The Passion Sequence (Mark 14-15)
MARCAN TRIPTYCH: CONSPIRACY AGAINST JESUS, ANOINTMENT AS MESSIAH TO BE BURIED
14:1 Now it was two days before the Passover and Feast of Unleavened Bread; the chief priests and scribes were looking for a way to arrest him by stealth and put him to death. 2 They felt they could not do it during the Festival or else people would riot.1
3 He was dining at the house of Simon the leper at Bethany when a woman2 came in with a jar of priceless oil of nard–the real thing! — she broke open the jar and poured the oil out over his head. 4 Some who were there were upset and wondered why this oil should be wasted like this; 5 surely it could have been sold for more than 300 denarii and the proceeds distributed to beggars; they were really snarling at her. 6 But Jesus said, “Let her do it! Why upset her? She’s done a beautiful thing for me; 7 you have beggars with you all the time–any time you wish,you can do something for them, but you won’t have me at any and every time.3 8 She did what was in her power: in anticipation she has oiled my body for burial. 9 I assure you, in all the world wherever the gospel is proclaimed, what this woman and what she has done will be remembered.
10 Then4 Judas Iscariot, one of the Twelve, went off to the chief priests in order to deliver Jesus into their hands. 11 When they heard what he had to say, they were delighted and promised to give him money, and from that time he began looking for an opportunity to deliver Jesus.
12 On the first day of the festival of Unleavened Bread, the day on which the Passover sacrifice was customarily offered,5 Jesus’ disciples said to him, “Where do you want us to go to arrange for you to eat the Passover?”6 13 Then he sent two of his disciples with instructions, “Go into the city: you’ll be met by a fellow carrying a pitcher of water; follow him, 14 and wherever he takes you, tell the master of the house that your master has asked, ‘Where’s the room where I am to eat the Passover with my disciples?’ 15 Then he will show you an large upper room ready with couches; that’s where you should make preparations for us.” 16 And the disciples left, went into the city, found everything in accordance with his directions and prepared the Passover.7
Passover celebrated amid forebodings
17 When the day grew late Jesus arrived with the Twelve. 18 And while they were settled down and dining, Jesus said, “It’s a fact that one of you who is eating with me is going to betray me. 19 At this they began to be grieved and to ask him individually, “It’s not me, is it?” 20 He said, “It’s one of the twelve, the one who is dipping his hand in the bowl beside me. 21 The fact is that the Son of Man goes his course as Scripture says of him, but woe to that person by whose hand the Son of Man is betrayed. It would be better for that person if he’d never been born.”8
22 And as they were eating, he took bread, blessed it, gave thanks, and gave it to them,9 telling them, “Take this: this is my body.”10 23 Then he took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, and they all drank from it. 24 He told them, “this is my covenant blood that is poured out for many.11 25 I tell you the truth: I shall not drink any of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in God’s realm.”12
26 Then they sang a hymn and left to go to the Mount of Olives. 27 Here he told them, “You will all stumble now; scripture says, ‘I am going to strike the shepherd and the sheep will stampede.’13 28 Yet after I have risen I’ll go ahead of you into Galilee.”14 29 Then Peter said to him, “All the others may stumble, but I will not!” 30 Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth: this very day before the cock crows twice you will deny me three times.” 31 But Peter kept saying emphatically, “Even if I must die together with of, I’ll never deny you!” And all the others made the same affirmation.15
Gethsemane: The Test16
And they came to a place called Gethsemane; there he told his disciples, “Sit down here while I pray.” 33 Then he took along with him Peter and James and John and he began to be anxious and gloomy. 34 He told them, “I am deeply disturbed, even on the verge of death:17 stay here and be vigilant.18 35 Then he went onwards a it and sank down upon the ground and kept praying, that, if possible, the critical moment19 should pass him by. 36 What he said was, “Dear Father, everything lies in your power; take this cup20 away from me; and yet, may what comes to pass not be what I want but what you want.” 37 And he came back and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, “Simon,” are you sleeping? Couldn’t you stay awake for one hour? 38 Stay awake and pray that you don’t come to the Test; the will to act is forceful, but human nature cannot make it happen.”21 39 Then he went off again and prayed the same prayer as previously. 40 Yet again he came back and found them sleeping: their eyes were heavy with sleep and they were unable to respond to him. 41 Then yet a third time22 he came and said to them, “Go on sleeping and get your rest! Enough now! The critical moment has arrived: see: the Son of Man is being delivered into the hands of sinners. 42 Get up and let’s go: see: the one who betrays me is at hand.”
