could feed 5000 people with five loaves and two fish. Don’t waste your time trying to figure it out; just consider what Mark is telling us about Jesus — he wants to take care of people’s needs, he expects his followers to use whatever means available to do the same, and when we practice that kind of generosity there is always enough to go around.
45-46: Still, Jesus has been looking for time apart, and he sends the disciples to Bethsaida (near Capernaum on the north shore of the lake) and dismisses the crowds, then goes alone into the hills to pray.
47-52: There are elements of the creation story in this little vignette. It is evening when the disciples set out in their boat, and it is morning when Jesus comes walking on the waves. The waves also recall the “deep,” the waters of chaos in the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, and the wind, though it is against their boat, reminds us of the spirit of God blowing across the waters. Lots of sermons have been preached on the image of the storm ceasing when Jesus gets in the boat with them, but the reaction of the disciples is surprising. Rather than being filled with gratitude that Jesus has once again rescued them from a storm at sea, Mark tells us the disciples’ hearts are hardened because they don’t understand about the loaves. This statement links the story to the previous one about the feeding of the five thousand. They do not yet understand who Jesus is. The hardening of their hearts indicates that their lack of understanding is increasing, not decreasing.
53-56: In contrast to the disciples’ reaction, wanting to send people home rather than share their five loaves, the people in the villages around the Gennesaret region are eager to bring their sick to be healed and, repeating the faith of the woman with the chronic menstrual flow, they are healed simply by touching his clothing.
Mark 7 (day 964) 21 August 2012
1-13: Another confrontation with the Pharisees is described. They have come from Jerusalem, and Mark gives the impression that Jesus is the reason they have come. They find fault with his disciples for not following proper rituals for eating. Jesus responds by attacking them for placing their traditions on equal footing with the law, and accuses them of inventing loopholes to get around the law. The example he uses has to do with the obligation accorded one’s parents. Rather than provide support for one’s parents, their tradition allowed them to claim that the support they gave the temple or the synagogue was the support due their parents.
14-23: Finally answering their specific complaint about the disciples not washing their hands, Jesus points out that food does not contaminate a person’s character, but a person’s character can contaminate his or her life. Note that the disciples continue to demonstrate a rather appalling lack of understanding.
24-30: So, Mark tells the story of how Jesus goes into foreign territory where he is confronted by a Syrophoenician woman who has more faith than the people in Jesus’ home town, the Pharisees from Jerusalem, or his own disciples. The lesson is that, instead of questioning who Jesus is and what authority he has, we should simply believe and receive the blessings he has to bestow.
31-37: This story is peculiar to Mark’s gospel. The location is impossible to pinpoint because the route Jesus takes has him approaching the Sea of Galilee from the northwest, and the region of the Decapolis is to the southeast of the sea. This is the only account of a deaf person being healed in the gospels, although Matthew mentions that such miracles are taking place (Matthew 11:5). We also note that Isaiah prophesied that “the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped … and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy” (Isaiah 35:5-6) as signs that a new age is come. You may notice that the healings seem to be getting more involved in terms of the actions Jesus takes to form the cure — look ahead to the next healing story in 8:22-26. Again, Jesus attempts to silence the acclaim, again to no avail. Perhaps he is trying to stay under the radar of Herod and the religious authorities.
Mark 8 (day 965) 22 August 2012
1-10: Mark begins this story with the words, “In those days,” which indicate that he is not following a specific itinerary for Jesus’ travels. However, the implication is that he is still in Gentile territory, and Mark may intend this second feeding miracle as an interpretation of the Syrophoenician woman’s comment about being given the crumbs from the table (7:28). The vague introductory phrase has also resulted in speculation among some commentators that this story is confused with the earlier account of Jesus feeding a large crowd (6:30-44) – that perhaps there was one such occasion but the details vary as to the exact number so Mark turns it into a separate event. Mark obviously thinks it is important that there were two separate incidents, for he makes a point of it in verses 19-20. There are a number of differences between this and the feeding of the 5000. This time the crowds have been with Jesus for three days. The exchange between Jesus and the disciples is different as well. And this time, after the miracle Jesus gets in the boat with the disciples instead of sending them out without him. Dalmanutha is unidentifiable, but is likely on the Galilee side of the lake, for the Pharisees in the next verse would not have come into Gentile territory. So, Jesus is crisscrossing the lake, going from coastal town to coastal town.
