Lesson: Isaiah 50:4-9a
4 The LORD GOD has given me the tongue of a teacher, that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word. Morning by morning he wakens — wakens my ear to listen as those who are taught.
5 The LORD GOD has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious, I did not turn backward.
6 I gave my back to those who struck me, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard; I did not hide my face from insult and spitting.
7 The LORD GOD helps me; therefore, I have not been disgraced; therefore, I have set my face like flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame.
8 He who vindicates me is near. Who will contend with me? Let us stand up together Who are my adversaries? Let them confront me.
9 It is the LORD GOD who helps me; who will declare me guilty?
The Book of Isaiah is a composite of writings from three distinct periods in Ancient Israel’s history. The writings were compiled from about 700 BCE to about 300 BCE.
Chapters 1-39 are called “First Isaiah” and are the words of a prophet (one who speaks for YHWH – translated as “LORD” in all capital letters in the NRSV) who called for Jerusalem to repent in the 30 years before Jerusalem came under siege by the Assyrians in 701 BCE. “Second Isaiah” is Chapters 40 to 55. In these chapters, a prophet brought hope to the Judeans during the Exile in Babylon (587 to 539 BCE) by telling them they had suffered enough and would return to Jerusalem. “Third Isaiah” is Chapters 56 to 66 in which a prophet gave encouragement to the Judeans who had returned to Jerusalem (which was largely destroyed by the Babylonians in 587 BCE) after the Exile had ended.
Today’s reading is from “Second Isaiah” and is a statement by the prophet that his authority came from YHWH (v.4). The prophet also recounted that he was mistreated and persecuted (v. 6) just as Jeremiah was persecuted (Jer.11:9). Today’s reading gave weight to the prophet’s statements that the Judeans would be restored to Jerusalem.
In some of today’s verses (such as verse 6) and in the verse following today’s reading (v.10), the prophet referred to himself as YHWH’s “servant,” a motif that was expanded in Isaiah 52 and 53. This concept was substantially adopted by the author of the Gospel According to Mark to describe the ministry of Jesus of Nazareth.
Prior to the writing of the Gospels, the “servant” reference was present in today’s reading from Philippians, written in the 50’s CE.
Epistle: Philippians 2:5-11
5 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited,
7 but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form,
8 he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death — even death on a cross.
9 Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Philippi was a major city in Macedonia on the Roman road to Byzantium (Istanbul). Most of its inhabitants were Roman citizens. Paul had deep affection for the Jesus Followers in Philippi and thanked them for gifts sent to him in prison (4:18). Paul wrote this letter from prison, but it is not clear if he was in Rome, Caesarea, or Ephesus.
Today’s reading was derived from a hymn that apparently was already in use in Jesus Follower communities by the 50’s (CE), perhaps in a Baptism liturgy. Its statements are not only religious, but they are also political. The Roman Caesars claimed to be “in the form [the essence] of God” and that they were “Lord” (the one to whom ultimate allegiance was owed).
Paul noted that instead of exploiting his connectedness to God, Jesus took the form of a slave/servant and emptied himself (poured himself out) for others (v.7). For this, Paul said Jesus has been highly exalted (resurrected). As the Christ, he is also the “Lord” and at the name of Jesus, every knee should bend.
Mark 14:1-15:47 (The Passion According to Mark)
1 It was two days before the Passover and the festival of Unleavened Bread. The chief priests and the scribes were looking for a way to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him; 2 for they said, “Not during the festival, or there may be a riot among the people.”
3 While he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he sat at the table, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very costly ointment of nard, and she broke open the jar and poured the ointment on his head. 4 But some were there who said to one another in anger, “Why was the ointment wasted in this way? 5 For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii, and the money given to the poor.” And they scolded her. 6 But Jesus said, “Let her alone; why do you trouble her? She has performed a good service for me. 7 For you always have the poor with you, and you can show kindness to them whenever you wish; but you will not always have me. 8 She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for its burial. 9 Truly I tell you, wherever the good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.”
