Monthly Archives: March, 2021

The Passion According to Mark: Chapter 16

Points made by Raymond Brown in A Risen Christ in Eastertime, p. 9-22)

  • (Regarding the stone over the tomb…)  Notice the contrast between human incapacity and God’s power.  When Mark reports that the women saw the stone already rolled back, he is using the passive to indicate divine action.  God has undone the sealing that the Sanhedrin member Joseph of Arimathea so carefully placed.
  • A young man sitting on the right side (a place of dignity) clothed with a white robes surely a divine spokesman; and the amazement that greets him is typical of the reaction to the appearance of angels.  They are seeking “Jesus of Nazareth, the crucified.”  The women now know that their well-meaning search for Jesus was in vain.
  • See 14:28.  The angelic youth hearkens back to that promise of Jesus to meet the disciples in Galilee after he is raised.  Those who were “scattered” (14:27) by the events of the passion at Jerusalem will once more become a community when they return to the place where they were first called together as disciples.  [It’s like this is the place of safety, the place of coming home, their hang-out.  If you saw West Side Story, it’s like the Jets returning to Doc’s Store after the rumble.]
  • Throughout the Gospel Mark has shown how those who followed Jesus failed because they did not understand that Jesus had to suffer or because they were unwilling to accompany him into his passion.  Mark somberly insists that none can escape suffering in the following of Jesus.  Amidst Mark’s readers surely there were some who had been tested by persecution and had failed.  They could find encouragement in the story of Jesus’ own disciples, all of whom failed during the passion.  But others among Mark’s readers would not have been so tested.  There is a parallel between them and the women who appear on the scene only after the crucifixion and observe his death without having become involved even in his burial.  Like the women they are will-inclined, but after they hear the proclamation of the resurrection and receive a commission to proclaim what has happened to Jesus, they too can fail if they become afraid.  Mark’s enduring warning, then, would be that not even the resurrection guarantees true faith in Jesus’ followers, for the resurrection cannot be appropriated unless one has been tried.  People may say that they believe firmly in the risen Christ, but they must realize existentially in their own lives that the one they are following is none other than Jesus the Nazarene who was crucifiedRelate this to your own life.  Have times of trial led you to appreciate life even more?  How much do we let fear make our decisions?
  • In “The Longer Ending” (which is debated whether or not Mark wrote), Mary Magdalene is introduced as if she had not just been, and there is other grammatical awkwardness in who “he” is.  Both Mary and the 2 disciples find courage to share their experience of Jesus (to the disciples “in another form”), but they are not believed.  The risen Lord is not to be deterred and finally shows himself to the Eleven when they are at table.  Those who have just been upbraided for lack of faith and hardness of heart (especially Peter who is named!) are now entrusted with preaching the gospel to the whole world.   

Mark seems to have purposefully refused to allow his readers to become passive spectators of the greatest human/divine drama in history.  That is why he left us with so many unanswered questions after verse 8, (M. Birmingham’s Word & Worship, p. 412).

Reflection Questions

  1. Why does the man in white refer to, “His disciples and Peter,” rather than simply, “His disciples?”
  2. What does this passage teach us about God?  What does this passage teach us about mankind? 
  3. What are your feelings if the Gospel did end with verse 8?

The Passion According to Mark: Session 3 (15: 1 – 20) The Roman Trial

Points made by Raymond Brown in A Crucified Christ in Holy Week (p. 28-29)

  • Moving from the Sanhedrin Trial to the Roman Trial, the issue is immediately shifted from the religious to the political:  “Are you the King of the Jews?” – a question about a title hitherto never used for Jesus by friend or foe, and therefore presumably reflecting the interests or fears of the Romans.
  • In Mark’s portrayal, the chief priests, having failed to move Pilate to condemn Jesus, are more successful with a crowd that has come to ask for the release of a prisoner on the feast.  
  • “Why, what evil has he done?”, serves to underline how outrageously Jesus is treated by those who might have been expected to be enthusiastic for their “King.”…The impression, then, is not one of the favorable Roman and the hostile Jew – rather it is of a Jesus who had no support on any side…Disciple, Jewish leader, and Roman leader all have a share of guilt.   

Why does Mark tell the story in such a way that Jesus is so deserted?  M. Powell theorizes that the disciples of Jesus (heroes of the church) had nothing to commend themselves other than the fact that they had been chosen by Jesus.  It is Jesus who calls them and gathers them into his family.  He offers them the secret of the kingdom and sometimes provides them with private explanations of his teaching.  He empowers them for mission.  He does all this in spite of the fact that they seem obtuse and self-obsessed and show few signs of improvement.  Despite their failings, Jesus keeps them as his disciples.  Discipleship is a relationship established by the call of Christ and defined by his own faithfulness, not by any merit that can be attributed to the disciples themselves (Introducing the New Testament, p. 143).