11-13: The Pharisees show up again to challenge Jesus. This time he refuses to play, and simply gets in the boat and heads back across the lake.
14-21: The conversation Jesus has with his disciples in the boat is not easy to follow, but here is the gist of it: Jesus, having just been confronted by the Pharisees, wants to make a point about their teachings, but as is his habit he couches it in everyday imagery, referring to their teachings as their “yeast.” Curiously he adds Herod to the mix; perhaps the news of John’s beheading (6:27-28) is still fresh in his mind. The disciples miss the reference altogether and think he is referring to their need to buy more bread. Jesus points out that they have no such need, that they have already seen him turn shortages into surfeits on two occasions. He sees this as an indication that their minds are still on earthly things, while all along he has been trying to get them to look for and recognize the kingdom of heaven.
22-26: Bethsaida is near the northern shore of the Sea, a mile or so inland along the major trade route from Damascus to Jerusalem. As if to illustrate the disciples lack of “vision” Mark tells how Jesus heals a blind man. Note that the cure is even more involved than the last healing story (7:31-37). This time Jesus has to touch the man twice before he can see clearly, an indication that the disciples’ “vision” may require extra care as well. And notice that again Jesus takes the man aside to attend to him in privacy, pointing us toward the idea that Jesus needs to give the disciples additional private lessons.
27-30: Heading north, now, Jesus does have some time with just the disciples. He tests their understanding by asking them directly who they think he is. Peter’s confession is on the mark (though a bit different from Matthew’s account — see Matthew 16:16 — where Peter adds, “the Son of the living God.”). Jesus, however, is not ready for the world to know this.
31-33: Assured that they have begun to grasp the importance of his ministry, he begins to instruct them about the outcome of it, and this they cannot fathom. Peter, who just called him the Messiah, now takes it upon himself to educate Jesus in what Messiahs can and can’t do! Jesus has to remind him rather pointedly that he is still looking too low.
34-38: Jesus abandons his efforts to teach the twelve exclusively and now summons “the crowd.” He lets them know in no uncertain terms that following him is a life-changing and life-threatening endeavor. The willingness to give up even one’s life is the cost of true discipleship.
Mark 9 (day 966) 23 August 2012
1: The promise that some will live to see the “kingdom of God come with power” is usually interpreted to be a reference to the transfiguration scene described in the next paragraph.
2-8: Peter, James and John are the three who were with Jesus when he brought Jairus’ daughter back to life (5:37), and now Jesus chooses them to accompany him to a remote mountain in Galilee, thought by most to be Mt. Tabor in the Plain of Jezreel. The scene of the transfiguration is reported a number of times in the New Testament — see Matthew 17:1-8, Luke 9:28-36, 2 Peter 1:17-18. The story implies that Jesus went to the mountain specifically to confer with Moses and Elijah (though we wonder how the disciples recognized them), but Mark does not offer any explanation about what they talked about or why he chose the three to go with him. The appearance of the cloud is reminiscent of Old Testament stories of God’s appearances to the Hebrew people in the wilderness of Sinai.
9-13: The experience obviously made an indelible impression on the three disciples. When Jesus invokes their silence about the scene they witnessed on the mountain, they have a question I’m sure any first century Jew would have wanted to know given what they had just witnessed: what connection does the appearance of Elijah have to the expected coming of the Messiah? Jesus does not directly answer the question; rather he emphasizes that the Messiah and Elijah (certainly he is referring to John the baptizer here) both must suffer the contempt of the crowds.
14-29: Mark tells this story with an unusual amount of detail. Jesus comes down from the mountain to find his disciples arguing with scribes. The argument is over their inability to cast out a demon that has afflicted a young man for years with behavior that is akin to epileptic fits. Jesus calls out the demon, the boy at first faints, but then is fully restored to health. Mark sees the entire incident as evidence that the disciples are woefully inept. They don’t even know how to pray!
