What follows flows from the first reflection on Mark 14:53-65. Familiarity with the gospel portion and with the first reflection is highly encouraged. That first reflection focused on Jesus’ silent faithfulness to His Father and the necessity of Christ’s silence for the unfolding of His love for us. Reflecting on Jesus’ silence during his great trial helps us to trust in Him even amidst trouble. We also see that, out of faithfulness to God and love for our neighbour, we, too, may be called to reflect His faithful silence.
In the current reflection, Jesus breaks his silence with a sonic boom. This word repels some in horror; but for those with ears to hear, Jesus’ redefinition of what it means to be “messiah” evokes the greatest hope.
WHO IS REALLY IN CHARGE HERE? WHO IS ON TRIAL?
In contrast to Jesus’ quiet faith, the high priest is losing his cool. The high priest is controlled by the flesh. His salivating has slowed, for now he seems worried that his meal will somehow get away. Here is one of a few inklings that point to the fact that “the real trial is not the apparent trial. Not Jesus but the Jews who accused and “tried” Jesus are on trial” (Leithart, Delivered from the Elements of the World). Perhaps it is not the cheese that is being hunted, but the rat.
Jesus’ humility and silence, his apparent powerlessness “strips the masks of righteousness and piety from the face of the powers” (Newbigin, The Gospel in a Pluralist Society, 105). Soon to be strung up on a cross for all passersby to mock, Jesus, by his silent trust in God, is beginning to “make a public display of [the rulers and authorities]” (Colossians 2:15). Jesus’ silent faith unmasks the powers’ façade.
In his frustration, the high priest changes tactics. He confronts Jesus with a direct question, regarding Jesus’ relationship to God and his own identity and mission: “Are You the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” (Mark 14:61). Jesus had wiggled his way out of such a question before (see John 10:24-39). The truth is that Jesus was reticent when it came to sharing his mission. This is highlighted in the Gospel of Mark in particular.
MESSIANIC SILENCE DUE TO MESSIANIC BAGGAGE
Jesus knew the title “messiah” came with a lot of baggage. The hope at the time was for the messiah to be a ruler who brought freedom from the nations and righteousness to the people: “May he judge Your people with righteousness and Your afflicted with justice. …. May he also rule from sea to sea … And his enemies lick the dust. … And let all kings bow down before him, All nations serve him. …. May there be abundance of grain in the earth on top of the mountains…. (Psalm 72:2, 8, 9, 11, 16).
And so Jesus shied away from the title of messiah throughout his three-year career. He was the messiah, and he knew it, but he didn’t want people to make him into an earthly king (John 6:15). So, instead of referring to himself as the christ, Jesus chose to refer to himself as the “Son of Man.” According to the new testament scholar, George Ladd, Jesus purposely chose this title because it was “… a term that appears in Daniel but that was not widely used in contemporary Jewish hopes…” (Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament 155).
Jesus understood that his way was through death and that his kingdom “is not from here” (John 18:36). When Jesus asked his disciples who they thought he was, Peter was still partially spiritually blind when he confessed that Jesus is the messiah, the christ. For Peter rebuked Jesus after he further taught them “… that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. And He was stating the matter plainly” (Mark 8:31-32). Peter is not here troubled by Jesus’ claim to future exaltation; no, Peter is troubled that Jesus is claiming that he will be a suffering servant.
BREAKING THE SILENCE
Because Jesus was unwilling to share with the crowds that he was the messiah; because his own disciples did not understand his redefinition of “messiah;” and because, in this scene before the Sanhedrin he has been so strongly silent before his slaughterers, it is essential to pay attention as Jesus breaks his silence to respond to the high priest’s question. “Are You the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” (Mark 14:61).
Hays puts it this way: “And at last, after all the hints, veiling, and mysterious evasion, Jesus shatters the silence: ‘I am’” (Hays, Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels, 60-61).
Rowan Williams sets the scene more completely, drawing attention to both the whole gospel and the trial scene: “…Jesus breaks his silence – not only the silence he has kept during the trial so far, but also, more significantly, the silence of the whole Gospel. All the way through he has held back, has forbidden any mention to be made of his status as God’s Son” (Williams, 5).
For this reason, Jesus’ word of response absolutely “shatters the silence.” His response comes as something of a sonic boom.
The response of the high priest and the rest of the Sanhedrin result. Jesus speaks and they tear their clothes in horror; they hear Jesus and, to an extent they had not before, they detest him.
The scene after Jesus’ confession strikes one as wild, as somewhat frenzied. But first, what does Jesus say? What exactly is his word of response?
Some might argue with me here, but I think it significant that at this high point of revelation, Mark records that Jesus says “I am” (Mark 14:62). The response is different in Matthew, who records “you have said it…” (Matthew 26:64). The two are making the same point, but from different angles.
