Mark on the cross and resurrection

The vineyard     the virtuous and the
vicious circles     the work of the Israelite  
  the gospel is two messages to two audiences      the
cross as the act of man     the cross and resurrection as the
act of God

The Vineyard Mark
12.1-12, Isaiah 5.1-7.

1. God gave them the care of the
vineyard to the most mature Israelites, to induct them into the practices of
husbandry. He gave some of the children of Israel into the care of each
tenant-manager, and gave him the task of growing the business. (Matthew
25.14-15). He went to care for other vineyards.

2. But he did not leave his
tenants by themselves. He sent them teachers and encouragers. He expected
regular updates, evidences of the work and its progress, to show how they were
getting on. But these teachers and encouragers were driven out (Mark 12).

3. Without the king, in the form
of his servants, the tenant-managers were poor farmers. The fields become a
desert, the people of Israel battered and bruised (Isaiah 1). The blemishes
proliferate. The poor call God to come back and depose those he has put in
charge (James 5.4) The wealth you failed to pay the workman who mowed your
fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the
ears of the Lord God almighty.

4. The tenants gradually cease
to measure their performance against the standards set out in the Law. They
insulate themselves from the people. They are unable to hear any warning
noises. They are (Isaiah 6.9) ‘seeing, but never perceiving’ – closed.

5. The king comes back at year
end to see how they have fared with the estate. He hears the assessment of
their rule from their own staff. Their wealth/well-being is the criterion by
which they are judged. The people are covered in blemishes, the majority now
with no access to the temple, the means by which they may be healed and
re-integrated. The tenant-managers are removed from their post. On the morning
of that annual general meeting the bailiffs will knock down the door and carry
the bad managers out to the crowd of those that they had dispossessed. There is
regime-change and the re-imposition of direct rule by God through his Son, who
will later devolve power to his new people.

The purpose of Israel’s
legislation. We need to be able to contrast two possibilities:

1. On one hand we need an
account of the vicious circle. If an Israelite is not given
all the instalments of blessing this will begin to be reflected in his
appearance. If he is given no working capital, he will have no means to
practice the obligations of friendship, of giving gifts that represent him and
keep him visible in the assembly of Israel. Then he will have no access to all
the good things available within the assembly. He will begin to look like an
outsider, his appearance will be blemished or ambiguous, and he will be shunned
and treated as an outsider.

2. The other is the virtuous
circle. In this case the Israelite who has no working capital is given
working capital. When he has exhausted it (either profitably or unprofitably)
he will be given more – seven times seventy – in the expectation that he will
learn how to make ever more profitable use of it. He is given gifts in order
that he has gifts to give on his own account. From his wealth he will give, so
whatever he is given he will spread widely to the benefit of the whole body of
Israel. He is a benefactor, and he receives his recognition as such; he can
appear in the assembly. He has a place and an office, and he gives the
unprotected a place, taking them into his own house and giving them his
protection. He binds their wounds, and readies them for readmission to the
assembly. He is their kinsman redeemer, he honours them as though they were his
own parents. He displays the generosity of God. He does love to be seen in the
market, but you can find him on its edges, looking for the least of these to
bring back into the centre. Everyone has a reason to thank God for this servant
of his.

The work of the Israelite. Not
everybody is equal. Some have more advantages and responsibilities than others.
These senior Israelites have been given more and from them is expected more.
What is this more that they have been given? They have been the Law, which is
the knowledge of how to rule-and-serve and participate in the work given to
Israel by God. They have been given all the material means of life. And they
have been given the care of the younger ones. The younger ones are the trust, job,
gift, and treasure given to the older ones. If these younger ones are
successfully nurtured, they will also be the reward of their teachers. The big
ones are heads of households, and the younger ones are members of the household
headed by the bigger ones. But ‘head of household’ is not a permanent position.
There is a possibility of promotion or relegation, of having one of your
position taken away from you, of being returned to the ranks, your own juniors
promoted into your position, so you have to serve him as he served you.

The Law (Old Testament as a
whole, the sacrificial legislation in particular) is the means provided for
maintaining the integrity and health of the witness of God to the world, in the
form of the people of Israel. It is the mechanism for tidying and cleaning up
after the people of Israel. It is intended to keep the little ones in good
shape, and so to keep them inside the circle and prevent them from being picked
off by outside forces. Jesus charges the various (Pharisee, Sadducee) leaderships
(regimes) of Israel with failing to make any use of this safety reintegration
system. What the law says the poor must bring, it itself provides. The law
tells the rich to provide the necessary gift for the poorest to bring. It sets
the rich over the poor, insisting that what the poor need the rich will provide
them. It does not imagine that the poor will have to provide this for
themselves from some source of their own that they clearly do not have. It says
that they have only to turn up to get atonement in the form of the ashes of the
red heifer (Number 19.9). But the leaders of Israel have not understood that
this reintegration-system (the sacrificial legislation) is to be set in motion
and kept in motion. But in their hands it has been kept idle, or has even been
used as way of raising income from the very poorest. These teachers have not
understood the whole law as the ongoing voice of God and the intercom to God to
call him in to help Israel and keep all its little ones integrated.