30-32: Jesus continues to insist that he will be crucified and then will rise after three days. The disciples don’t know how to respond. Indeed, they’ve given up trying to respond.
33-37: His death and resurrection simply don’t fit into their plans. They are interested in other things, like pecking order. Jesus sees a teaching moment and, using a child as an object lesson, explains to them that pecking orders are reversed in the kingdom of God.
38-41: This little incident was an important example to the early church. Most people readily recognize the saying, “Whoever is not against us is for us,” but far more important is the assurance that “whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.” Note also how quickly the disciples pass over the “whoever” saying in verse 37 about welcoming children. John wants to get back to that all-important pecking order. Surely the twelve are better than some guy who isn’t part of their entourage, even if he is casting out demons. Remember, the disciples themselves were unable to cast out the demon of the young man (back at verse 18).
42-48: Jesus, however, wants to return to the subject of how they treat “little ones.” Grownup disciples can do a lot more with their hands and feet and see (understand) more with their eyes than little children can, but Jesus wants them to understand that those attributes are absolutely useless in the kingdom of God.
49-50: These are famous but inscrutable sayings. Salt and fire were common ways of preserving food and common elements in the offering of sacrifices in the temple. Perhaps what Jesus meant was that, if the disciples were properly “seasoned” they would not be arguing with each other about who was the greatest among them.
Mark 10 (day 967) 24 August 2012
1: A traveling verse: Jesus’ route to Jerusalem avoids Samaria. Crowds now follow him everywhere.
2-9: The Pharisees show up again. The territory beyond the Jordan was in a region known as Perea in Jesus’ day, which was part of the kingdom of Herod Antipas. The Pharisees challenge Jesus with a question about divorce. Remember that John the baptizer had been put to death because he challenged Herod’s divorce and remarriage (see 6:17-18), and the Pharisees see an opportunity to entrap Jesus. Jesus does not hesitate to take the same stance as John, quoting Genesis 2:24 and declaring that marriage is a permanent covenant between a man and a woman.
10-12: “In the house” is a curious phrase, since they are far from Capernaum. Be that as it may, Mark often depicts Jesus having private sessions with the disciples immediately following public pronouncements to instruct them in more detail, but it says something about them that he has to give further explanation for the sacredness of marriage vows.
13-16: The disciples just cannot give up the idea that their relationship with Jesus somehow gives them an elevated status in the world. They simply cannot fathom that little children might be just as important, or even more important, than they. Once again Jesus emphasizes child-like faith as an essential character trait in the kingdom of God.
17-22: The story of the rich man who would earn eternal life is told in the three synoptic gospels with slight variations. Jesus rebuffs the man’s patronizing tone (“good teacher”). Interestingly, Jesus recites only those commandments that have to do with our relationships with one another, not the ones that have to do with our relationship with God. But then Jesus decides that that man might be the thirteenth disciple, and gives him an invitation on the spot. There is one requirement, however: the man must get rid of his great wealth first. He cannot do it.
23-27: Again Jesus uses the public event to instruct his disciples privately. You cannot buy your way into the kingdom of God, he tells them.
28-31: Peter protests. He and the others have made great sacrifices to follow Jesus. What’s in it for them? Jesus tells them that earthly wealth is a fleeting thing. They may very well obtain much in the way of material and familial rewards, but persecutions will come “in this age.” Eternal life in the “age to come” is their true reward, but it will not be based on who is first “in this age.”
32-34: Although the disciples still follow him, the confrontation over rewards has left them shaken. One last time Jesus tells them privately what is going to happen to him, and this time he gives them much more in the way of details about the suffering he is going to experience at the hands of both Jewish and Gentile authorities.
35-40: In response, James and John ask for a favor! They understand that Jesus has to suffer before his elevation to the throne, and they are willing to go through it with him, but can you believe their nerve? Jesus assures them that they will indeed suffer, but he will not designate a pecking order for his disciples.
41-45: The other disciples are indignant. Jesus tells them to stop acting like Gentiles. In the kingdom of God leadership is a way to serve others.
