Saturday, December 22, 2012



This is the forty-fourth installment, comprising Act 6, Scene 7, chapter 14:53-65, in the online commentary on the Gospel of Mark, which I am blogging on throughout the liturgical year. Please see the forty-third installment here. Links to the entire series are available in one spot at The Complete Gospel of Mark Online Commentary.

This is my division of the Gospel:


Prologue,  1:1-13;
Act  1, 1:14-3:6;
Act 2, 3:7-6:6;
Act 3, 6:7-8:26;
Act 4, 8:27-10:52;
Act 5, 11:1-13:37;
Act 6, 14:1-16:8(20).

Scene 7: 14:53-65

53 They took Jesus to the high priest; and all the chief priests, the elders, and the scribes were assembled. 54 Peter had followed him at a distance, right into the courtyard of the high priest; and he was sitting with the guards, warming himself at the fire. 55 Now the chief priests and the whole council were looking for testimony against Jesus to put him to death; but they found none. 56 For many gave false testimony against him, and their testimony did not agree. 57 Some stood up and gave false testimony against him, saying, 58 "We heard him say, "I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another, not made with hands.' " 59 But even on this point their testimony did not agree. 60 Then the high priest stood up before them and asked Jesus, "Have you no answer? What is it that they testify against you?" 61 But he was silent and did not answer. Again the high priest asked him, "Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?" 62 Jesus said, "I am; and "you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power,' and "coming with the clouds of heaven.' " 63 Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, "Why do we still need witnesses? 64 You have heard his blasphemy! What is your decision?" All of them condemned him as deserving death. 65 Some began to spit on him, to blindfold him, and to strike him, saying to him, "Prophesy!" The guards also took him over and beat him. (NRSV)


In Act 6, Scene 7, the dramatic tension which Mark has been building throughout the whole Gospel begins the final ascent to the summit. Jesus has been arrested and has been taken to the high priest, who is surrounded by “all the chief priests, the elders, and the scribes” (14:53). Thecrowd, once again, is no longer a friend to Jesus; the crowd is Jesus’ opposition. The scene places in relief, too, the fact that Jesus is now alone. In the previous verse (14:52), all of Jesus’ friends had abandoned him. Jesus solitariness is only increased by the note that “Peter had followed him at a distance, right into the courtyard of the high priest; and he was sitting with the guards, warming himself at the fire” (14:54). The one friend whom Mark names skulks in the background. One can visualize a panorama of the scene, in which a camera pans over the whole crowd to pick Peter out in the courtyard. Peter is hoping he is not seen, but he is drawn to his teacher, unable to let him or the hope he had in Jesus go. As the camera remains on Peter, we see fear on his face.

This night trial begins with “the chief priests and the whole council…looking for testimony against Jesus to put him to death; but they found none. For many gave false testimony against him, and their testimony did not agree” (14:55-56). This detail from Mark about the nature of the trial indicates that however much the authorities desired Jesus’ death, they would not take trumped up charges and were willing to distinguish between false and true testimony.  If this truly was meeting of the “whole council” (synedrion; Hebrew: Sanhedrin), that is, the official Temple council, it would not do to try someone unjustly. Even if it was an ad hoc meeting of the council, justice must be seen to be done. The question on our minds should be of what they will find him guilty. What exactly has he done wrong?

Mark continues to give us details of the trial scene:

Some stood up and gave false testimony against him, saying, “We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another, not made with hands.’” But even on this point their testimony did not agree. Then the high priest stood up before them and asked Jesus, “Have you no answer? What is it that they testify against you?” (14:57-60)

Here is the “Messianic Secret,” perhaps better named the “Messianic Silence,” on display. Jesus was “silent and did not answer” (14:61). Even if the charge is true – “I will destroy this temple” - they do not understand who Jesus is and what he means by “building another.” Everything in the trial hinges on identity or “mistaken identity:” who is Jesus to do or say the things he does? Who is Jesus to claim to destroy the Temple? If the officials at the trial do not understand Jesus’ identity, how can they make sense of his identity?  As readers, we have seen Mark unravel, bit by bit, the nature of his mission and so his identity, but the Council seeks to understand his deeds and sayings in the context of a man they have already decided cannot be the Messiah, cannot be the one the people await. His words must be foolish, futile and perhaps even against the law.

