Mark 9:16

“What are you arguing about with them?”Jesus asked.

a first sign of resolution
definition of where the rub is

can we even accept or restate
articulation of another’s experience

such mediation can get stoned
from both sides now

a first sign of power
finding a choice to arbitrate

right and wrong take second place
to extending a divine right to rule

every simple question is full
of nuance agenda conclusion

Is this the first question you would ask when coming into a contentious setting? How do you even get attention to ask this question in the midst of the crowd energy in seeing Jesus?

To whom did Jesus pose this clarifying question?

The commentators are all over the map on the focus of the question. The four most likely candidates are:

  1. The Disciples. The argument is that these are the ones Jesus is familiar with and he wants their input. This gives great power to the in-group as the setter-of-the-agenda. It is what is present in white privilege settings—those closest to the center of power keep their position by framing the argument in their favor.
  2. The Scribes. Here it is noted that a number of early manuscripts deliberately add “Jesus asked the Scribes”. Since we don’t have the earliest manuscripts, it has to be asked if this is an addition by a scribe or if it is a correction to a dropped word in a previous copying. But there is textual evidence of Scribes being the ones asked. It is also good form to ask the complainant what the issue is.
  3. The Crowd. Evidence for this will lie in the next verse when an individual from the crowd is the one who responds to the question.
  4. The Whole Scene—Disciples, Scribes, and Crowd. Remembering the excitement and movement of the crowd it will be difficult to sort out a particular component. We can imagine the ancient equivalent of a bull-horn being needed.

In the end, Mark doesn’t need a choice to be made about this detail. It is the question that is needed to set up the rest of the scene.

It may be that the response chosen reflects personality or temperament differences between commentators.