46-52: They cross back over the Jordan and come to Jericho on the way to Jerusalem. A blind man named Bartimaeus interrupts him as he is leaving Jericho with a large crowd. This is the last healing miracle Mark will report, and this time Jesus heals the blind man with just a word. Bartimaeus’ story has to be read as a commentary on discipleship: he is an example of the attitude the twelve should themselves exhibit by now.
Mark 11 (day 968) 25 August 2012
1-11: Jesus has done some advance planning for his entry into Jerusalem. Especially in Mark’s gospel this is surprising, since he has been at such pains to tell people not to spread speculation about him. Now, however, he is going to make a big splash by entering Jerusalem as noisily as possible in a parade that is certain to catch the attention of the authorities. He is entering the city as a conquering hero. Notice that Mark makes no mention of the Old Testament prophesy about the king riding on a donkey. In fact, Mark doesn’t mention a donkey; Jesus is riding a colt. He is deliberately setting up a confrontation with the Pharisees and the Herodians and the Romans, whereas before he avoided such.
12-14: Another out-of-character incident is reported as Jesus curses a fig tree for not producing figs out of season.
15-19: And yet another incident that just doesn’t sound like the Jesus we’ve been reading about. We cannot escape the conclusion that he is deliberately provoking the powers that be, and successfully. However, the powers that be realize they cannot act rashly because of his popularity, but they add this incident to their growing list of complaints about Jesus.
20-24: The poor fig tree has died, and Jesus uses that fact as an object lesson on the power of prayer.
25-26: Mark does not include the prayer Jesus taught his disciples which we know as “the Lord’s Prayer,” but some of the sentiments of that prayer are expressed here.
27-33: The next day, which would have been a Tuesday, Jesus finally gets the confrontation he has been seeking. The chief priests, scribes and elders gang up on him and demand to know what authority he claims. In response he throws John the baptizer at them and asks where they think his authority had come from. They are stopped, for they cannot publicly admit their real opinion of John. Jesus responds by saying that he won’t answer their question, either, but of course the answer has been implied; his authority comes from heaven, just like John’s.
Mark 12 (day 969) 26 August 2012
1-12: The “Parable of the Wicked Tenants” is based on Isaiah 5:1-8, where Israel is denounced as a vineyard that yields only wild grapes. Jesus adds several elements: the vineyard is leased to tenants, who ignore the owner’s demands for the rent and try to steal the vineyard by killing the heir. Jesus is deliberately escalating the conflict with the religious authorities by implying that they have neglected their duties as the keepers of the vineyard and sought only to be in control and enrich themselves.
13-17: The Pharisees and Herodians come back with a test for him having to do with paying taxes to Caesar. Jesus’ ingenious response silences them.
18-27: So the Sadducees give it a try. They think they have found a kink in the idea of the resurrection; suppose a woman marries and is widowed seven times? Whose wife will she be? Jesus’ reply is logical, if you live in a culture that considers the primary purpose of marriage to be procreation. He goes on, however, with a clever argument from scripture, pointing out that the Bible refers to people long dead in the present tense.
28-34: Now a scribe takes up the cause and challenges Jesus with a question that fueled one of the popular debates of the day: which is the greatest commandment? Jesus’ reply is also in keeping with the current wisdom, that the whole law is wrapped up in loving God and neighbor. This particular scribe receives a compliment, in contrast to Jesus’ usual estimate of scribes (see verse 38, for example).
35-37: Now Jesus takes the initiative to confound those who are seeking to confound him. It is another clever play on words that challenges the popular opinion about who the Messiah will be. Curiously, it challenges the gospels’ own presentation of Jesus as “the son of David;” but in Mark’s gospel the only person to refer to him thus is blind Bartimaeus (see 10:47). Mark opens his gospel saying it is about “Jesus Christ, the son of God.”
38-40: The scribes are roundly criticized for feathering their own nests at the expense of widows. This nicely sets up the next scene …
41-44: …which features the fiduciary faithfulness of a widow.
