Mark 14, 43-56 no. 44 Dec. 10

The agony of Jesus is finished, as is his exhortation to watch and pray. Now, Mark asks his reader to contemplate the second part of the garden incident: Jesus’ arrest. The ones doing the arresting are not soldiers of the Roman army; they are the Jewish public custodians of order in the Temple area, hired by the Sanhedrin (the supreme ruling body of Israel) to police the crowds at Passover time. The sign by which Jesus is identified is a kiss of a long-time companion and disciple; this act, together with the title of respect, Rabbi, is left to the reader to meditate upon. Nor does Mark comment on the swift violence done to the servant of the high priest; again, this is something to reflect upon. What Mark does emphasize is the cowardly hour and place of arrest: these persecutors had any day for a while now to arrest Jesus in the teaching area on the Temple platform, and yet did not. Jesus interprets this arrest through the Scriptures of Israel; Mark does not tell us just how the arrest fulfills the Jewish Scriptures. The young man Mark mentions is lightly clad, apparently because of the heat of the evening. He and the other friends of Jesus run away, not to be gathered together again in the Gospel. The words of Peter, who had the last word with Jesus, still ring in the night: I will never leave you. The arrest-story achieves its major goal, namely the arrest of Jesus, but it leaves a number of elements to the meditation of the readers. Perhaps the best interpreter of these various moments is Luke, and so one is encouraged to read how Luke has presented this same event with his interpretations added.

There has been a great, long debate among scholars about the part Jewish authority (and then Jewish people who happened to witness the public presentation of Jesus by Pilate) played in the death of Jesus. One of the points often made is the contrast between the harsh Pontius Pilate as historians have recorded him in their surviving works and his rather subservient personality in the Gospels. What seems to emerge from the Gospels as fact is that opposition to Jesus had run strongly in certain quarters of Jerusalem, particularly in view of his assumed authority by which he taught the will of God. To teach falsehood was highly sinful, and the teacher was to be done away with; banishment or monetary fines would not suffice, especially since Jesus was not one to trade the truth for money or for his life. But the act of killing was reserved to Rome alone and this law made it necessary to present the Roman representative (at this moment Pontius Pilate) with reasons to kill. From Pilate’s question to Jesus, "Are you the king of the Jews?", one knows how Jesus’ enemies want Pilate to understand the problem: Pilate would react strongly to any threat to Roman power (such as the claim to be king), whereas he would have little interest in disputes about ’intramural’ Jewish teaching.

Mark, in an effort to show the true accusations against Jesus, presents us with a scene, totally Jewish, before the Sanhedrin, a body of 70 men plus the High Priest, composed of the Chief Priests (7 or 8) and representatives of the Scribes and the Elders; except for Roman occasional intrusions, the Sanhedrin (meaning ’to sit together’) ruled Jewish daily life. Mark, ever brief, indicates that many false accusations were charged against Jesus; he particularly notes a charge that other evangelists have recorded. John presents a statement of this claim, but interprets it: ’He was talking about the temple of his body,’ thus suggesting that Jesus is the dwelling of God, for Jesus is the Word-made-flesh, revealed to be the Son of God. Jesus’ silence, in accord with God’s will as Jesus understood it when he understood his Father’s will in the Garden, provokes the questions with which Mark began his Gospel: Are you Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One (Son of God)?` Jesus’ answer is his appeal to the figure of the Son of Man. He equivalently tells the Sanhedrin, that if you do this to me, I will return to be your judge. The Sanhedrin correctly interprets Jesus’ words to affirm his being Messiah and Son of God. They call it blasphemy, an insult to the one, true God, and call for his death. The result is normal: spitting upon the guilty one, blinding him, hitting him. The punishment willed by the Father is to begin.

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John Kilgallen, SJ

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