Mark 14:21

True, the Son of Man must go, as scripture says of him, yet alas for that man by whom the Son of Man is being betrayed! For that man it would be better never to have been born!”


how easy it is
to feel betrayed
by betrayal
to take one moment
and freeze it in time

our sense of betrayal
grows according to our hope
placed in another
to embody
our best vision

to respond with a threat
to our sense of betrayal
betrays our trust
in a vision that goes beyond
four hundred ninety betrayals


Tradition has verses 20 and 21 as a quotation from Jesus. However, only political operatives and some other DSM disorders speak of themselves in the third-person. Without getting back into chapter 13 Apocalypticism, it reads better if this verse were a comment from Mark’s community rather than from Jesus. This is a later perspective trying to make sense of a senseless death.

It is as though someone has to be blamed and we’ll even add on to that blame that they are so low and mean that they should never have been born. Redemption is not possible for them. They have spoken against the spirit and we are back in chapter 3 with a declaration about unforgiveable sin and a chapter 7 conversation about internal contamination (as though Jesus could not have been an external reason for their betrayal—the fault must be in them or their stars).

The major difficulty is that there is not just one betrayal, nor are there significant variants or rankings of betrayal. This statement returns us to a pre-Noahic world where betrayal is a standard due to be flooded out. How does this apply to the betrayal of Peter and the remnant of the Twelve or the women at a distance or to you or me?

The allusion to a Scripture passage behind all this is beyond our ability to figure out. Every commentator has their favorite candidate.

One way out of the difficulties of this verse is to look at the little word οὐαί (ouai, alas/woe, an expression of grief). This is not a curse word, but a relational one. It commiserates with whatever misery the betrayer has going on. It empathizes with the other. It minimizes whatever distance there is between people. It keeps a partnership alive, even when stressed. It is a good word to keep in mind when the rest of our thinking begins to go astray with extreme judgment and turning the complexity of life into an insufficient dualism.

Mark 14:20

“It is one of you Twelve,” said Jesus, “the one who is dipping his bread beside me into the dish.


you know who’s going to break
there has never been any question
it is the one who breathes alongside
in and out expand and contract
we see more we feel less

there is no special talent needed
to lose focus to forget grace
just showing up turns special
to ordinary expected routine
we are co-conspirator-in-chief

indispensability our coat-of-arms
the important cog in this place
without us things fall apart
our very loyalty blinds us
non-betrayal here is betrayal there


This response to the question of whether I am/will be a betrayer is not comforting or definitive. In Mark’s time and still in that place it is expected that bread will be dipped into a common bowl where further flavor or nutrition lies. Everyone dips their bread into one bowl. Everyone is still implicated as a betrayer.

As we remember images from the previous chapter of parents betraying their children and children betraying their parents, we can also hear that troubling times affect teachers and students, priests and parishioners, and any number of other presumed natural pairings. Sabin2129observes:

When Mark then shows Jesus saying that his betrayer will be “the one who dips with me into the dish”, he brings to mind both the dipping gesture characteristic of the Passover Seder and the dipping posture of baptism. By suggesting both simultaneously, Mark suggests that the experience of being betrayed is the tradition of God’s servants.

There may not be enough evidence to strongly support dipping as a metaphor for baptism, but it is an evocative gesture. Given the time of Mark’s writing—while Palestine is being reoccupied and the Temple destroyed—it is more than likely that followers of Jesus betrayed followers of Jesus for that is still going on in today’s world.

It is difficult to hear that betrayal is “the tradition of God’s servants”. We try very hard to keep this all-too-common reality at bay and yet it keeps coming back. Colonialism is built on betrayal of Love Your Neighb*r. Capitalism is built on betrayal for the Love of Mammon. Democracy is built on betrayal for the Love of Power. Through it all Church is built on betrayal for Love of Keys of The Kingdom.

Mark 14:19

They were grieved at this, and began to say to him, one after another, “Can it be I?”


and we each recognize
how close we are
to not being close at all

it takes nothing at all
to stop looking
in the same direction

shiny objects do distract
our own brightest of all
insists on being seen

so sad we’ve not practiced
seeing the brightness of others
enhancing our own


Literally, “They began to be sorrowful”, is an accurate description of that state of being Mann567describes, “as though the awful notion were beginning to seize hold of them.”

What a change in tone from the expectation that we have prepared ourselves to relive an ancient Passover. Something has gone awry! Our expectations no longer hold! All is at sixes and sevens!