The way that Mark portrays the scene really draws our attention to the words of the Lord to Moses, when Moses asks who he might say God’s name is:
“13 Then Moses said to God, ‘Behold, I am going to the sons of Israel, and I will say to them, “The God of your fathers has sent me to you.” Now they may say to me, “What is His name?” What shall I say to them?’14 God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM’; and He said, ‘Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, “I AM has sent me to you”’” (Exodus 3:13-14).
This is what we as the listeners of Mark’s gospel hear. It is true that Jesus is simply replying to the high priest’s question and Jesus “I am” is an affirmative, “yes.” The high priest would have likely understood Jesus’ response only on this level. But it is as if two consonant notes are being struck at once. One is a simple affirmative to the claim of being messiah; the high priest hears this note. We hear the second note – that Jesus is God, the great I AM.
“THE VOICE OF THE LORD BREAKS THE CEDARS”
The voice of the LORD breaks the cedars;
Yes, the LORD breaks in pieces the cedars of Lebanon.
Yet even on this note of simple affirmation, Jesus qualifies what he means by “messiah.” After the affirmative answer, he continues: “… and you shall see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.”” (Mark 14:62). Jesus’ affirmation confirms his claim to be messiah; yet, His word of confirmation comes with a two-pronged explanation. Indeed, “Jesus … presses the point further” (Hays, 60-61). This time Jesus does not allude to himself as the suffering servant, but instead boldly claims an exalted authority over his judges.
Breaking the sound barrier the first time, Jesus claims to be the king who reigns, after his death, at the right hand of God (Psalm 110:1). With the second boom, Jesus affirms that he is the judge that all will meet at the end of history as we know it (Daniel 7:13).
I will unpack the meaning of these two bold claims, as far as I am able, in future posts. What is fitting is praise.
Ascribe to the LORD, O sons of the mighty,
Ascribe to the LORD glory and strength.
Ascribe to the LORD the glory due to His name;
Worship the LORD in holy array.
“BOTH TOO TRIUMPHANT AND NOT TRIUMPHANT ENOUGH”
Richard Hays well summarizes the import of our discussion here; allow me to quote at length:
At this point, as at so many others, Mark affirms continuity with Israel’s tradition while also simultaneously insisting on transforming innovation. Jesus is the Son of David, the Messiah, as Bartimaeus had perceived and as the title Christos asserts. But the meaning of Christos is transposed to a new key and subjected to an inversion. The Messiah is more than a new military leader and pretender to the throne; he is the Son of God who is to be enthroned in the heavens and recognized as David’s Lord. The Davidic image, it turns out, is ‘both too triumphant and not triumphant enough.’ It is not triumphant enough because it fails to suggest the cosmic, apocalyptic scope of the Messiah’s victory over supernatural foes; at the same time, it is too triumphant because it fails to reckon with suffering and death as the means of winning the victory.
[T]he most explicit royal imagery in Mark’s gospel appears in the passion narrative. … Yet, in the midst of the mocking, the reader of the Gospel discerns that the taunts are ironically true. Jesus really is the King of Israel, but he will demonstrate his kingship not by coming down from the cross but by enduring it. Jesus’ death redefines kingship – but does not renounce it. Indeed, in his stunning reply to the high priest’s interrogation, Jesus explicitly affirms that he is the Christos (14:61-62), as readers of the Gospel have known from its first sentence” (Hays, Echoes, 55-56; the bolding is my doing).
In other words, Jesus is the Messiah, but not the type of messiah most were expecting. He is the king, the anointed one, the messiah who, as the Suffering Servant saves people by dying for their sins, in their place. And not only that, but He is the Anointed, Messianic, Suffering Servant who will reign beside the Father, and judge the nations. On the one hand, Jesus was less than what people desired the messiah to be; how shameful and vile he seemed to be in his suffering, humiliation and death. On the other hand, Jesus’ exalted nature and role was more than people could stomach. As usual, humanity cannot handle something too hot or too cold; we are always looking for what our own eyes judge to be right.
Who Jesus affirmed himself to be was completely unacceptable to the high priest. Jesus’ reply evoked a primal response in the Sanhedrin. In the following three verses the cruelty intensifies: Jesus is spat at, blindfolded, punched, mocked about being a prophet [though what he endured was the same fate as the prophets], and slapped. That is, they utterly rejected him and repudiated Jesus and what he did and said and was. They distanced themselves utterly from Jesus.
ON THE HOOK AND STAYING PUT
Jesus says enough to get himself killed. This is surely purposeful and calculated on Jesus’ part. Even before Pilate (Mark 15:1-5), Jesus’ brief words are enough to get himself on the hook, and his silence is enough to keep himself there. In doing so, Jesus is faithful to his Father, and living out his deepest love for us. Out of faithfulness and love, Christ’s humiliation proves to be power unto salvation, and his exaltation a great service for us.
Has there been a time in your life when God’s words have spoken so loudly to you that they have redefined your understanding of Him?
Do you find it true in your own experience that God’s response to the world seems to be ‘both too triumphant and not triumphant enough’? How so?
How is it fitting that Christ is both humble and exalted? Why do we need Christ to be both?