43 And even as he was saying this, Judas, one of the Twelve, was at hand accompanied by a band of men armed with swords and clubs; they had been sent by the high priests and the scribes and elders.23 44 The betrayer had given them a signal in advance, and said, “Whichever one I kiss is the one: seize him and take him away securely. 45 As soon as he arrived he came up to Jesus and said to him, “Teacher!” and kissed him. 46 Then the armed men seized him and held him fast. 47 One of the bystanders drew his sword and struck at the high-priest’s slave, thereby slicing off his ear. 48 In response Jesus said to them, “Have you come to seize me with swords and clubs as if I were a robber ? 49 I was right before your eyes every day in the Temple teaching and you didn’t seize me; but it’s all right–Scripture must be fulfilled.24 50 Then all his followers deserted him and fled.25 51 But a certain young man was following who had on only a linen cloth on his bare body, and the ruffians tried to seize him, 52 but he dropped his linen cloth behind him and fled naked.26
Denial by Peter, Confession by Jesus: Marcan Triptych27
53 Then they took Jesus off to the High Priest, whereupon all the High Priests and Elders and Scribes convened. 54 And Peter had followed along at a distance behind right up and into the High Priest’s courtyard and was seated among the servants, even warming himself at the fire.28
55 Then the High Priests and the whole Sanhedrin began a quest for evidence against Jesus that would suffice to execute him, but they couldn’t find any. 56 To be sure there were several who gave false evidence against him, but their evidence didn’t match up. 57 Then certain others rose and gave false evidence against him, 58 “We heard him say, ‘I’ll destroy this Temple built by hands and after three days I’ll build another not made by hands.’29 59 But even with this their evidence didn’t match up. 60 Then the High Priest stood up in their midst and questioned Jesus, “Have you no response to what these men are testifying against you?” 61 But Jesus remained silent and offered no response. Again the High Priest set to questioning him, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?” 62 But Jesus said, “I am he, and you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of Power and coming with the clouds of heaven.”30 63 Then the High Priest tore his robes and said, “What more evidence do we need? 64 You have heard his blasphemy: what is your pleasure? At that they all condemned him as deserving to die.31 65 And some proceeded to spit on him and to blindfold him and hit him with clubs and say to him, “Prophesy!” Then the guards pummeled him and took him away.32
66 While Peter was down in the courtyard one of the serving women of the High priest came, 67 and when she saw Peter warming himself she looked at his face and said, “You were with the man Jesus from Nazareth too!” 68 But Peter would have none of that: “I don’t know and have no notion what you’re talking about.” Then a rooster crowed, at which point Peter left to go into the outer court. 69 Then the serving woman saw him and set to telling the bystanders yet again, “He’ s one of them.” 70 But again Peter said it wasn’t so. Then a little later the bystanders again said to Peter, “You really are one of them–you’re a Galilean as well.” 71 But Peter took to cursing and swearing, “I don’t know this fellow you’re talking about!” 72 Then the rooster crowed a second time, and Peter remembered what Jesus had said to him: “Before the rooster crows twice you will deny me three times.” Then it sank in upon him and he began to cry33
Mark 14 Notes
