Lord, as I come to you this morning, eager to be nourished by your word, I pray simply that your Holy Spirit would be at work in this reading, to awaken my heart to the life-giving and life-changing truth of Scripture. Many things will vie for my attention today, because of the very nature of my vocation—of what you have called me to do. Help me to “set the Lord always before me,” so that, like the Psalmist, I will not be shaken.
Continuing with Mark, I’m picking up today with chapter 14, verses 43-50:
And immediately, while he was still speaking, Judas came, one of the twelve, and with him a crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the scribes and the elders. Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, “The one I will kiss is the man. Seize him and lead him away under guard.” And when he came, he went up to him at once and said,“Rabbi!” And he kissed him. And they laid hands on him and seized him. But one of those who stood by drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his ear. And Jesus said to them, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs to capture me? Day after day I was with you in the temple teaching, and you did not seize me. But let the Scriptures be fulfilled.” And they all left him and fled. (Mark 14:43-50, ESV)
My goal through this blog is that it will be a written expression of my personal encounters as I spend time reading and meditating on passages of scripture. I am writing and sharing my own thoughts, because I believe that hearing how others experience the Bible can help us experience the Bible in new ways ourselves. So I write and share here what I see and observe with the deep hope that it will help to inspire and encourage others as they engage scripture as well.
One of my values with this blog is that it be a true and honest and authentic reflection of one woman’s ongoing efforts to explore and embody scripture: to explore through study, and to embody through always applying the question, “What does this passage look like in my daily life?” Or, perhaps, “How does this passage inform how I will live today, as I seek to grow in grace and walk in faithfulness as a follower of Christ?”
Today’s passage is one I have sat with for two days. I read it yesterday morning several times. I marked a few phrases with my blue colored pencil. And I wrote in the margin next to verses 48 and 49, “Jesus = confounded.”
This morning, I turned again to Mark 14, to this little section of verses, and read it again, this time aloud. And as I read verses 48 and 49, there it was again: Jesus seems confounded to me in this passage. Not confused, but confounded.
And this is just not a word I have ever used to describe Jesus before.
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Whenever I read these passages, knowing what comes next, and what comes after that, and even what comes after that, it is so natural to miss the “here and now” of what was happening. But it is when I stop and try to place myself into the “here and now” of it that I encounter Christ who, though he was God in flesh, was also fully human. Here, having just finished praying a desperate prayer for deliverance that will not be granted. Here, having been neglected by his closest friends, dozing nearby as he sat in anguished prayer. Here, having been given a divine revelation through the fullness of the Holy Spirit that lived in him that he would be betrayed by one of his twelve closest followers. Here, having carried the heavy weight of that knowledge around in his heart.
I feel empathy for Christ in a way I don’t ever recall feeling empathy before.
“Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs to capture me?” I imagine Jesus looking directly at Judas here, though he is speaking to all of those who came carrying swords and clubs. The passage describes them as “a crowd… from the chief priests and the scribes and the elders.” This leads me to wonder, were the religious leaders there themselves? Or was the crowd sent by the religious leaders, to do their dirty work for them?
Verse 49 leads me to conclude the religious leaders were right there, with their weapons: “Day after day I was with you in the temple teaching…” These are his peers. These are his colleagues. Their position as religious leaders, combined with the fact that they came with weapons, seems to add insult to injury. These are not law enforcement officials operating on a false tip. These are not soldiers who have been sent after Jesus based on trumped up charges. According to this passage, the people who came for him with clubs and swords were people who knew him. They knew him, and they knew better, yet they chose to blatantly deny what they knew of him: “Day after day I was with you in the temple teaching, and you did not seize me…” It’s as if Jesus is saying, “I’ve been here all along. I’ve made myself available to you, vulnerable to you. You know me. Yet you come at night. You come when I am in a garden, praying. I have no weapons. I am not resisting you. Yet you treat me like a common criminal.”
He’s confounded. Here, Jesus is the victim of a serious injustice. They know him, yet they pretend not to know him. They willfully lie to themselves and others about who he is. And the injustice of it leaves him utterly confounded.
This scene is just the beginning of the nightmare. Just the beginning of the insult that will be heaped upon the Son of God over the next twelve to twenty-four hours. The swords and clubs they are carrying are just a hint of the brutality that will follow, when hammers and nails and whips will be added to swords and clubs, all of which will be employed to punish Christ for the sins of all humankind. The full weight of punishment for every lie that has ever been told will fall on the undeserving Christ. The full weight of punishment for every act of violence and every blasphemous thought will fall on the innocent Lamb. He will be punished not as a common criminal, but as the worst criminal who has ever existed. His punishment will be for global atrocities, and what falls on him during those few days will somehow atone for it all, making it possible for people thousands of years later to be forgiven of their sins and to forgive others for sins that have been committed against them, so complete was this atonement.
This scene is just the beginning of the nightmare, but here—now—Jesus stands, facing people he knew, people who knew him yet pretended not to, and he is confounded. Confounded by their timing, their weapons, their choice of coming under the cover of night to him in a garden, when they could have taken him in broad daylight from the temple where he taught.
What, then? How does the Son of God, the perfectly holy one, the one who is completely and totally without sin, respond when he is confounded?
He defaults to submission to God and to God’s plan. “But let the Scriptures be fulfilled,” he says, signaling that his trust is not in what he sees or even what he feels, but rather his trust is in what the scriptures say. “Let the Scriptures be fulfilled.” A sure sign of faith and obedience and submission.
This is the lesson for me.
“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” (Hebrews 4:15, ESV) Jesus knew what it was like to be rejected, insulted, abandoned, and tempted. He witnessed the blatant hypocrisy and dishonesty of others and he felt the full weight of injustice heaped upon him.
And he had the very human response of feeling confounded by it. Yet his example is one that all of us can learn from and apply. He practiced full submission to God’s (often difficult) will. He trusted the authority of scripture and recognized that his suffering, though it would be great, was part of a bigger plan.
A question I find myself asking is, Am I willing to submit to temporary suffering in order to participate in God’s greater plan for my life and for how my life might be laid down for others? Am I prepared to say, “God’s will be done?”