Summary Mark Chapter 12

At first glance, Chapter 12 is hard to summarize thematically. It starts with the parable of the tenants and the metaphor of the cornerstone; then we get two episodes in which the powers that be try to entrap him, first with paying taxes to Caesar, then the story of the widow of the seven brothers which gives Jesus a chance to talk about the Resurrection; finally, we end with the widow’s gift. There is something of a unifying thematic thread: the apparent, or expected heirs of the kingdom of God might not be the ones who actually inherit it.

The parable of the tenants provides the most explicit statement of this. The tenants are the formerly Chosen People, to whom God sent prophets who were ignored, and finally a son who was killed. This is put under the form of a prediction, but it is pretty obviously an ex-post addition. The hidden meaning is that the Gentiles will supersede the Jews as the inheritors of the kingdom of God, because the Jews mistreated the prophets and–for the first time in what became a long and ugly tradition–are accused of being the Christ-killers. Such an accusation has to belong to a time when most followers of Jesus were no longer Jews, but Gentiles. Then, this idea of one group supplanting the other is reinforced by both the metaphor of the cornerstone; those formerly rejected (the Gentiles) become the new Chosen people. And the final reinforcement comes at the end, in the tale of what has traditionally been called The Widow’s Mite. She, the poor, beggarly, scorned and bereft old woman has outdone all the pomp and grandeur–and money–of the Jewish establishment.

And the Jewish establishment has been made to look foolish twice. Twice they tried to entrap Jesus; twice they failed, and then in the end we are told that their worldly glory and wealth are nothing compared to the simple faith and deep sacrifice of this lowly and despised outcast who lived at the fringe of respectable society. AND, we get the Scribe who is not far from the kingdom of God grasping that love of God and neighbor are worth more than all the burnt offerings in the world.

Do you think Jesus maybe has something against Judaism?

So maybe this is thematically more unified than we may have thought at first glance.

The point, though, IMO, is that this is of a piece with the stuff we’ve been reading since about Chapter 10, and certainly of a piece with the content of Chapter 11. These chapter divisions are unfortunate in some ways; they don’t always or effectively represent the true thematic divisions of the gospel. One thing to note: Jesus has been doing a lot more talking in the parts that have come after the Transfiguration. Before that, it was actions. Before the Transfiguration, Jesus was either healing or expelling a demon every time he turned around. The last healing mentioned was Chapter 10; the last exorcism was in Chapter 9; we’ve now completed Chapter 12, and Chapter 13 promises to be different.

Way back when I suggested the merging of two narratives, I wasn’t entirely sure what the second half would contain. It seems to contain the rationale and the program of what was becoming Christianity. It wasn’t there yet, but it was moving there. There was a review in the Nov/Dec 2012 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review of a book arguing that the division between Judaism and (proto-?) Christianity was complete by about 95 CE, and then an article about how the two aspects, or sects of one religion became two religions, more or less in the same time frame. Both are worth reading. But anyway, what I believe we are seeing in the second part of Mark is sort of the case presented by the earliest (proto-)Christians for why they split from Judaism. According to this case, the Jewish religious authorities were hopelessly hidebound in their formalism, still insisting on burnt offerings even though Jesus clearly showed that this was no longer the right thing to do. IOW, this is the basis for what became Christian religious instruction for the next two millennia.

Of course, it’s still an open question of whether this case was made by Mark, or by subsequent editors. Did Mark’s narrative end with the Transfiguration? At this point, I suspect not, but I’m still open on the question. The thing is, this chapter may not be the masterpiece that I found in Chapter 10, but it’s still an excellent piece of rhetoric. Naturally, I may be a bit thick about literary styles and how to interpret literary texts in a literary sense, but this does seem to be another good example of the skill of Mark. My first impression was one of several disparate threads, but a closer look shows, again, his talent in weaving these threads together into a cleverly-constructed narrative is impressive. Plus, it almost seems like it has to be the work of a single individual author.


About James, brother of Jesus

I have a BA from the University of Toronto in Greek and Roman History. For this, I had to learn classical Greek and Latin. In seminar-style classes, we discussed both the meaning of the text and the language. U of T has a great Classics Dept. One of the professors I took a Senior Seminar with is now at Harvard. I started reading the New Testament as a way to brush up on my Greek, and the process grew into this. I plan to comment on as much of the NT as possible, starting with some of Paul's letters. After that, I'll start in on the Gospels, starting with Mark.

Posted on July 6, 2013, in gospel commentary, gospels, mark's gospel, Summary and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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