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In Mark, Tuesday takes Chapter 11:20-33 and all of Chapters 12 and 13 - more than any other day of the last week of Jesus' life.
Tuesday begins with Jesus' response to the withered fig tree. Since verses 20-25 are part of the Mark Sandwich begun the previous day, my comments on these verses are included there.
I'll not comment here on all that happens this day, but let's begin by listing the headings for the day from the New Revised Standard Version Bible (with the response of the religious leaders where noted):
- The Lesson from the Withered Fig Tree (11:20-25)
- Jesus' Authority Is Questioned (11:27-33) (they were afraid of the crowd)
- The Parable of the Wicked Tenants (12:1-12) (they wanted arrest him, but were afraid of the crowd)
- The Question about Paying Taxes (12:13-17) (they were utterly amazed at him)
- The Question about the Resurrection (12:18-27)
- The First Commandment (12:28-37) (after that no one dared to ask him any question)
- Jesus Denounces the Scribes (12:38-40)
- The Widow's Offering (12:41-44)
- The Destruction of the Temple Foretold (13:1-8)
- Persecution Foretold (13:9-13)
- The Desolating Sacrilege (13:14-23)
- The Coming of the Son of Man (13:24-27)
- The Lesson of the Fig Tree (13:28-31)
- The Necessity for Watchfulness (13:32-37)
The remainder of Chapter 11 and all of Chapter 12 tell about confrontations between Jesus and the religious authorities. It is important to notice the constant references to the support for Jesus from the crowds. It is this support that both raises the fear of the religious authorities that - on the one hand - if they don't stop Jesus there will be a riot; and - on the other hand - if they do stop Jesus, there will be a riot.
Chapter 13 is a "mini apocalypse" with Jesus' teachings about the age to come. In effect, having met the earthly challenge from the religious authorities, in Chapter 13 teaches about the cosmic challenges that lie ahead in the confrontation between "this present age" and "the age to come."
For now, I'll comment only on the opening challenge to Jesus' authority, Mark 11:27-33.
Remember that Jesus has entered Jerusalem twice already. The first time riding on a donkey with the crowd shouting his acclaim. (Which today is understood by scholars such as Borg and Crossan to be a deliberate counter-demonstration to the entrance by Pilate and his army that would have been happening at the same time on the opposite side of the city.)
The second was another counter-demonstration which shut down the operation of the Temple, and resulted in the religious leaders "looking for a way to kill him; for they were afraid of him, because the whole crowd was spellbound by his teaching." (Mark 11:19)
Mark 11:27-33 is the first of a series of public challenges by the religious authorities who hope to shame Jesus by trapping him with trick questions which he will be unable to wisely respond to. Being caught out publicly like this would dishonour Jesus in the eyes of the crowd. It would demonstrate that he was not the Messiah or a Holy Man of Israel that they were hoping he was.
Jerusalem is the big city. The gossip about Joseph not being his real father, and the knowledge that he was from a hamlet somewhere in that remote back water of Galilee would make Jesus ripe for ridicule by the sophisticated and learned aristocrats of Jerusalem.
Their question, "By what authority are you doing these things," puts Jesus in a bind.
On the one hand, he clearly is not doing this by virtue of the status of his birth (questionable parentage, low status home town) or of any human patron. On the other hand, for Jesus to claim for himself the status of Son of God, my Beloved, as the basis of his authority for doing these things - that would be extremely shameful. In Mediterranean society, authority can only come by birth or from acclaim by others. But to claim it for oneself was the epitome of shameful boasting.
Furthermore, if Jesus were to say he was God's son, that would be blasphemy. And if he were to say he was the King of the Jews, that would be treason. And yet, what he has done so far (the mock parade; the shutting down of the Temple) could properly only be done by one of such high standing.
What to do?
Honourably, Jesus agrees to answer their question. Trickily, he asks a question in return.
The question Jesus asks about John the Baptist puts the question about the source of one's honour status back in the hands of the religious authorities. And verses 31 and 32 describe the bind they find themselves in.
But unlike Jesus, they are unable to find an honourable way out of their predicament. Their refusal to answer is a major loss of face. And Jesus is able to use it to extract himself from the question they first posed.
And so the Honour Score Board reads: Jesus - 1. Stuffed Shirts from Jerusalem - 0.
And a cheer goes up from the crowd in the bleachers.
The game will end at Mark 12:34, with the final score being Jesus - 5. SSfJ - 0.
Jesus never claims authority for himself. The question for us is, how much will we give him?
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