Bratcher437describes a Greek phrase that reflects the dawning horror of what the Twelve were likely to do when finally faced with the anticipation of their betrayal:

μήτιἐγώ (mēti egō, Is it I?) : the interrogative mētiexpects a negative answer…and the question is not a request for information, but a protest of loyalty, “surely it is not I?” a question requesting confirmation—“No, it is not!”

O how we want to be assured that the worst in us will not come to the fore. This is even more basic than the ease and rapidity with which we blame another. This is not a moment to look around and figure out who Jesus is talking about. It is clear in a flash that the bell is tolling for each one. It is not clear that each of the Twelve can turn to face Judas as “the” betrayer. He was as trustworthy as any, including Peter, James, and John. In fact it would be the leaders (at least those most often named) of the Twelve who might be thought to face the largest temptation to shape things in their image—note the news these days about leadership in “evangelical” mega-churches and that same dynamic in previous generations of traditional Roman, Orthodox, and Protestant  leadership.

You might imagine the Twelve in a boat on a dark and stormy night, asking Jesus, “Don’t you care about me drowning?” This has turned out to be a very turbulent meal.

Mark 14:18

and when they had taken their places and were eating, Jesus said, “I tell you that one of you is going to betray me – one who is eating with me.”


one by one
betrayals add up
its been going on
since immemorial time
first dawned
into consciousness

It has happened
in dream time
with and without
volition or thought
to one’s face
struck from behind

this is not good news
but it is not new news
it is not even news at all
it can be announced
at every meal or breath

betrayal is not new
it is also not the end
of this or any story
revenge can hang on it
forgiveness grow delicious
repeated one more time


While reclining and eating in the manner of the time and place, an uncomfortable topic has arisen. Every breath is held to see what will transpire. A pause extends too long.

Is this sort of cutting to the chase, going to the root, a continuation of a hospitality motif that has been seen along the way or a winnowing of degrees of assurance?

Why wait until the middle of a meal to raise the question of betrayal? Might it be constituent of every Eucharist since and without its acknowledgement we can’t move ahead? This future betrayal that will be happening is different than a confession of brokenness that has occurred up to this point.

Back in 3:19 betrayal was mentioned in the listing of disciples. There it was identified in one of them. The mechanism of that betrayal was noted earlier in this chapter.

Here we have a more generic assurance that we can’t measure one betrayal against another. This is not a zero-sum game that if Judas is a betrayer, then, obviously, I am not. This is basically an announcement that betrayal is going to happen and it is intersectional. Everyone will serve somebody (listen to your Dylan) and, in so doing, will betray somebody else.

Betrayal happens in evening darkening and in morning lightening. Betrayal is an outward and visible sign of an inward and invisible greed. Left unaddressed, betrayal takes on increasing compulsion that goes beyond consciousness or volition. Until we talk about betrayal we won’t be able to talk publicly about politics, money, or sex. Until betrayal is acknowledged we won’t know mercy’s assurance.

Mark 14:17

In the evening he went there with the Twelve,


and it was
evening and morning
another seventh sabbath

all is ready
elements prepared
betraying disciples and all

and it was
a day like all days
visions and choices

all is still ready
a next moment
already at hand


A) And there was evening, we are back in Jewish time. And there was evening—a ninth day of creation.

B) It is helpful to emphasize, “… all of the Twelve.”

We are at the end of a time of preparation. Two have gone off to do what was necessary to prepare and they have done that work without recognition. What will be remembered is a woman’s anointing, not two male (likely) disciples heading up the preparations for Passover.

We are at a time when, after an eighth day of creation, wherein things fall apart—a Garden is off-limits, rains come to raise an ark, prophet after prophet fails to make their case in time (except, perhaps, for Jonah who is angry when the Ninevites change their hearts)—the Hebrews are caught in one exile or occupation after another. When bad news seemingly can’t get any worse—this is the eighth day (take a day off and creation falls to pieces). We are in need of a ninth day to repair creation. In some important ways the church has kept us in the eighth day and in other important ways has reminded us that the eighth day is an aberration.

Instead of using betrayal or idolatry as an excuse for wiping out a small group of people (remember the rainbow is a sign forbidding a universal genocide or common suicide) we begin with a time of beginning—evening—and with what it takes to reveal a heart changed by belovedness—hospitality for a once and future betrayer.

This line doesn’t really follow either the betrayal scene with Judas and the Chief Priests or the anointing scene anticipating the middle part of suffer, die, rise. We are at the end of what Mark sees as the culmination of wilderness exploration, healings, teachings, and feedings—evening. We are living the mercy, even when “it would be better if they had never been born”, of a heart changed by beloved mercy. What started as Passover, is transitioning beyond that now.

