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Saturday, May 18, 2013

The Gospel of Mark (Enemies)

...the Pharisees and the Herodians tried to catch him in his words.

Jesus came preaching that “the kingdom of God is at hand.” This was not good news for everyone. Before long, Jesus found himself caught between Romans and Jews and even between the Jews themselves. It seems like he was always in the crosshairs of class struggle, culture wars, political battles, and bitter religious conflict. How can one man make so many people so mad so many ways? It’s hard for mild-mannered Americans to understand the religious fervor of the Middle East. It was hard for the Romans too. It was unreasonable. It was dangerous. Flash mobs could materialize in a moment’s notice. This was the world Jesus lived in every day.

To help put this perilous situation into a modern perspective here’s a short quote from Out of the Whirlwind: A Reader of Holocaust Literature. Yossel Rakover’s Appeal to God: “God of Israel… You have done everything to make me stop believing in You. Now lest it seem to You that You will succeed by these tribulations to drive me from the right path, I notify You, my God and the God of my father, that it will not avail You in the least! You may insult me, You may castigate me, You may take from me all that I cherish and hold dear in the world, You may torture me to death. I shall believe in You, I shall love You no matter what You do to test me. And these are my last words to You, my wrathful God: nothing will avail you in the least. You have done everything to make me renounce You, to make me lose my faith in You, but I die exactly as I lived, a believer… Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One. Into your hands, O Lord, I consign my soul.”

Does that sound like the kind of man you can sit down with and hammer out a compromise? John the Baptist wasn’t looking for a compromise and neither were the powerful men he was up against. Something had to give. So John ended up in prison and was later executed. With Jesus they use a different strategy. The Pharisees ask him: “Is it lawful to give tribute to Caesar, or not?” If he says yes, then zealous Jews will be out to get him. If he says no, the Romans will be after him. It’s a clever trap. And it seems like Jesus will lose either way. But Jesus has a better idea. He tells them “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's.” This answer not only avoids getting him into trouble with either Jews or the Romans. It actually pleases both sides. Because in both cases it sounds like Jesus is on their side. The Romans aren’t interested in Jewish religious matters. They just want their money. And for the Jew everything belongs to God. Caesar may think he rules the world but God is master of all. Jesus answered amazingly well. Mark says “they marvelled at him.”

So Jesus makes it safely through that trap. But then the Sadducees come after him. The Pharisees believe in life after death. The Sadducees (Herodians) don’t. The Herodians set up a hypothetical situation about a woman marrying several different men. They all die and finally the woman dies too. Then they ask him: “In the resurrection therefore, when they shall rise, whose wife shall she be of them?” This seems like another impossible problem with no solution. But Jesus tells them: “Do ye not therefore err, because ye know not the scriptures, neither the power of God? For when they shall rise from the dead, they neither marry, nor are given in marriage; but are as the angels which are in heaven… He is not the God of the dead, but the God of the living: ye therefore do greatly err.” Basically Jesus is telling them: you don’t know your Bible; you don’t know your God. It’s another good answer. But time is running out for Jesus.


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