Mark 13 (day 970) 27 August 2012
1-2: The disciples are in awe of the temple architecture. Jesus tells them that the thing they are admiring is not something that can be depended on, but rather something that is destined to be destroyed. The destruction of the temple took place in 70 A.D., the Romans’ response to an attempted Jewish revolution. The disciples are taken by surprise by this, and later in private they ask him when such a thing will happen, and how will they know it’s about to take place. Jesus avoids giving a direct answer, but tells them the signs are things that are almost always with us: wars, rumors of wars, earthquakes and famines.
3-13: Jesus tells them they will have to defend themselves before the authorities. Notice that he doesn’t give them any way out of this: “They will hand you over to councils,” he says. He paints a picture of the persecution that would plague the early church, and assures them that they need not worry about how to defend themselves. They should simply rely on the Holy Spirit.
14-23: The “desolating sacrilege” is borrowed from Daniel 9:27, which refers to the placement of pagan idols in the inner sanctuary of the temple. Commentators speculate that Jesus was referring to an incident in 40 A.D. when the emperor Caligula tried to have a statue of himself placed there or to the rebellion of 66-70 A.D. when the temple was defiled by Roman soldiers. I think Jesus was simply saying that the time was soon coming when there would be violence and the temple would be defiled, and his point is that they should be prepared for such a thing to happen.
24-27: The end result, however, will be the victory of God over the evil powers in the world.
28-31: Therefore, whenever there is war, earthquake and famine, they should know that God is near and not lose faith.
32-37: Jesus refuses, however, to put a date on things. Keep the faith. Don’t let your defenses down. Continue in the way that I am teaching you. Don’t fall asleep at the wheel.
Mark 14 (day 971) 28 August 2012
1-2: Mark has gradually built up the growing conflict between Jesus and the authorities. This is on Wednesday. The Passover begins at sundown on Friday. They want to have Jesus killed before Friday evening.
3-9: This story, or a variation of it, is told in all four gospels. Mark’s account is most like Matthew’s except that Matthew specifies that the disciples are the ones who see the woman’s action as an extravagant waste (Matthew 26:8). Luke tells a similar story, but in a much different setting in which the woman is a sinner seeking redemption and no mention is made of anointing Jesus for burial (Luke 7:36-39). John sets the story 6 days before the Passover at the home of Lazarus in Bethany, and it is Lazarus’ sister Mary who anoints him, and Judas Iscariot is the one who objects. In Mark, the incident is clearly presented as a pre-crucifixion ritual; a sign that the events about to unfold are irrevocable.
10-11: The pieces are all falling into place as Judas provides the authorities with the opportunity they’ve been seeking.
12-16: Jesus was crucified on a Friday and was buried before sundown, that is, before the Sabbath began. All accounts agree on that point. Mark’s chronology is problematic, and scholars have long sought for a solution, including speculation that different groups of Jews may have been using different ways of reckoning the Day of Preparation and the beginning of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Another puzzle is that Jesus is observing the Passover meal with his disciples, when it was intended to be a family observance. Once again, however, we see that Jesus has made some advance preparations to arrange for a final meal with his disciples; a man carrying a water jar in the city would have been conspicuous.
17-21: Jesus gets right to the point; one of them will betray him. Mark’s description of the last supper tells us that the main purpose of it was to give Jesus an opportunity to once again prepare his disciples for what was about to happen. His pronouncement of woe to the one who betrays him doesn’t sound like Jesus, and I wonder if he says it not so much as a judgment but simply as a prediction that the betrayer will not be able to live with himself.
22-25: The actions we call the institution of the Lord’s Supper are not in keeping with the traditional Passover meal, another indication that Jesus intends this meal to be a last lesson for his disciples. Instead of individual cups and pieces of bread, he has them share one loaf broken for them and a common cup, a beautiful symbol of their connectedness in him.
26-31: The meal was in a house in Jerusalem. Jesus was staying in the nearby village of Bethany, so after the meal they head in that direction, to the gate that leads out of the city toward the Mount of Olives. On the way Jesus informs them that they will all desert him, quoting a line from the prophets (Zechariah 13:7). Once again, he insists that he will be raised up, and now informs them that he will return to Galilee, implying that they should join him there. Peter, of course, denies that he will desert Jesus, and Jesus tells him that before the night is over he will have denied him three times. In a sense, they are both right: Peter doesn’t completely desert him, but follows him to Caiaphas’ house where he denies three times that he knows Jesus.