We know very little of Barabbas, only that he was in prison with other rebels for killing someone.  In Matthew’s Gospel, he is noted as “[Jesus] Barabbas.  The footnotes in NAB St. Joseph Edition say, “It is possible that the double name is the original reading; Jesus was a common Jewish name, but it is perhaps omitted here for reverential reasons.  The Aramaic name Barabbas means “son of the father”, the irony of the choice offered between him and Jesus.  Matthew titles him as a notorious prisoner and John as a bandit. 

Reflection Questions

  1. Verses 6-12 refer to several different leaders: Pilate, the Roman governor; Barabbas, an insurrectionary leader; the “King of the Jews” – a term applied by Pilate to Jesus; the chief priests who reportedly “stirred up the crowd.” What elements of leadership do these leaders seem to represent? Are any of these elements or aspects of leadership part of Jesus’ Lordship? Are any of these leaders similar to Jesus in any ways, do we think? How are they different from Jesus? What does any of this tell us about leadership? About Jesus?
  2. What do you think Jesus’ lack of responsiveness should teach us today?
  3. A cohort at full strength would comprise 600 men. What does this reveal about Pilate’s concern over crucifying Jesus?
  4. Much mystery stays with Barabbas.  Was he the actual murderer?  Was he fighting for justice against the Romans?  Did he profess his faith in Jesus after this incident?  If you were due to hang and someone volunteered to hang for you, how would you feel?  

The Passion according to Mark – Session 2 (14: 53-72)

Points made by Raymond Brown in A Crucified Christ in Holy Week (p. 25-27)

  • Mark has left the testimony about the destruction of the Temple incoherent for his readers, for he never explains what is false in the words the Sanhedrin attribute to Jesus:
    • Did Jesus never say anything like this about the Temple?  Or maybe he did with a different tone than intended here?
    • Did he prophecy destruction and restoration but not make himself the agent (John 2:19)?
    • Or is it more complicated…is Mark offering a clue for later Christians that the Temple would be replaced by the Church?
  • See the connections with Isaiah’s Suffering Servant (53:7, 50:6).
  • “You will see the Son of Man coming with the clouds of heaven,” shows Jesus’ conviction that even his enemies will be forced to recognize his triumph.  The warning is rejected; not a voice is raised in jesus’ defense.
  • Some scholars think Peter may have been cursing Jesus.  This would truly have Peter reaching the depths of degradation in his discipleship.
  • Note the irony that at the very moment when Jesus is being mocked by the Sanhedrin challenge to prophesy, his prophecies are coming true in Peter’s actions. 

What is the Sanhedrin?  The word ‘Sanhedrin’ – sunedrion in Greek – is an exact translation of the word ‘consistory’:  it meant an assembly, a senate, a boule, as they would have said in Athens, or perhaps even a permanent commission; and it sat at Jerusalem.  By the time of this Gospel, we see the Sanhedrin solely as a tribunal, as the supreme court.  It also played the part of a pontifical college, charged with the study of religious question, and that of a political council.  It voted the laws, it had its own police, and it intervened in relations with the occupying Romans, H. Daniel-Rops’ Daily Life in the TIme of Jesus, p. 53.  R. Brown expands on the Sanhedrin in An Introduction to the New Testament that Josephus, a 1st century historian, seemed to indicate that the group was no longer a fixed number of members and may just have been called together when there was an issue or a need for advice or support, p. 146). 

From R. Leonard SJ’s Where the Hell is God?, p. 42:  God the Father’s role in the context of accompanying his Son in and through the crucible of anxiety in the garden might be seen in terms of a just and good army commander.  A good friend of mine who has led troops into battle in Afghanistan says, “I love my troops so much that I would never want to commit them to death.  I have gone with them into battle only so that we can all serve the higher good of liberating people from tyranny and offering them a better life than anything they’ve known before…the higher calling is to remain focused on the mission, and be committed to the people, among the poorest people in the world, to whom we are sent to serve.  Believing in the rightness of the cause means we can overcome our worst anxieties, look death in the face, and make sure evil does not have the last word.

Reflection Questions

  1. Where do you see yourself in this story?  What feelings in your gut are stirred?
  2. How do you react to confrontation?  How do Jesus and Peter react?
  3. Pretend you had to explain these events to someone who doesn’t know anything about Jesus.  How would you do it?  
  4. What does it mean to you to have a savior that went through all of this?