Mark 9, 9-13 no. 28 Nov. 3

Mark has divided his work literarily now into three units, each headed by Jesus’ prophecy that he will be killed and will rise from the dead. In the first literary unit these is the Transfiguration story, which we spoke of in no. 27. There are two more stories to hear now. The first has to do with Elijah, most specifically with the question put by the disciples to Jesus, "Why do the Scribes say that Elijah must come first?" First of all, however, Mark notes that Jesus does not want his three disciples to talk about the Transfiguration experience before he rose from the dead. This is another example of Mark’s conviction that looking only at the glory of Jesus, or at his power, wisdom and holiness, without due attention to his inglorious death and subsequent resurrection – attention only to the ’wonderful’ side of Jesus is to know him only partially, imperfectly. In other words, Mark means to say that only after the Pascal event (crucifixion/resurrection) can one really understand the Jesus in whose name one is baptized. That ’Elijah is coming’ is coming is the result of rabbinic-like study of the OT. There, we read that Elijah did not die – the only human being in the history of Israel not to die; there must be a reason for this unique occurrence, thought the students of the OT. (This is a great example of how human minds try to go beyond the Scriptures to ’fill in the blanks’.) The reason he did not die, the answer says, is that he is to come again, to prepare the people for the final coming of God. This answer is enshrined in the appended prophecy in the book of Malachi: ’Look, I shall send you the prophet Elijah before the great and awesome day of Yahweh comes. He will reconcile parents to their children, and children to their parents, to forestall my putting the country under the curse of destruction’. The disciples’ question to Jesus expresses their perplexity: why must Elijah come first? Jesus’ answer coincides with the words in the prophecy of Malachi: Elijah is to restore all things, i.e. to bring all Israel back to God before the final judgment. He must come first so as to prepare the people; John’s is a mission of mercy, for it is God’s mercy that the people hear John and have the chance to repent before final judgment. But Jesus corrects the assumption of the disciples that Elijah ’is going to come’, as though in the future; Elijah, Jesus says, has already come, and he has been killed. Thus, for Jesus, the preparation for judgment has already begun with John. But since the disciples asked Jesus a question about the salvific will of God, Jesus asks them a question about the saving plan of God: why must the Son of Man (the heavenly judge) suffer greatly and be contemned? Again, the disciples, and we readers, are brought back to the main question: why must the glorious Jesus be inglorious? For what purpose, according to the OT, is this terrible suffering? Does anyone understand the life of Jesus? Can one be a solid follower of Jesus without fully understanding the cross, and the ’why’ of it, whether it be Jesus’ or the disciple’s cross? Elijah appeared with Jesus in the Transfiguration; it was logical that the story subsequent to the Transfiguration continue thought about Elijah. Luke indicates that Elijah stood for the prophecies of Israel which spoke to the death and resurrection of Jesus. But one will understand those prophecies fully only after the events of death and resurrection they foresee. John Kilgallen, S.J.
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