10 Then Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve, went to the chief priests in order to betray him to them. 11 When they heard it, they were greatly pleased, and promised to give him money. So, he began to look for an opportunity to betray him.
12 On the first day of Unleavened Bread, when the Passover lamb is sacrificed, his disciples said to him, “Where do you want us to go and make the preparations for you to eat the Passover?” 13 So he sent two of his disciples, saying to them, “Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you; follow him, 14 and wherever he enters, say to the owner of the house, ‘The Teacher asks, Where is my guest room where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ 15 He will show you a large room upstairs, furnished and ready. Make preparations for us there.” 16 So the disciples set out and went to the city and found everything as he had told them; and they prepared the Passover meal.
17 When it was evening, he came with the twelve. 18 And when they had taken their places and were eating, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me.” 19 They began to be distressed and to say to him one after another, “Surely, not I?” 20 He said to them, “It is one of the twelve, one who is dipping bread into the bowl with me. 21 For the Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that one by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that one not to have been born.”
22 While they were eating, he took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” 23 Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, and all of them drank from it. 24 He said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. 25 Truly I tell you, I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.”
26 When they had sung the hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. 27 And Jesus said to them, “You will all become deserters; for it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’
28 But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.” 29 Peter said to him, “Even though all become deserters, I will not.” 30 Jesus said to him, “Truly I tell you, this day, this very night, before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times.” 31 But he said vehemently, “Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you.” And all of them said the same.
32 They went to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” 33 He took with him Peter and James and John and began to be distressed and agitated. 34 And he said to them, “I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and keep awake.” 35 And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. 36 He said, “Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want.” 37 He came and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not keep awake one hour? 38 Keep awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” 39 And again he went away and prayed, saying the same words. 40 And once more he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were very heavy; and they did not know what to say to him. 41 He came a third time and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? Enough! The hour has come; the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. 42 Get up, let us be going. See, my betrayer is at hand.”
43 Immediately, while he was still speaking, Judas, one of the twelve, arrived; and with him there was a crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders. 44 Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, “The one I will kiss is the man; arrest him and lead him away under guard.” 45 So when he came, he went up to him at once and said, “Rabbi!” and kissed him. 46 Then they laid hands on him and arrested him. 47 But one of those who stood near drew his sword and struck the slave of the high priest, cutting off his ear. 48 Then Jesus said to them, “Have you come out with swords and clubs to arrest me as though I were a bandit? 49 Day after day I was with you in the temple teaching, and you did not arrest me. But let the scriptures be fulfilled.” 50 All of them deserted him and fled.
51 A certain young man was following him, wearing nothing but a linen cloth. They caught hold of him, 52 but he left the linen cloth and ran off naked.
53 They took Jesus to the high priest; and all the chief priests, the elders, and the scribes were assembled. 54 Peter had followed him at a distance, right into the courtyard of the high priest; and he was sitting with the guards, warming himself at the fire. 55 Now the chief priests and the whole council were looking for testimony against Jesus to put him to death; but they found none. 56 For many gave false testimony against him, and their testimony did not agree. 57 Some stood up and gave false testimony against him, saying, 58 “We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another, not made with hands.’” 59 But even on this point their testimony did not agree. 60 Then the high priest stood up before them and asked Jesus, “Have you no answer? What is it that they testify against you?” 61 But he was silent and did not answer. Again, the high priest asked him, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?” 62 Jesus said, “I am, and ‘you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power,’ and ‘coming with the clouds of heaven.’”
63 Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, “Why do we still need witnesses? 64 You have heard his blasphemy! What is your decision?” All of them condemned him as deserving death. 65 Some began to spit on him, to blindfold him, and to strike him, saying to him, “Prophesy!” The guards also took him over and beat him.
