Thursday, December 18, 2014

Mark, A Meal, A Leper & The Kingdom Of God (part 3)

As Mark is written within the confines of the early church that found itself immersed within much knowledge of the historical Jesus, along with resounding and powerful traditions about Him that would clearly have weighed heavily upon them in the area of practice, it is right to call attention to the marked contrast between what can be observed here in Mark and what one finds presented in a situation in the Gospel of John (which is also written during a time and within a community steeped in first-hand knowledge of Jesus). 

In John, after Jesus’ arrest and initial questioning by Annas and Caiaphas, “they brought Jesus from Caiaphas to the Roman governor’s residence” (John 18:28a).  The author then reports that “They did not go into the governor’s residence” (18:28c).  Why did they not go in?  It was “so they would not be ceremonially defiled, but could eat the Passover meal” (18:28d).  A stark contrast indeed.  In Mark, Jesus dines with a leper, sitting on his furniture and sharing a table with him in complete disregard of established custom, clearly communicating truths about the kingdom of the Creator God and about the nature of His own rule of that kingdom through what He was knowingly and consciously doing. 

When these two accounts of Jesus’ life and ministry include such stories, both are making points that are not easily dismissed.  One account represents separation and exclusion, whereas the other highlights inclusion --- pointing to a highly necessary aspect of ecclesiology.  John’s account of a concern to not become ritually impure before the commencement of Passover is useful because it points up the high level of seriousness with which such things were taken at the time.  For the sake of rabbinic credibility, and especially that of a rabbi that carried and stoked messianic expectations, issues of impurity would have been a concern. 

With no real record of time, and no textual sense of time between His certain contracting of ceremonial impurity while at this house and the celebration of Passover with His disciples, it would appear to His fellow members of the house of Israel that Jesus has, in fact, presided over a Passover (His last supper) celebration while he found Himself in a state of impurity.  With what one must presume is a well-founded grasp of this information, Mark demonstrates a complete lack of concern in this area, and instead presents this picture of Jesus that is stocked with a great deal of implications for those, both inside and outside of ethnic and national Israel, who call or will come to call Him Lord. 

There are other quite significant points to be made.  One of those points has to do with the fact that Jesus has chosen to dine in this particular house.  Calling upon the Gospel of John for assistance, one is reminded that Bethany is the place of Lazarus’ residence.  In chapter twelve of John, it appears that the reader is presented with a story (unless there was another story about Jesus being anointed with costly oil, the action being criticized as wasteful, and Jesus criticizing the criticizers and commending the “waste”) that is based upon the same meal as that which is reported in the fourteenth chapter of Mark. 

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