While Jesus was teaching in the temple, he said, “How can the scribes say that the Messiah is the son of David? David himself, by the Holy Spirit, declared, ‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet.”’ David himself calls him Lord; so how can he be his son?” And the large crowd was listening to him with delight.
This is one of the more peculiar and, frankly, difficult-to-understand passages in Mark. And maybe that’s okay – maybe, that is, it’s helpful to remember that we don’t need to understand everything in the Bible in order to read it profitably. In the meantime, however, we can still wonder about what is going on with Jesus’ words about King David’s relationship to the Messiah. Three points seems to bear most directly on the question.
1) Many people of Jesus’ day expect that the Messiah will be a “son of David” – that is, one of David’s descendants.
2) It seems that Jesus is trying to disentangle that relationship.
3) What’s confusing is that in other places – most notably Luke and Matthew – Jesus’ relationship to David is well established. So what’s going on?
Three possibilities present themselves. First, it may be that Mark is unfamiliar with the tradition connecting Jesus and David and so wants to clarify that the Messiah doesn’t necessarily have to be related to David (other than blind Bartimeaus, no one in Mark names Jesus a descendant of David – see Mark 10:47-48).
Second, it could be that Jesus is now pressing the offensive – rather than simply answer the questions of his opponents, Jesus is now taking it to them, and the crowds love it. (This seems to be the case in Matthew version of the same scene at 22:41-46.)
Third, it may be that Jesus is aware that those who connect the messiah to David also expect the messiah to come as a military leader to vanquish the Romans. (See Mark 11:9-10, where the crowd hails Jesus as one coming to restore the kingdom “of our ancestor David.”) From this point of view, no wonder so many who flock to welcome him as he enters Jerusalem will abandon him within the week. He is, as we have seen throughout Mark’s story, the anti-king, coming not in power but in weakness to redeem not by strength but through compassion.
Do we need to know for certain which possibility is right? I’m not convinced we do, as each enriches our reading of this passage and draws us more deeply into the story of our Lord’s passion. For Jesus is now no longer “on the way” to Jerusalem but here, on the brink of offering himself in love so that all, whether David’s descendants or not, may know God’s compassion.
Prayer: Dear God, encourage us to keep reading the story of your love, even when we don’t fully comprehend it. In Jesus’ name, Amen.