Mark's Passion Narrative: Class Insights and Questions
The Anointing at Bethany (14:1-9):
Jesus's response to the woman's anointing seems to promote his own sense of self-importance over other people: "the poor you will always have with you". He seems to regard the poor as unimportant, which seems in contrast to other statements made by him elsewhere.
The passage marks a transition between the period of Jesus's career and the story of his death. Jesus allows the woman to anoint him with expensive oils and openly declare that he is important and praiseworthy. It also foretells his death. By this anointment Mark sets up a narrative whereby his death is a sacrifice, not just the execution of a common criminal. To do that Mark has to elevate Jesus above everyone else.
Finally, the passage is another indication that Jesus has foreknowledge of his own death. It may also foreshadow his resurrection -- he has been anointed (an act performed on a living person).
Prediction of Betrayal (14:10-12)
Jesus appears to know exactly what will happen to him, yet chooses not to act on that knowledge. Why appoint Judas in the first place if he knew he was going to betray him? Apparently because all these things are supposed to happen.
When Jesus declares that someone dipping bread with him will betray him, it shows that in the act of fellowship, someone is breaking that trust. The disciples lack of reaction to this enormous breach of trust is rather curious.
The Institution of the Eucharist (14:22-25):
The institution of the Lord's Supper indicates that Jesus had foreknowledge of his death.
Having a material connection with Jesus after his death will connect future generations to Jesus.
Jesus Prays in Gethsemane (14:32-42): Jesus reveals his unwillingness to go through with the events that he knows are about to happen. It's very powerful to show this authoritative person show a moment of weakness. His decision to follow through anyway perhaps is Mark's way of telling his audience to trust in God's plans no matter what. It forces the reader to envision him or herself in Jesus's place, bridging the gap between the divine being with foreknowledge and the human being terrified of death.
It's interesting that Mark changes his narrative style here. Up to now he never described Jesus's thoughts and actions when alone, as though he was one of the crowd following him. But from here on he becomes the omniscient narrator who can follow Jesus alone into the garden and hear his words.
Since the disciples were asleep, the prayer might really be for the audience of readers, so that they can be confident that God's will is being done even if it's hard.
Jesus seems to want the disciples' company in this scene, and be very disappointed when they are asleep; before, he was always somewhat aloof from them. The disciples are certainly not shown in a flattering light, which fits Mark's overall theme.
It is interesting that this scene is the last time he interacts with the disciples while alive. Jesus seems to have lost his connection with these disciples.
This passage shows several different sides of Jesus which is why it is so powerful. Jesus seems genuinely worried and anxious, which humanizes him. Yet his prayer to His Father also divinizes him, calling God "Father". For the first time it seems that he is not sure of his connection with God's plan.
Judas's Betrayal (14:42-46): A kiss is normally a sign of love and devotion, so a kiss of betrayal is especially awful. It may show also how you don't know who your real friends are; they may seem true, but betray you. Possibly also, Jesus knows who will betray him but does nothing to stop it because he knows these events must all take place. Is Judas, in a way, part of the divine plan?
If Jesus was as well-known as Mark says he was, why do the priests need someone to identify him?
The disciples' betrayal (14:50): It's hard to figure out why the disciples would have left him, considering that they presumably believed he had great powers. He was so charismatic that they dropped everything to follow him. They had repeatedly been told of his impending death. You wonder why Jesus picked this particular bunch.
The Man with the Linen Cloth (14:51-53): This character seems to appear out of nowhere. Could he be a leftover from an earlier version of Mark, as Morton Smith proposed? Maybe not all the homoerotic stuff but a longer version explaining what he was doing there.
Jesus before the high priests (14:53-59): Jesus claims his identity as Messiah openly for the first time.
Jesus is accused of saying he would destroy the Temple. The implication is that a supernatural Temple (not made with hands), which is Jesus himself, would destroy the physical temple made with hands. Although this is presented as "False testimony" Mark includes it because in a way he believes it is true. He includes the same saying when Jesus is on the cross, and concludes Jesus's death with the rending of the Temple veil.
