The next few posts are going to be a running devotional, reading through the Gospel of Mark, with short commentary and prayer. I will post several of these over the next few days, leading up to the Easter.
They led Jesus away to the high priest, and all the chief priests, elders, and legal experts gathered. Peter followed him from a distance, right into the high priest’s courtyard. He was sitting with the guards, warming himself by the fire. The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were looking for testimony against Jesus in order to put him to death, but they couldn’t find any. Many brought false testimony against him, but they contradicted each other. Some stood to offer false witness against him, saying, “We heard him saying, ‘I will destroy this temple, constructed by humans, and within three days I will build another, one not made by humans.’” But their testimonies didn’t agree even on this point.
Then the high priest stood up in the middle of the gathering and examined Jesus. “Aren’t you going to respond to the testimony these people have brought against you?” But Jesus was silent and didn’t answer. Again, the high priest asked, “ Are you the Christ, the Son of the blessed one?”
Jesus said, “I am. And you will see the Human One sitting on the right side of the Almighty and coming on the heavenly clouds.” Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, “Why do we need any more witnesses? You’ve heard his insult against God. What do you think?”
They all condemned him. “He deserves to die!” Some began to spit on him. Some covered his face and hit him, saying, “ Prophesy! ” Then the guards took him and beat him.
Meanwhile, Peter was below in the courtyard. A woman, one of the high priest’s servants, approached and saw Peter warming himself by the fire. She stared at him and said, “You were also with the Nazarene, Jesus.”
But he denied it, saying, “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I don’t understand what you’re saying.” And he went outside into the outer courtyard. A rooster crowed. The female servant saw him and began a second time to say to those standing around, “This man is one of them.” But he denied it again.
A short time later, those standing around again said to Peter, “You must be one of them, because you are also a Galilean.” But he cursed and swore, “I don’t know this man you’re talking about.” At that very moment, a rooster crowed a second time. Peter remembered what Jesus told him, “Before a rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” And he broke down, sobbing. (Common English Bible)
Why did the chief priests and scribes want Jesus dead? The Gospel of Mark makes it clear. Follow the money. The chief priests and scribes operated as a part of the institution of the Temple that kept them in power. It was an institution that kept them comfortable, but it was a precarious situation. The chief priests had to keep the people coming, buying doves, changing money, and making sacrifices. At the same time, they had to keep Rome appeased, lest they get removed. The major charge against Jesus in his trial is that he threatened the Temple. He threatened their power, status, and comfort. For this, he had to be removed.
In the Gospel of Mark Jesus goes to the Temple shortly after arriving in Jerusalem, and leaves without incident (11:11). The next day, Jesus sees a fig tree and curses it for not having any fruit. The next scene is Jesus again going into the Temple. This time he drives out those who were “selling and those who were buying in the temple, and he overturned tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves.” Intentionally waiting until there would be a crowd, Jesus disrupts business at the temple. Mark explains that it is after this scene that the chief priests and scribes decide they have to kill him. He is costing them money. The next day, the fig tree that Jesus had cursed is withered. The fig tree and the Temple are the same. Jesus sets himself against the Temple authority. He disrupts the institution that has been built up around the temple. Later, he denounces the Scribes for “having the best seats in the synagogues,” as they “devour widows’ houses.”
It is immediately after this denunciation that he sees the widow making an offering in the Temple. This was an illustration of how the scribes “devoured widows’ houses.” When he foretells the destruction of the Temple, it is in reaction to a system that kept some in poverty so that others may be comfortable. When they left the Temple, the disciples marveled at its grandeur. All he saw was a pile of stones, ready to be reduced to rubble. He knew that it only stood on the whim of the Romans. It was God’s power that he was concerned with, not adroitly straddling a fine line between comfort and destruction. The Kingdom of God that Jesus proclaimed was not one of huge buildings and massive armies. This was the only kind of kingdom that the people understood, but he was seeking a different kind of Kingdom.
For this. the chief priests and scribes feared Jesus. They feared him because he was stirring things up. They feared him because he was a threat to their wealth and comfort. They feared him because they saw through their pomp and grandeur. He saw through their hypocrisy. He saw through their empty ritual, their heartless sacrifice, and their religious trappings. He saw through them, and that was frightening.
It can be an uneasy feeling when someone looks through the shell and sees the soul. That kind of vulnerability can unleash emotions. It can unleash something unpredictable, and downright frightening. In the chief priests, it unleashed an inhuman rage directed at an innocent man.
I wonder sometimes, what kind of response would it unleash in me?
Fear is a powerful emotion, O God. Help me to understand my fear, and name it. Help me to be honest with myself and with you. Comfort me in my struggle, and forgive me in my own hypocrisy. Lead me to a better place, and a higher calling. Take me to the kingdom that cares not for comfort or trappings. Help me rest in thee. Amen.