20. Mark 14:60-61a
Then the high priest stood up before them and asked Jesus, “Have you no answer? What is it that they testify against you?” But he was silent and did not answer.
We like to think of the four Evangelists as something like a first-century Action News camera team, roving around Palestine, capturing every word, deed, and thought Jesus and the disciples had. But that’s not an accurate picture, nor does it do justice to the faithful creativity they exercised in offering a picture of Jesus that spoke truly and well to their distinct communities. Luke admits as much in the introduction to his Gospel:
Since many have undertaken to set down an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, I too decided, after investigating everything carefully from the very first, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed.
Luke acknowledges that many people are taking down the stories about Jesus and, further, that he was not an eyewitness. Rather, he is concerned with composing an “orderly account” – something that made sense and was contextually relevant – in order to confirm the faith of his patron, friend, and fellow-believer Theophilus. This desire to arrange and order and interpret the stories of Jesus in order to strengthen the faith of their community is characteristic of all the Gospels.
With Mark, the earliest of the Gospels, his faithful and creative ordering and arranging is influenced significantly portions of the book of Isaiah often described as “the songs of the suffering servant.” These passages, sprinkled between Isaiah 42 to 53, describe an individual (or perhaps the nation of Israel) who is sent by God to redeem the nation but is rejected, even abused. While bystanders think the servant is being punished by God, he actually exemplifies trust in God, redeems his people through his suffering and faith, and is exalted by God.
Read just a portion of the fourth of these song and you can hear Mark’ faithful echo in his account of Jesus’ trial that we read today and his larger passion:
He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
By a perversion of justice he was taken away.
Who could have imagined his future?
For he was cut off from the land of the living,
stricken for the transgression of my people.
They made his grave with the wicked
and his tomb with the rich,
although he had done no violence,
and there was no deceit in his mouth (Is. 53:7-9).
Why does Mark look to Isaiah to make sense of Jesus’ life and death? First, the Old Testament in his Scripture and he reads all of his life and the events of the world through that book. Second, the events of Jesus’ death took everyone by surprise. Absolutely no one expected God to redeem through suffering. Some, like Judas, never got over their disappointment. Some, like Paul, Mark, and other early Christians, reinterpreted their understanding of God and their Scriptures in light of the Easter proclamation that Jesus had been raised. If God raised this One who was rejected and despised, they reasoned, then we need to look at everything anew. And as they looked they stumbled on passages like this one from Isaiah and realized that God had regularly worked through the weak and vulnerable things in the world to achieve God’s purposes.
Why does God work that way?
Perhaps so that we would know it was God.
Prayer: Dear God, make us open to the surprising ways in which you redeem, the surprising places in which you arrive, and the surprising persons through whom you achieve your will of mercy and grace. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Post image: Russian icon of Isaiah, 18th cent. (iconostasis of Transfiguration Church, Karelia, Russia(