1Verses 1-11 of chapter 14 constitute one of the clearest examples of what I have called the Marcan “triptych” (see the panel on Mk 2:1-12). Here two framing elements belong to a single narrative (as Luke clearly understood: Mk 14:1-2 = Lk 22:1-2; Mk 14:19-11 = Lk 22:3-6; Luke separates the story of the woman anointing Jesus from the two parts of the story of the conspiracy of Jewish leaders with Judas): the linkage of 14:1-2 with 14:10-11 is underscored (a) by the involvement of the chief priests in both narratives, and (b) by the recurrence of the verb “look for” (ζητεῖν) in both segments: 14:1 (ἐζήτουν οἱ ἀρχιερεῖς) and 14:11 (ἐζήτε) Between these two segments revealing the final plot to arrest and execute Jesus is sandwiched the narrative of a nameless but ever-to-be-remembered woman who simultaneously (a) anoints Jesus as Messiah (Hebrew Mashiach and Greek χριστός both mean “anointed one”), Israel’s anointed king, and (b) performs, perhaps unawares, but in keeping with destiny, the function of preparing the body of Jesus for burial. Thus highlighted by the triptych are the identity of Jesus as Israel’s King and the paradoxical truth that Jesus’ kingship is to be discerned only in his death as one who has been betrayed and delivered up for execution by one of his own disciples and by leaders of his own people.
2 The woman is not identified or is she said to have uttered any words; one ought not to conjecture regarding who in the entourage of Jesus this might have been: the evangelist clearly intends for her to be anonymous and at the same time celebrated as one who has played her own symbolic role in the gospel narrative which will resonate among believers.
3 Clearly there is no rebuke regarding alms here; rather, the narrator’s intent seems to be to highlight the degree of ignorance and unconcern among the disciples regarding the imminent threat to Jesus, despite the repeated admonitions during the journey to Jerusalem regarding the doom awaiting Jesus there. Nor is it suggested that the woman actually intended to prepare Jesus’ body in advance for burial; rather, she is playing out a role in the passion drama that has been assigned her in this very dramatic scene, wherein Jesus himself speaks as a sort of tragic chorus interpreting the scene unfolding before the reader/listener’s eyes/ears.
4 Judas too has a role to play; in Mark’s narrative there is no explanation of his motivation, although some readers might readily assume that he has been indignant at Jesus’ failure to behave in accordance with his own expectations. If it should be supposed that Judas really was indignant at the extravagant waste of costly oil in the preceding scene, yet the evangelist has indicated that Judas cannot have been the only one; indeed, although Jesus in Mark’s gospel takes four of the disciples into an inner circle, yet failure to perform as committed followers of Jesus is repeatedly indicated in all of them. Judas’ motives are simply not disclosed.
5 The Passover lambs at this period were slaughtered at the Temple in the late afternoon and carried home by families to the place where they were to share the Seder as a household.
6 The question is curiously phrased, as if Jesus alone were to eat the Passover (ἵνα φάγῃς τὸ πάσχα); Matthew’s version (Mt 26:17) is only slightly different and is presumably modeled upon Mark’s account, but Luke (Lk 22:7-8 offers a more “natural” dialogue: Jesus dispatches Peter and John to go off and “ready the Passover for us to eat” (πορευθέντες ἑτοιμάσατε τὸ πασχα ἵνα φάγωμεν). One can raise–but cannot answer–the question whether Jesus at the Passover table is as much alone and separated from his followers as he certainly is in the Garden of Gethsemane thereafter?
7 One might conceive of Jesus’ foreknowledge concerning the nameless man with the water-pitcher who will lead the two disciples to the dining room simply as a mark of his omniscience or deeper awareness. That may well be so, but it may also be observed that this episode is like that of the woman with the jar of oil of nard in the preceding episode and like the episode at the beginning of chapter 11 when two disciples are dispatched to fetch the ass upon which Jesus is to ride as he enters Jerusalem: there is a drama of destiny being played out here, one that involves numerous “bit parts” to be carried out by nameless and faceless actors. Indeed, throughout the Passion sequence of Mk 14-15 the reader/listener can hardly fail to note that Jesus alone throughout this entire sequence is fully cognizant of what is happening and what it means, while so many others merely play out their parts and “read their scripts” rather mechanically, without any notion that they are contributing to an eventful climax of some sort.