Mark 14:16

So the disciples set out and went into the city, and found everything just as Jesus had told them; and they prepared the Passover.


how strangely our hearts burned
in a city’s wilderness
to find a winding path
leading to a quiet place

here we can relax
let our guard down
routine settles in
wildness tamed

poustinia safe
we look on chaos
from afar
under light


There is more than one way to do most things. Even though we have heard this is a remembrance of Passover, we are uncertain as to whether it is intended to be an Egyptian Passover, a Roman Passover, or a Changed Heart Passover.

Are they preparing bitter herbs and unleavened bread as well as slaughtering a lamb in anticipation of a leaving of Egypt? Are the elements related to the realities of Roman occupation and this time it will be the Romans who leave (a Zealot’s dream come true)? Is this a more universal liberation that reduces the symbols to bread and wine that will be for every next liberation, including freeing people from the limitation of literalizing the stories of Jesus?

When two were sent for a colt, we heard all the details of their preparations. Here, two either did the preparations or supervised them. It is this vagueness that opens questions about the reversal of the lamb destroying first-borns and an escape to a saving of lambs through a partnership of belovedness that leads to living as though one were already free and rising beyond the consequence of such freedom within a system of constraints.

If Passover is redefinable beyond release from slavery in a foreign land we may find ourselves tracking in the realm of René Girard and his reflections on kenosis(self-emptying) and scapegoats. Rather than eating a Passover Lamb, Jesus identifies as a scapegoat loaded down with all blasphemies and sent into the wilderness of death.

Admittedly, some traditions of the church which grew from a Jesus-seed makes this a difficult shift to make. We are so used to a bloody sacrifice done for us that we can no longer ritualize multiplied errors away. We need to partner anew with a scapegoat in the wilderness to be able to rise beyond unjust acts to changed hearts.

Mark 14:15

He will himself show you a large upstairs room, set out ready; and there make preparations for us.”


we leave on ground level
looking all around
dismissing
a burning bush here
a burning coal there
a burning cloud above

seeking a trail of water
flowing uphill
revealing
expansive space
milk and honey ready
a launching place


In later days we will find disciples of Jesus gathering underground in catacombs. Whether in a privileged raised location or hiding from powers by going below, anywhere baptismal waters are found is a good place to gather.

If we were reading this in the Greek it would be easier for us to cast our minds back to previous uses of two words.

The first is στρωννύω (strōnnyō, to furnish or to spread). This word is used to describe putting rugs on seats or couches to ease one’s lying at meal. That would be appropriate for the immediate situation—the work needed to be done that preparations would be accomplished.

This same word was used for the entry into Jerusalem as those rejoicing at Jesus’ “victorious” entry “spread” their cloaks or branches from the fields to participate in that entry—“I eased Jesus’ entry with my cloak!”

This anticipates our entering a new phase of the way Jesus has been traveling and it is not so much victorious as welcoming and encouraging.

The second word is ἑτοιμάζω (hetoimazō, prepare or make ready). Mark has used this word twice before. Back in 1:3 Isaiah calls people to Prepare the Way. In 10:40 James and John are turned down for places of privilege. The right and left are for those who are prepared for them.

Isn’t it the way that the hospitality preparations we make to welcome others prepares us for deeper experiences of loving Neighb*r and, thereby, love G*D and our S*lf? In preparing a feast well we find the meal to be all the more delicious. The infamous ingredient of love makes all the difference with home-style grits or 3-star Michelin prime rib.

The mystery of preparation preparing the preparer continues to prepare the disciples to lose Jerusalem and gain Galilee.

Mark 14:14

and, wherever he goes in, say to the owner of the house ‘The teacher says – Where is my room where I am to eat the Passover with my disciples?’


picking up their walking sticks
putting on their cleanest sandals
the two set off
looking for a changed heart
that bears another’s burden

here a teacher
can put down roots
to transform expected solidarity
shattering partnerships
to sow new seed


This is the only time Jesus refers to himself as “Teacher”. Up to now it has been a title, status, or honorific that others have used in addressing him.

As one spends time in the wild wilderness to be able to address significant issues in civilized wildernesses, wisdom does accrue and so a significant part of being Beloved is to teach with a different sense of authority—not lecturing pearls of wisdom, but engaging lives where they are experiencing caughtness, stuckness, captivity, or even enslavement. This is different than being a Priest, Preacher, or Prophet.

This is also the only time Jesus refers to those he had called and those who joined them on the way as, “My Disciples”.

