Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Mark, A Meal, A Leper & The Kingdom of God (part 2)

In the same chapter, when Jesus stands before the Sanhedrin, Mark writes that “Some stood up and gave this false testimony against Him: ‘We heard Him say, ‘I will destroy this Temple made with hands and in three days build another not made with hands.’” (Mark 14:57-58)  The author punctuates this with “Yet even on this point their testimony did not agree” (14:59), but He is clearly cognizant of and counting on an awareness of what must have been the well-known Jesus tradition recounted in the Gospel of John (not relying on John, as Mark came first, but what would have been the oral and possibly written Jesus tradition), in which Jesus says, “Destroy this Temple and in three days I will raise it up again” (2:19).  Shortly thereafter, John helpfully provides the gloss on Jesus’ words by informing the reader that “Jesus was speaking about the Temple of His body” (2:21). 

When all of this is taken together, the reader sees a widow giving all that she has (which is an almost worthless amount) to a Temple that is going to fall, which is ultimately a wasteful action, whereas the woman with the alabaster box gives something of immense value in recognition of the One that is the eternal Temple, causing the onlookers to refer to this as a wasteful action.  Jesus makes it clear that it is the former (the widow’s gift) that was wasteful (and tragic), whereas the latter was “a good service” (14:6b), and therefore not wasteful. 

Because the stories in the Gospels demand to be heard within Jesus’ pronouncement that the kingdom of the Creator God is at hand, one must ascertain what this has to do with Jesus’ kingdom understanding.  It is by this that Jesus addresses the prevalent and apparently incorrect understanding that the kingdom of His God would be centered in Jerusalem, with all nations coming to its Temple to offer worship to Israel’s God.  Jesus makes it quite clear that even though they were correct in believing that all nations would in fact come to worship the Creator God by means of the Temple, that Temple by which this God would be worshiped, in recognition of His kingdom, would be Himself (Jesus).     

To go along with the interesting theological Temple dynamic that has been inserted into the narrative here in chapters twelve and fourteen of Mark’s Gospel, the place of the meal in which Jesus is engaged and at which He is anointed, as He says, “for burial” (14:8), is the house of “Simon the leper” (14:3).  Yes, Jesus is dining at the home of a leper, and therefore dining at the home of one whose entire existence is one of impurity in relation to Jewish law and custom.  Simon would definitely have found himself at the lower end of the honor and shame social spectrum, if not outside of it altogether as one unable to even compete for honor. 

As a leper, Simon would stand almost completely outside the social order, as he would translate ritual impurity to those who came into contact with him.  In the eyes of those that were in a position to observe this meal, Jesus Himself would have fallen into ritual impurity, and amazingly, within Mark’s narrative, Jesus can be seen doing this immediately before Passover.  Though He is looked upon as a respected rabbi within Israel at this point in time, Jesus apparently finds Himself unconcerned with the perceptions. 

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