8This element of Mark’s narrative of the “last supper” is commonly understood as Jesus’ comment on Judas specifically and his warning about Judas’ fate. But the fact is that Judas never appears in Mark’s gospel after he leads the leaders of the Sanhedrin to Gethsemane to arrest Jesus; Mark either does not know or chooses not to relate the doom of Judas after his betrayal of Jesus. This implies that the present incident in Mark’s narrative is not intended as a foretelling of Mark’s doom; for this reason and because Jesus’ assertion about the betrayer does not reveal any specific name, I think that the evangelist intends to show that every one of Jesus’ disciples is put on notice about the seriousness of his commitment; I think too that this may have been originally an element of the ritual celebration of the “Lord’s Supper,” an admonition by the celebrant to all participants that there is or may be a traitor in their midst and that each should examine his or her conscience while participating. Viewed in this manner, Jesus’ statement is not a specific comment about Judas but an admonition to all to give heed to the dimensions of the commitment they have undertaken.
9As has been noted in the discussion earlier of the two episodes of feeding of multitudes (Mk 6, 8) the language describing Jesus’ movements with the bread is closely parallel here and in those episodes: Jesus picks up the loaf, blesses it, gives thanks, then distributes it to his disciples. I have argued previously that the parallel is deliberate and that Mark intends his readers to understand those episodes as representative of celebrations in memory of this event of Passion week which is institutional for the ritual practice.
10It should be noted that Jesus’ words concerning the loaf broken and distributed do not speak of his body given as an atoning sacrifice; rather, I believe, this saying ought to be understood in terms of the Pauline account in 1 Cor 10:16 (τὸν ἄρτον ὃν κλῶμεν, οὐχὶ κοινωνία τοῦ σώματοσ τοῦ Χριστοῦ ἐστιν;) the followers of Jesus participate in his body and share in his mission.
11Just as the bread words point to participation of those who share the meal with Jesus in himself and his mission, so also the words on the cup point to participation, not to the sacrifice of atonement,be it noted, but rather to the blood-sacrifice establishing the parallel covenant of God with Israel in Exodus 24:8 (the same phrase, τὸ αἷμα τῆς διαθήκης). The death of Jesus is certainly involved here, but it is not so much an atonement as it is a covenant-establishing ritual. All drink from the cup just as all eat the bread; all commit themselves to covenant-existence shared with Jesus.
12In view of Jesus’ repeated indications of his expectation that the coming of the Son of Man is to fall within the lifetimes of some of those who hear him, this solemn declaration should be understood to affirm Mark’s understanding that Jesus expected the consummation of his hope in the imminent future.
13The reference is to the text of Zechariah 13:7: “‘Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, against the man who is my associate,’ says the Lord of hosts. ‘Strike the shepherd, that the sheep may be scattered.'” (NRSV) It has been suggested that Jesus was not citing this passage from Zecharaiah so much to indicate that the imminent event would fulfill that prophesy so much as to note proverbially that this is what happens when the shepherd of a flock is struck down: the sheep will scatter. At any rate, Jesus here points to the forthcoming arrest and the fact that his disciples will all run away.
14It is not altogether clear how the evangelist intended this prophetic statement to be understood (although it was doubtless clear enough to his earliest readers). The easiest interpretation is that Jesus refers to a post-resurrection meeting with his disciples in Galilee such as is described in Matthew 28:16-20 and in John 21. On the other hand, it may be that “Galilee” bears a symbolic meaning in relationship to eschatological fulfillment. What is beyond doubt is that this assertion, that Jesus will go ahead of his disciples to Galilee, is fundamental to the evangelist’s proclamation to his audience/readers, for it is repeated by the young man who meets the women at the tomb in 16:7; although they don’t report it, the reader/hearer must take note of the assertion. For further discussion of this matter, see the notes on chapter 16.