This begins to set this sending of two apart from previous sendings. When the Twelve were sent out two-by-two it was to experience authority of power over unclean spirits. This was done with proclamation regarding changed hearts and lives as well as with anointing by oil. When two were sent into a village to bring back a colt it was in regard to Jesus being a “Master” of the situation, a sign of a non-military victory entrance—a one-time event.

We are entering a scene that LaVerdiere2232calls “catechetical”. What is coming will not be a one-time event, but one regularly repeated by followers of Jesus as, generation by generation, we prepare to encounter the meanness of life that has been covered-up by tradition and resist one discriminatory status quo after another.

While others were preparing to arrest Jesus and put him to death, the disciples would prepare Jesus’ (mou) guest room (katalyma) where, eating the Passover with his disciples, Jesus would offer them his body and blood….katalyma refers to any place where hospitality is offered to people on a journey. [LaVerdiere2232]

“My disciples will learn lived hospitality”, says the Teacher.

Mark 14:13

Jesus sent forward two of his disciples and said to them, “Go into the city, and there a man carrying a pitcher of water will meet you; follow him;


like last time
you two go forth

since you like signs
here’s one for you

a hunk of a guy
doing woman’s work

yes look for
Watering John

try to remember
Baptizing John

then follow (follow)
follow (follow)

follow his lead
to a landowner’s house


Mark likes to work in doubles and triples. Sending two disciples for a task echoes disciples going forth two-by-two as well as two going to find a colt by which Jesus will enter Jerusalem.

In each of these sendings there is an underlying understanding that hospitality will be the background against which the disciples will know they are on the right track. Look for a hospitable moment and enter where it leads.

When we can not only put together instances where two are together, but the context which defines their presence, we begin to see a larger picture and how it is that good news and belovedness rise in the midst of every day.

There is also an opportunity here to parallel an anonymous woman and her flask of perfume with an anonymous man with his jar of water. One comes toward Jesus bringing a sign of anointing, Messiah-being, and one leads on to where baptismal waters find their meaning, a wilderness where community is critical in the face of accusation, threat, suffering, and even death. To receive such an anointing or follow such a baptism is the stuff of life.

At some point a comment is in order regarding the way in which a man is doing a woman’s work of carrying water, presumably for a household. It is difficult to get around a release from cultural norms when Jesus is around. We can hearken back through Mark’s story to remember other moments when we were surprised. The rich don’t have an advantage in arriving in whatever heaven means. Foreign women can be heard and prevail. The sick and unclean can assertively reach out to touch or call out to be touched. Hungry crowds need not be left on their own but available resources shared. Family and work are not bound by traditional forms.

Mark 14:12

On the first day of the Festival of the unleavened bread, when it was customary to kill the Passover lambs, his disciples said to Jesus, “Where do you wish us to go and make preparations for your eating the Passover?”


such initiative
once waiting to be sent
asked to volunteer bread
told to bring an ass

we are learning
to prepare a way
thinking this feast
is like all the rest

so where do we go
to see how far
we have come
and know all is alright

we haven’t yet learned
to throw a surprise party
but we do know our need
for a next regular feast

we so want to know
our suffering your death
will be passed by
let’s do this


At least one of the disciples, Judas, is prepared to betray. Some of the disciples (perhaps beyond the Twelve) see the need to prepare in the midst of Jerusalem as much as for an entry into Jerusalem.

Given that preparation is a central concern here, there is still no resolution about calendaring issues here and elsewhere in Mark. There is confusion about a standardized understanding of what is going to happen and when. Unleavened Bread and Passover lambs don’t easily mix. If we simply take today’s Eastern and Western Christian traditions about Easter as a starting point, they are seldom held at the same time. The mix of peoples of differing sects and agendas seem to have always brought confusion—and still are.

If, at this late date, there is confusion about what is to be prepared and where, it may reveal knowledge of plotting by the Chief Priests and Scribes which leads Jesus and others to have gone underground again. This is in keeping with guerrilla tactics Jesus has used before—show up where least expected and be absent from where you are expected to be.

A more mundane attempt to deal with the confusion is to simply note that a Jewish marking of time from Sunset to Sunset puts the feasts of Passover and Unleavened Bread on different days while Mark follows a Roman marking of time from Sunrise to Sunrise and groups them on the same day. Over such details do tribes compete.

To add to the confusion, William Tyndale translates the Passover references in this chapter as “Easter”—e.g., the Passover lamb becomes the “ester lambe”. Religious winners can retroject as they will.