The gospel of Mark is two
messages to two audiences. It is a message of liberation
to the poor. And it is a message warning of expulsion for the rich. But its
intention is not that these audiences remain separate. This warning is intended
to encourage the top-dogs to give up and go over to side of the under-dogs, so
the two audiences become one. The gospel of Mark tells the top dogs that they
have got themselves into a bind, and that they are most miserable in it, and
that they must also seek their release. They must abandon their leaders, and
hand their leaders over to the army of God. The gospel is not a description of
a static state of affairs, but a speech-act and warning that intends to
frighten us into ending our resistance, and giving ourselves up to the more powerful

Cross and resurrection – battle
and victory

1. The Son enters Jerusalem.
The homecoming of the Son as the act and gift of God to man. The Son comes home
peacefully. He enters the temple, the palace of God the great king, there to
seat on the seat of judgment, giving judgment, wisdom and generosity first to
Israel and then to all nations. To this palace and court of appeal (Mark 11.17,
Isaiah 56.7) the nations come for justice. The nations, led by Israel, are
given the Son sent by God, the young hopeful of the coming kingdom, to be our
leader and protector. The army of the Son will join him after the battle
and victory, not before.

2. The cross as the act of
God against the merciless leaders. After a long period of nagging by the
poor of the earth, the disappointment of God turns to anger. The Son comes in
war to throw the irresponsible tenants out. But instead of annihilating them,
he plays out their annihilation himself. On the cross the Son sketches out the
battle against the unrighteous rulers. He plays their part, so as they laid
(violent) hands on him, God lays hands on them. He is given to them (handed
over, betrayed, paredoken). This fury is about to crash against all the
assembled world-leaders who failed to lead or give justice. In the last instant
this wave of fury and distress, is summoned to a single point, and instead of
taking out the whole line of the assembled rulers, it crashes down on and takes
out precisely one single Israelite – the righteous one. He halts and breaks,
bears and absorbs this force. The Son summons all this trouble, distress and
fury. He calls it and it comes, a raging force (Rahab), stilled by a

3. The cross as the act of
man. Man lays hands on this Son and publicly destroys him, intending to
dispose of the claim and power of the rule of God who sent him. The wicked
tenants do not want any relationship with God or intend that God tries again to
establish any relationship.

4 The cross-and-resurrection
as the act of God. Man sets out to wage a campaign without considering
whether he can win it (Luke 14.31). He attacks and seizes the one sent, but he
cannot overcome him, but is himself overcome by him. Man is overcome by the
servant sent by God who can suffer, resist and endure the opposition of man
(Isaiah 53.10-11). The Son shakes off the grip of his enemies, and is raised
(resurrection) from all his rivals. Psalm 2.2-9 He laughed them to scorn.
He shook them off. Psalm 118.10-11; Psalms 22 and 110. Jesus fights alone, as
David fought Goliath alone: the Israelite army watched him, joined in only when
the enemy strong man was beaten, then chased the Philistines away (Judges
17.45-53). But having laid hands on the one God sent, man is himself gripped
and held by him. God will not let him go.

5. The people taken in
conquest. We are captured by this warrior, and have become his plunder. He
has snatched us from all corners of the world, selected and collected us to
form his assembly, the ecclesia. He stole us back out of the house of
the strong man (Mark 3.27) and now we are his. We are the seized. Whether God
uses violence depends on in what (whose) economy of rationality we reason. The
peace of God appears violent to those who oppose it, intending to establish their
own peace, just as the wisdom of God appears unwise to those who oppose it with
their own worldly wisdom. God (‘violently’ and ‘foolishly’) rejects the ‘peace’
and ‘wisdom’ of the world to establish a better peace and wisdom.

After the battlefield the trial
of strength continues in the public assembly, by a contest of challenge and
repost. The victorious king’s troops and officers are to confront every leader
in his own assembly. The new people of the king are told what to say (Mark
13.9-11), and are given the word (wisdom) which will demolish the public
reputation of the opposition. They are to read out the accusation against each
leader that lays hands on them, and give him this one chance to confess the God
of Israel.