Mark 12-13

Good morning! Today Mark’s gospel starts out describing Jesus in heated conversation with “them”. Because the context is carried over from yesterday, looking back to Mark 11 we remember that Jesus is speaking with “chief priests, the scribes, and the elders”. Remember also that Jesus has ridden into Jerusalem, and is currently at the beginning of his final week. This context helps us make sense of the pitched battle of ideas in Mark 12, and the “Little Apocalypse” of Jesus in Mark 13.

I have to hand it to Jesus—he fearlessly confronts the challenges of his ideological opponents, right in the heart of Jerusalem, at the center of Sadducee, scribal, and Pharisee power. In Mark 12 these various groups send one challenger after another with arguments designed to trip up Jesus so they can arrest him and silence his meddlesome critiques. Jesus starts it off with the parable of the wicked tenants, a brazen move since it is a thinly veiled accusation that the religious leadership are the tenants, unfaithful to God and betraying God’s messengers. When they come after him with the question about taxes, hoping that he’ll either support Rome or say something treasonous, he finds a way out of that trap as well. Asking for a coin does several things. First, it shows the sanctimonious Pharisees nevertheless carrying around the image of the emperor (and an announcement of Caesar’s divinity). This was idolatry on its face, at least as the Pharisees described it, so Jesus has exposed them as less “perfect” than they claim to be. Second, Jesus’ question about the image on the coin calls attention to the image of God on human beings as well. Give to God the human being, Jesus implies, because the emperor’s coin and image mean nothing eternal. Several other conversations with various factions finish out the chapter, including Jesus’ commendation of the widow’s offering. I love that he recognizes generosity in proportion to what one has, rather than how much is given.

Mark 13 is sometimes called the “Little Apocalypse”, because it holds in potent connection a series of prophecies about terrible things to come. Scholars debate whether Mark was written before or immediately after the Jerusalem temple’s destruction in 70CE by Rome because of continuing Jewish rebellion. If the book was written afterward, Mark clearly had vivid imagery which he could put in the mouth of Jesus, foretelling destruction of the temple. If it was written before the Jerusalem temple’s destruction though, Jesus still had centuries of apocalyptic warnings from later prophets (Joel, Daniel, etc) to draw from. Regardless of the exact timing, Jesus warns of doom and gloom on the horizon. The “desolating sacrilege” in 13:14 was likely a coded reference to some existing idol that had been set up in or near the temple, something that Mark’s first audience would have recognized with ease. In this time especially the faithful will face persecution, and will need both endurance and a bit of good fortune to make it through. So we end today with Jesus’ exhortation to watchfulness: “Keep awake.” Happy reading!

Read Mark 12-13.

Please join discussion of this passage at the Daily Bible Facebook group, or comment below. The passage for tomorrow is Mark 14. Thanks for reading!

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