66 While Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant-girls of the high priest came by. 67 When she saw Peter warming himself, she stared at him and said, “You also were with Jesus, the man from Nazareth.” 68 But he denied it, saying, “I do not know or understand what you are talking about.” And he went out into the forecourt. Then the cock crowed. 69 And the servant-girl, on seeing him, began again to say to the bystanders, “This man is one of them.” 70 But again he denied it. Then after a little while the bystanders again said to Peter, “Certainly you are one of them; for you are a Galilean.” 71 But he began to curse, and he swore an oath, “I do not know this man you are talking about.” 72 At that moment the cock crowed for the second time. Then Peter remembered that Jesus had said to him, “Before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times.” And he broke down and wept.
15:1 As soon as it was morning, the chief priests held a consultation with the elders and scribes and the whole council. They bound Jesus, led him away, and handed him over to Pilate. 2 Pilate asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” He answered him, “You say so.” 3 Then the chief priests accused him of many things. 4 Pilate asked him again, “Have you no answer? See how many charges they bring against you.” 5 But Jesus made no further reply, so that Pilate was amazed.
6 Now at the festival he used to release a prisoner for them, anyone for whom they asked. 7 Now a man called Barabbas was in prison with the rebels who had committed murder during the insurrection. 8 So the crowd came and began to ask Pilate to do for them according to his custom. 9 Then he answered them, “Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?” 10 For he realized that it was out of jealousy that the chief priests had handed him over. 11 But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release Barabbas for them instead. 12 Pilate spoke to them again, “Then what do you wish me to do with the man you call the King of the Jews?” 13 They shouted back, “Crucify him!” 14 Pilate asked them, “Why, what evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Crucify him!” 15 So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released Barabbas for them; and after flogging Jesus, he handed him over to be crucified.
16 Then the soldiers led him into the courtyard of the palace (that is, the governor’s headquarters); and they called together the whole cohort. 17 And they clothed him in a purple cloak; and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on him. 18 And they began saluting him, “Hail, King of the Jews!” 19 They struck his head with a reed, spat upon him, and knelt down in homage to him. 20 After mocking him, they stripped him of the purple cloak and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him out to crucify him.
21 They compelled a passer-by, who was coming in from the country, to carry his cross; it was Simon of Cyrene, the father of Alexander and Rufus. 22 Then they brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha (which means the place of a skull). 23 And they offered him wine mixed with myrrh; but he did not take it. 24 And they crucified him, and divided his clothes among them, casting lots to decide what each should take.
25 It was nine o’clock in the morning when they crucified him. 26 The inscription of the charge against him read, “The King of the Jews.” 27 And with him they crucified two bandits, one on his right and one on his left. 29 Those who passed by derided him, shaking their heads, and saying, “Aha! You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, 30 save yourself, and come down from the cross!” 31 In the same way the chief priests, along with the scribes, were also mocking him among themselves and saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. 32 Let the Messiah, the King of Israel, come down from the cross now, so that we may see and believe.” Those who were crucified with him also taunted him.
33 When it was noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. 34 At three o’clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” 35 When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, “Listen, he is calling for Elijah.” 36 And someone ran, filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink, saying, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.” 37 Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last. 38 And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. 39 Now when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was God’s Son!”
40 There were also women looking on from a distance; among them were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. 41 These used to follow him and provided for him when he was in Galilee; and there were many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem.
42 When evening had come, and since it was the day of Preparation, that is, the day before the sabbath, 43 Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the council, who was also himself waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. 44 Then Pilate wondered if he were already dead; and summoning the centurion, he asked him whether he had been dead for some time. 45 When he learned from the centurion that he was dead, he granted the body to Joseph. 46 Then Joseph bought a linen cloth, and taking down the body, wrapped it in the linen cloth, and laid it in a tomb that had been hewn out of the rock. He then rolled a stone against the door of the tomb. 47 Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where the body was laid.
The Gospel According to Mark was the first Gospel that was written and is generally dated to the time around the Destruction of the Temple in 70 CE. Mark’s Gospel is the shortest gospel and forms the core for the Gospels According to Matthew and Luke (both of which were written around 85 CE). Over 50% of the material in those two Gospels is based on Mark. Because these three Gospels follow similar chronologies of Jesus’ life and death, they are called “Synoptic Gospels” for the Greek words meaning “Same Look/View.”