32-42: Gethsemane is an olive grove on the Mount of Olives. For the third time, Jesus singles out Peter, James and John, and takes them with him to pray. He prays that his crucifixion might be avoided, but offers himself willingly if God so chooses. The disciples, predictably, can’t stay awake. You might say they haven’t really been awake through the whole gospel.
43-50: Judas arrives with the temple guards to arrest Jesus. He had been with the disciples at the last supper (see verse 17), and Mark doesn’t tell us at what point he left them to go make his arrangements with the chief priests (but see John 13:27). There is a skirmish, and the high priest’s servant is wounded. Jesus calls a halt to the fighting and surrenders to his captors. The disciples do exactly what he told them they would do.
51-52: There is, however, someone else in the shadows, a “certain young man” who is otherwise unidentified. Who is he, and why does Mark alone mention him? Some have speculated that the young man is none other than Mark himself, which makes him an eye witness to the arrest of Jesus.
53-65: There is a gathering at the high priest’s house, obviously in anticipation of Jesus’ arrest. This is probably not the official Jewish court known as the San Hedrin, but rather an informal gathering of conspirators who, with the high priest, have determined that Jesus must be killed. Peter follows, bless his heart. An unofficial trial ensues, with conflicting testimony against Jesus. The high priest finally asks Jesus point blank, “Are you the Messiah?” Jesus replies with the same reply Moses received at Mt. Sinai; “I am” (see Exodus 3:14). He then makes the statement that gives them the charge to take to Pilate, that he will be exalted to the right hand of God and come with “the clouds of heaven,” the angelic host. This would have been seen as a threat to the ruling authorities. In response Jesus is condemned to death; that is to say, they decide that they now have evidence to demand his execution. His suffering begins at their hands; he is blindfolded and beaten before Pilate ever sees him.
66-72: Mark now returns to the saga of Simon Peter. In spite of his vow to the contrary he simply cannot bring himself in the pressure of the moment to admit that he is a follower of Jesus. Three times he brushes off approaches from bystanders, and then the rooster crows and he remembers what Jesus told him only hours before. He is finally overwhelmed by the stress of the situation and breaks down and cries. He has denied Jesus; and yet, somebody has to survive to tell the story, to carry on the movement Jesus started. What could he have accomplished by dying with Jesus?
Mark 15 (day 972) 29 August 2012
1-5: Now the chief priests bring their case to the council, called the San Hedrin. They officially vote to refer Jesus to Pilate. Although the Jews apparently could carry out an execution (see Acts 7:58), only the Roman governor could order a crucifixion, which the chief priests prefer because it takes the blame off them and is a more public event allowing time for more people to see. Pilate asks Jesus point blank if he is the King of the Jews, and Jesus’ reply is “You say so,” and the “you” is in singular form in the Greek Bible. In other words, Jesus replies, “You, Pilate, say so.” It is a curious response, and may indicate that Jesus senses that Pilate has already made his decision. Beyond that Jesus refuses to say more; following the same pattern as the night before when he refused to address the general charges but responded to the specific question.
6-15: This is the only evidence in ancient literature that there was a custom of releasing a prisoner to mollify the crowds, but if it was peculiar to Pilate’s reign that is not a significant absence. The earliest accounts of Jesus’ trial and crucifixion recalled that Pilate did indeed offer to release either Jesus or a bandit named Barabbas. The chief priests had prepared for this contingency by arranging ahead of time for the crowd to clamor for Jesus’ crucifixion. Mark paints Pilate as being sympathetic to Jesus, but all we know about him would indicate that he was contemptuous of the people he ruled, and I can picture him conducting this scene as if he were playing a game with them.
16-20: Jesus is handed over to the soldiers of the Roman cohort who treat him with utter contempt and mockery.
21-24: Matthew, Mark and Luke relate that Simon of Cyrene was compelled to carry the cross for Jesus, while John says he carried the cross himself (John 19:17). Mark is the only one to identify Simon as the father of Alexander and Rufus, who may have been prominent leaders in the early church (see, for example, Romans 16:13). At Golgotha, an appropriate though grisly name for the place of execution, they crucified him.