15Repetition for a second and third times is a recurrent motif in Mark’s gospel, especially with regard to the theme of the failure of the disciples to understand and to obey what they are told about the destiny of Jesus and about their own obligations to act accordingly. There were three predictions of Jesus’s destiny (8:31, 9:31, 10:33-34) followed by instances demonstrating failure of the disciples to understand the implications of those predictions (see note 1 on 8:27-10:52); in the scene in Gethsemane immediately following, the inner circle of disciples is told three times to be vigilant but is found sleeping each of the three times that Jesus returns to them after praying. So too there will be, for all his protests, three occasions on which Peter will be asked to affirm his association with Jesus, and he will deny the association each time. Nevertheless, if Peter’s failure seems exemplary, he is not so much highlighted as unique but highlighted rather as paradigmatic; the text explicitly says that “the others made the same affirmation,” but they were in fact far off immediately following upon the arrest of Jesus.
16As indicated earlier in note 22 to Mk 1:22 (πειραζόμενος) this is the climactic “ordeal” or “test” wherein the strength of Jesus’ commitment to accept and carry out God’s will is put on trial and demonstrated. The “human” cost of accepting his Kingship and drinking the symbolic “cup” already identified in 10:38-39 and in 14:23-24 as acceptance of death, the doom of John the Baptist, of Jesus himself, and later of the disciples.
17The Greek (περίλυπός ἐστιν ἡ ψυχή μου ἕως τοῦ θανάτου) literally means “my soul is overwhelmed with grief to the point of death.” The humanity of Jesus is here made fully manifest: no more than any other human being of sound mind does Jesus wish to die; here he is compelled to make a deliberate choice of what is most important to him.
18“Be vigilant” (γρηγορεῖτε), these disciples have been commanded: cf. note 16 to Mk 13:33; as Jesus himself undergoes the test of his own commitment, so also do these disciples undergo a test of theirs insofar as Jesus’ commandment to them is one they cannot or will not obey. Thus the episode displays at the same time how Jesus successfully withstands the challenge of obedience and the disciples fail their test.
19“the critical moment,” usually translated as “the hour” (Greek: ἡ ὥρα): the word recurs in verse 41 below in the same sense of the time of opportunity for fulfillment of destiny, the moment of decision after which there is no turning back. It is “now or never” as Judas approaches with the Temple police to arrest Jesus and trigger the sequence that will bring on the crucifixion of Jesus.
20 “This cup” (τὸ ποτήριον τοῦτο): Of course Jesus is holding no cup at this moment; the cup is symbolic in Mark’s gospel for the destiny that Jesus accepts as his own; cf. note 46 on Mk 10:38 where the cup that Jesus drinks is accepted as one that James and John will also drink, as they will also undergo the baptism that Jesus must undergo. Both the cup and the baptism represent the acceptance of one’s death as the ultimate commitment.
21 “The will to act is forceful, but human nature cannot make it happen” (Greek: τὸ μὲν πνεῦμα πρόθυμον, ἡ δὲ σάρξ ἀσθενής); Jesus acknowledges the human weakness of his disciples, even of his inner circle; he knows they will fail him, but nevertheless he claims them and bids them to follow him.
22“… yet a third time …” There are here three instances of failure by the inner circle; Peter will deny Jesus three times; cf. note 15 above.
23Cf. above, Mk 14:1-2, 10-11.
24Cf. above, Mk 9:12 “And how is it that scripture say about the Son of Man: ‘he is destined to suffer much and be humiliated?”, so also 14:21.
