Mark 14, 17-31 no. 42 Dec. 5

In the early part of Mark 14, we have preparatory notices. The conspiracy against Jesus is set, though the timing of the capture is still to be decided; Jesus is anointed as a sign, not simply of welcome to the table of Lazarus, but of his impending death; Judas Iscariot has decided to hand Jesus over to the enemy, and will be paid for that; the preparations for the Passover meal are underway. Now Mark places us at the Passover table with Jesus and the Twelve. The stories about this meal are three and they are brief. First, there is the prophetic knowledge displayed: one of you will betray me; sadly, it is one who is eating with me, one who dips with me into the dish. The use of privileged intimacy in the betrayal creates the atmosphere of sadness: why you, Judas? The one Judas betrays is best described here as Son of Man, he who will be glorified only after he suffers – and Judas’ choice makes him the means of this suffering. Second, to counter evil, as it were by literary means, Mark then shifts attention brusquely to a second scene, a picture of Jesus revealing love, not betrayal; we read what he, in his love for disciples, hopes to achieve through his death. Here, the emotion is one of muted joy, and gratitude; too, one finally understands that Jesus’ death, so many times foretold, has meaning. It is not just an obedient act, nor is it only a testimony to the truth for which Jesus stands. It will be a death for others, and it will be a death that will not fully separate Jesus from his disciples, and it will be a death, the blood of which will seal a new covenant with God. A look at the two declarations tells us the following. "Take it; this is my body" remains somewhat unclear. Probably it means "my body given for you", and thus points to the reception of the person of Christ who sacrifices himself for "you". But this phrasing may also mean that "this is my body", with the sense that I (represented by the term ’body’) have found the way to give you my strength: as food is for the body, so in this communion I come to you to give you strength. The second declaration is a double interpretation of the wine. First, it is now the blood by which a covenant is sealed. That is, the Mosaic covenant ceremony asked that the High Priest sprinkle, first on God’s dwelling-place, then on the people, blood of an animal. Why blood? Because, it was thought, in the blood is life. Thus, the sprinkling is really a sprinkling of the victim’s life, a sprinkling by which two persons, earlier at odds, now are made into one covenant, one, if we can say, life. The victim’s life is the life by which God and human beings live together once again in love and obedience. Second, this blood will be shed "for many". This is best understood against the background of Isaiah’s picture of the Suffering Servant (Isa 52-53), a Servant who, sinless and so not deserving punishment, will take on himself the punishment owed to sinners, so that the sinners may go free, be judged "just". As a last element of this second scene, Mark offers the words of sadness and hope: I will leave you, but I will see you again; it is a recognition of death and a confidence in resurrection from the dead. Off eastward towards the Mount of Olives, towards Gethsemane. Third, Jesus notes that the disciples "will have their faith shaken": they are not betrayers, but they will no longer be sure they want to follow Jesus. Jesus tries to say something positive, that he will go before them to Galilee; he suggests that later, after leaving him, he will gather them together – the ultimate outcome will be joy. It is the joy of sin forgiven, of being one again in trust in the Master. We know Peter’s foolhardy answer to this criticism of his faith. Most significantly is it that Peter seems to win the argument with Jesus, for Peter gets in the last word, Jesus is reduced to silence. Really? John Kilgallen, SJ
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