25-32: The interview with Pilate could not have taken long, for Jesus is crucified about 9:00 in the morning, hung out between two criminals who take part in taunting him for claiming to be the Messiah. (Only Luke reports that one of the thieves is repentant — see Luke 23:39-43.) The charge of claiming to destroy and rebuild the temple seems to be the primary subject of the derision aimed at Jesus, that and his claim to be the Messiah. A naked man hanging on a cross is not a picture of the Messiah that anyone in Jerusalem would have imagined, not even the disciples.
33-39: The three hours of darkness are symbolic, as there is no record of an eclipse of the sun on any date that is remotely possible for the crucifixion. A heavy cloud layer would likely have been perceived as a divine comment, however. Mark reports only one thing Jesus speaks from the cross, the opening line from Psalm 22. It is impossible to judge whether the presentation of the sour wine-soaked sponge is an honest, though superstitious, effort to elicit the appearance of Elijah, or just a contemptuous act designed to draw the laughter of the crowds.
40-41: Mark names Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joses, and Salome as witnesses to the crucifixion, along with “many other women” who had apparently been followers of Jesus for some time. This detail gives us a little insight into the organization surrounding Jesus and the supporting cast that made his ministry possible.
42-47: All four gospels tell about Joseph of Arimathea claiming Jesus’ body. Mark and Luke identify him as member of the council. Luke tells us that he did not agree with their decision about Jesus (Luke 23:50-51). Matthew tells us he was a rich man who was also a disciple of Jesus (Matthew 27:57), so again we have evidence that Jesus’ ministry had garnered more support than we might have guessed to this point. John says he was a secret disciple of Jesus, and also relates that Nicodemus joined Joseph in preparing the body of Jesus for burial. Only Mark tells us that Pilate has to verify Jesus is dead before he grants permission. Joseph wraps the body in a new linen shroud and places it in a new tomb, which Matthew tells us is Joseph’s own tomb. He secures the body with a stone over the entrance while the two Maries look on.
Mark 16 (day 973) 30 August 2012
1-8: Mark’s account of the resurrection has some interesting differences from the other gospels which you may want to explore; for our purposes we’ll stick to Mark’s account. Three women, the same three who were named as witnesses to the crucifixion (15:40), purchase the burial spices on Saturday evening after sundown and bring the spices to the tomb early Sunday morning. The stone that had sealed the tomb had been rolled back, and they enter the tomb. They are startled to see a white-robed “young man” sitting there who tells them Jesus has been raised. He tells them to go tell the disciples and Peter that Jesus is going ahead of them to Galilee, which is a repeat of the instructions he has already given them (14:28). Perhaps Peter is singled out because of his insistence that he would die with Jesus and his spectacular failure in Caiaphas’ courtyard. Mark reports that the women are so unprepared for such news that they fail to tell anyone.
At this point contemporary scholars make much of the fact that in more recently discovered manuscripts the gospel ends here. A shorter ending appears in some sources that simply alludes to the disciples being sent out into the world to proclaim the good news.
As for the more traditional and familiar ending for Mark’s gospel, we see that it attempts to correct an abrupt and unsatisfying ending at verse 8 by adding information included in the other gospels:
9-11: This appears to be a summary of John’s resurrection account (John 20:1-10).
12-13: This one mentions an incident reported in Luke’s gospel (Luke 24:13-35).
14: This looks like the appearance to the disciples a week later as mentioned in John’s gospel (John 20:26-29).
15: And this calls to mind the “Great Commission” (Matthew 28:19).
16-18: These verses seem to summarize some of the incidents reported in the book of Acts.
19-20: Yet another broad summation of “the rest of the story.” In any case, it is unlikely that Mark’s gospel would have ended at verse 8, and it is unfortunate that the original ending was lost. If the women never told anyone about the resurrection, and if Jesus did not appear to any of them, there would have been no reason for Mark to write his account in the first place, let alone begin his tale with “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” It has been obvious throughout that Mark believed Jesus was indeed resurrected.