The high priest presses the case, with the only question that in this trial’s context can mean anything: “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?” (14:61). It is here that Jesus breaks his silence, not for a small inner circle, not for the Apostles, but for a crowd and a crowd which comprises the official opposition to Jesus. Asked directly, he cannot deny the truth:

 Jesus said, “I am; and ‘you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power,’ and “coming with the clouds of heaven.’” (14:62)

Jesus responds by citing a part of Daniel 7:13, but he evokes the entire passage, including the apocalyptic scenario as a whole. His “yes” is placed in the context of the eschatological end and his role as the agent of God who will accompany the end. He equates the Messiah, the Son of God, with the eschatological redeemer, called in Daniel the “Son of Man.”[1]

 The high priest’s response to Jesus is that he “tore his clothes” and asked, “Why do we still need witnesses? You have heard his blasphemy! What is your decision?” (14:63-64). This is a difficult charge, not in terms of the drama of the scene, as Jesus reveals who he is and his opponents, finally hearing what they have suspected all along from his own mouth, seize the chance to condemn him. The difficulty of the charge is the charge itself: is what Jesus has said blasphemy?  Leviticus 24:16 reads, “One who blasphemes the name of the Lord shall be put to death; the whole congregation shall stone the blasphemer. Aliens as well as citizens, when they blaspheme the Name, shall be put to death.” Has Jesus blasphemed the name of the Lord by claiming to be God’s eschatological redeemer, the Messiah, the one who comes with the clouds at the end of time? Scholars are divided on the answer, with some pointing out that the Messiah was not equated with God at this time, so why would Jesus’ claim be blasphemous? Others have said that making such a claim about oneself reveals a hubris that is equivalent to equating oneself with God and so could lead to a charge of blasphemy. What we can say for certain is that even if Mark uses the charge loosely, which is possible, it is Jesus’ Messiahship and authority that is on trial. It is Jesus’ identity that leads to the court’s charge.

Once the charge is made, “All of them condemned him as deserving death. Some began to spit on him, to blindfold him, and to strike him, saying to him, ‘Prophesy!’ The guards also took him over and beat him” (14:64-65). Though the trial seemed to be scrupulous in determining what was false and true testimony, it is clear that the intention and hope was for Jesus to be found guilty. Why else would the authorities seek out a betrayer so that they could arrest Jesus late at night with a crowd? Why else did they desire to arrest him if not suspicious of who he was or who he claimed to be?

The violence against Jesus begins immediately after his response to the question of whether he is the Messiah. Mark has drawn the lines here clearly: they cannot see the Messiah in their midst because they have known from the beginning it is not him. As they hit him and say to him, ‘Prophesy!,’ they have no idea that the blows themselves which he now suffers are indeed the beginning of the fulfillment of prophecy. In the Passion predictions, Jesus said that he will suffer violence and be beaten in order for the Messiah to complete his mission. Every time they strike him they believe him to be an imposter; each blow against Jesus is a sign for Mark’s readers that the plan is being realized.
 

John W. Martens
Follow me on Twitter @BibleJunkies



[1] Current thinking sees this phrase as indicating not a title but a description and so the NRSV translates Daniel 7:13 as “one like a human being.” The writing on “Son of Man” is voluminous, but much of it worthy of reading.  A good place to start is with a recent blog post by Larry Hurtado which has some good suggestions for readings on the topic. Whether "Son of Man" is titular, I think it is clear in Mark 14:62, however, that Mark has Jesus use the phrase like a title in his answer to the chief priest.