25Cf. above, Mk 14:27; it has happened exactly as Jesus foretold them all so recently,but also in accordance with earlier indications: cf. Mk 4:16-17: the seeds sown on rocky ground: ” when they hear the message they accept it happily, 17 but they have no roots of their own-they respond to circumstances, and so, when hard times or persecution arises because of the message, right away they find all manner of difficulties.”
26It may well be that this νεάνισκος is the same as that of the resurrection narrative (Mk 16:5, see note 4 on that verse). The word (Greek σίνδων) here translated as “linen cloth” appears only one other time in Mark’s gospel: in Mk 15:46 Joseph of Arimathaea buys a σίνδων to serve as a shroud for the body of Jesus, then wraps the body in it before laying it in a rock-hewn tomb. There has never been a fully satisfactory explanation of this feature of Mark’s account of Jesus’ arrest; one may only speculate regarding the identity of this otherwise unidentified “follower” of Jesus. Perhaps, as is supposed with regard to the “Beloved Disciple”of John’s gospel, this nameless young man should be understood as the evangelist himself, the storyteller who alone vouches for the resurrection of Jesus and the validity of the entire narrative. Another hypothesis: we should envision the young man as Jesus himself; he has been caught and held fast by those who have come to arrest him, he is put on trial and he is executed by authority of the procurator Pilate. Nevertheless in the end he escaped from the human hands that sought to hold him fast in capture, in death, and in the tomb: he leaves behind him in the tomb only a burial shroud.
27Mk 14:53-72 form a Marcan Triptych (see the separate panel, “Marcan Triptych”): the narrative account of Peter’s following Jesus into the courtyard of the High Priest (14:53-4) then emphatically denying on three successive occasions that Peter was himself a follower of Jesus (14:66-72) encloses as a frame the account of Jesus’ hearing before the Sanhedrin. There is something here very much like the account of the events in the garden of Gethsemane where Jesus and his inner circle of followers are put to the test simultaneously, Jesus withstanding the ordeal while his followers fail miserably; in the present episode Jesus affirms his identity before the Sanhedrin while at the same time in the enclosing narrative we are told that Peter refuses to acknowledge his own role as Jesus’ foremost follower.
28The reader/listener is informed of the simultaneous sequences now beginning: the trial of Jesus before the Sanhedrin, the endeavor of Peter in the courtyard outside to be close to Jesus while nevertheless concealing his identity. That he “warms himself by the fire” is a nice narrative touch, underscoring with imagery the inner state of Peter, whose heart has grown cold and numb in this ultimate time of crisis.
29Perhaps deriving from the same oral tradition is the statement attributed to Jesus in John’s gospel (Jn 2:19): “Destroy this temple and I’ll raise it up in three days.” (λύσατε τὸν ναὸν τοῦτον καὶ ἐν τρισὶν ἡμέραις ἐγερῶ αὐτόν). But in John’s account, the saying is figurative regarding the execution and resurrection of Jesus, whereas in the mouths of Mark’s “false witnesses” the remark is enigmatic and of no use to those who are eager to remove Jesus from the scene.
30It is hard to understand Jesus’ response to the High Priest’s question other than as a direct affirmation by Jesus of his identity. But Jesus not only accepts the Davidic dynastic titles “Messiah” and “Son of God” but he adds, in the third person, a solemn declaration that the Son of Man (Jesus himself) will hereafter be observed directly by them descending on the clouds with God-given authority to act as God’s sovereign on earth.
31What Jesus has declared is a “blasphemy” only if it is not true; the response of the High Priest and the unanimous approval of that response by all members of the Sanhedrin makes clear that for them Jesus’ assertion cannot possibly be true and therefore is a frivolous claim to authority. Therefore he must be executed.
32Obviously such behavior is consistent with scornful rejection of what is viewed as an absurd, ridiculous claim by Jesus to god-given authority.
33If we have seen the human side of Jesus in the narrative of the Garden of Gethsemane, here we see Peter in his magnificent weakness and then–in a masterful narrative closing touch–his profound remorse and acknowledgement of his own weakness.