Peter's Denial (14:66-72): Peter's realization of his own weakness is one of the most powerful pieces in the Passion story. It also shows Jesus's supernatural powers, since he knew Peter would do this. Perhaps Peter's realization is how powerful Jesus is, and that is another reason that he breaks down. It also shows how close to Jesus Peter really was, which makes his denial all that much more astonishing.
It's really amazing that in this story, Jesus knows everything Peter will do, and chooses to do nothing. Perhaps this scene is necessary for the disciples' own education (and the reader's). No one really understands who Jesus is until after he dies.
I think Jesus is compassionate towards Peter because he knows that Peter really loves him, which is shown when he breaks down. Mark shows that a personal and emotional relationship is what Jesus is after, not one for personal gain, power, or even shared philosophy.
Chapters 15 and 16
Jesus before Pilate (15: 1-5): Why does Pilate ask Jesus if he is the King of the Jews? He certainly couldn't look like a king at that point.
Is King of the Jews different from Messiah? Why do the priests use the term messiah, and Pilate, King of the Jews?
By refusing to answer Pilate, is Jesus choosing a death sentence? Or does his lack of affirmation allow Pontius Pilate (and the reader) to conceptualize Jesus as he wishes?
Could Barabbas be a revolutionary and thus a hero to the crowd? That might explain why they choose him over Jesus. It shows the crowd's clinging to the traditional warrior idea of a messiah and not getting the type of messiah Jesus is.
Since the crowd is Jewish, it also shows that Jews did not really understand or appreciate who Jesus was.
Pilate is really off the hook here. He is shown as unwilling to execute Jesus. Pilate, a Gentile Roman, only executes Jesus because he wants to please the Jewish crowd.
Jesus's Death (15:33-39):
Jesus is taken to "the place of the skull" and mocked by soldiers. Ironically, he is a symbol of life and worthy of being worshipped. They annoint him with myrrh, showing he really is "the annointed one" -- the Messiah. This continues Mark's theme of how Jesus was misunderstood in his own day although the signs were clear.
Everyone abandoned him at the end -- followers, Jews, Romans. Maybe the Passion story is as much about the failure of Jesus's followers as it is about him.
Why does Jesus despair at the end? If he was the Son of God he would know everything was working just the way it was supposed to.
Jesus's despair shows him at his most human and least godlike. Why show him in this moment of weakness and not strength?
In the preceding chapters Jesus seemed all-knowing and unconcerned with the physical world. This despairing passage seems to indicate just the opposite.
Is Jesus being presented as a symbol of sacrifice, and Mark wants to show how hard sacrifice is.
Why was the temple curtain torn in two? Is this symbolic? Does it allude to the coming destruction of the Temple?
Perhaps the ripping of the curtain symbolized the tearing down of barriers between Jews and Gentiles.
The blackened sky motif is very powerful for showing the importance of this terrible event. But if the whole sky was darkened, why don't the onlookers react? Could it be a poetic reference to the Exodus story, where God covers the land of Egypt in darkness for 3 days? This darkness occurs just before the death of the first-born; perhaps Mark is alluding to Jesus as God's son.
The darkened sky may also indicate the shadow Jesus casts over the entire world. Nothing will ever be the same again.
The centurion, a Gentile, is the first person (maybe the first Christian) to recognize Jesus's true nature outside the little circle of disciples. In a way, the centurion is more faithful than Jesus's own disciples, who had deserted him. Connecting this point to the human, despairing cry, shows that Mark thought of Jesus as both human and divine.
At his death, beliefs about Jesus would have to change. If his disciples thought he was divine, he could not die. If they thought he would bring in the end of days, that didn't happen.
The final reference to Elijah, an apocalyptic figure, shows that the disciples and the crowd were still thinking in apocalyptic terms.
Mark's gospel has the lowest Christology in indicating that Jesus did not become divine until after his death as a fully human being.
The Empty Tomb (16:1-8): Why are women at the tomb of Jesus? What happened to the disciples?
If Joseph could claim Jesus's body and bury it in his own tomb, what was the danger for the disciples?
The women are the messengers to the disbelieving apostles. Were women important in Mark's religious community?
Because the story doesn't have a resurrection Jesus the whole set of chapters focuses on the human rather than the divine Jesus: who he was, what he said and did.