Mark’s Passion Account became the basis of Matthew and Luke’s Passion Accounts but there are variations.
In the Synoptic Gospels, the “chief priests and the scribes” are the groups that press for the crucifixion of Jesus (14:1). In John, it is “the Jews,” – understood in context as the Temple Authorities and the Pharisees.
In Mark and Matthew, the anointing with nard occurs at the home of Simon the leper; in Luke, at the home of a Pharisee, and in John at the home of Martha and Mary, and Mary anoints Jesus. (Nard was an ointment scented with the flower of spikenard – which grows in the Himalayan Mountains.)
In Mark and Luke, the man to follow (v. 13) to find the Passover room was carrying water – something that would have been most unusual because carrying water was “women’s work” in the First Century.
In the Synoptics, the Last Supper is a Passover Meal and Jesus instituted the Eucharist. In John, the Last Supper is the evening before Passover, and Jesus washed the disciples’ feet.
In the Synoptics, the Crucifixion was on the day after the first night of Passover. In John, the Crucifixion also occurs on the day after the Last Supper – in the afternoon before Passover begins. Jesus – called “the Pascal Lamb” in John – died at the time the lambs were being slaughtered at the Temple in preparation for that evening’s Passover.
In Mark and Matthew (only), Jesus and the disciples sang a hymn (14:26) before going to the Mount of Olives/Gethsemane (which means “oil press”) – a place where Jesus is “squeezed.”
In Mark (only) Jesus does not rebuke the disciple (identified as Peter in Jn. 18:11) who cut off the ear of the servant of the High Priest (14.47). Only in Luke, did Jesus heal the ear (Lk. 22:51).
In the Synoptics (only), Simon of Cyrene was forced to help Jesus with the cross (which would have been the crossbeam only – the Romans left the verticals in place).
Mark used the Suffering Servant Songs in Isaiah 52:13 to 53:12 to describe Jesus’ life as servanthood. In Mark, Jesus said: “Whoever wants to be first must be servant of all” (9.35) and “For the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve and to give his life a ransom for many.” (10.45).
Among the descriptions of the Suffering Servant in Isaiah are many attributed to Jesus:
So marred was his appearance beyond human semblance
His form beyond that of mortals
He had no form or majesty that we should look upon him
He was despised and rejected by others, a man of suffering
We held him of no account
Surely, he has borne our infirmities
He was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities
Upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed
He was oppressed, and he was afflicted
Yet he did not open his mouth, like a lamb that is led to the slaughter
By a perversion of justice, he was taken away
Although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth
When you make his life an offering for sin … through him the will of the LORD shall prosper
The righteous one, my servant, shall make many righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities.
Mark also used Psalm 22 for portions of the description of the Crucifixion:
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? (22:1 = 15.34)
All who see me mock at me; they make mouths at me; they shake their heads (22:7 = 15.29)
I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; … my mouth is dried up like a potsherd…. (22:14-15 = 15.23, 15.36)
They stare and gloat over me; they divide my clothes among themselves, and for my clothing they cast lots (22:17-18 = 15.24)
He trusted in the LORD; let him deliver him (22:8 = 15:30-31)
In Chapter 15, there is no verse 28. In some ancient manuscripts, the verse was: And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “And he was counted among the lawless.”
The rending of the curtain in the Temple (v.15:38) when Jesus died is highly symbolic. The curtain in the Temple separated the Holy of Holies (which contained the “presence” of God) from the rest of the Temple. It therefore separated the “Holy” from the “Profane.” In Latin, the “profanus” was the area outside the Temple. Jesus’ death obliterates the separation of the holy and the profane (everything is sacred), just as his consecration of ordinary bread and wine at the Last Supper makes sacred that which is ordinary.