Mark 14:61

But Jesus remained silent, and made no answer.

A second time the high priest questioned him. “Are you,” he asked, “the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?”


in the midst of a silence
so deep we are frightened
by our own breathing
a silence bigger than
all outdoors
collapsing on itself

a wee whisper of doubt
makes its way to question
if suffering is a beloved’s way
here before all that’s holy
you stand accused accursed
can you stand any other way


Can you hear the sneer in the voice when “you” is emphasized? How could a nobody from Galilee, and, even worse, Nazareth, presume such?

Wright204 points to this tone when he comments:

Mark is aware of irony here. Caiaphas’s question, in Greek, takes the form of a statement with a question mark at the end: “You are the Messiah?” The words are identical to what Peter said in 8:29. Now Peter is outside, about to deny he even knows Jesus; and Caiaphas, inside, asks the question with contempt, knowing already what answer he would believe.

Not only is Jesus’ background sketchy, so is his present. What Messiah would stoop to the indignity of this scene? This enacted parable contains plenty of irony if only religious leaders could get outside of their righteous need to be right.

We might even see a thought-bubble come from Jesus and comment about the strangeness of a beloved of a Blesser being judged by such as these who wouldn’t stoop to being Messiah’s peer but live out the desire of James and John to be in positions of power just because their guy won an election.

Asking about being a Messiah is the equivalent of asking about being an Anointed one. Caiaphas would be expecting a Messiah to be anointed as a sign of power. The anointing Jesus received by an unnamed woman was an anointing as a sign of death.

The questions and answers of this fraught moment whiz by one another. Shakespeare’s comedies don’t do any better at everyone being someone else.

With Baptizer John and now with Jesus, Mark reveals what prophets continually show—the powerful lie in wait to trap the righteous. They do this with lies, false testimony, and false friendship of enjoying company and betrayal with a kiss.

Mark 14:60

Then the high priest stood forward, and questioned Jesus. “Have you no answer to make?” he asked. “What is this evidence which these men are giving against you?”


when forms fall apart
it is time to get personal

in the center of confusion
there is an affirmation to hear

let’s cut to the accusations
what do you make of them

pick any of them
what say you

don’t worry
about self-incrimination

we just want to get
a balanced view


Translators have a choice to make as to whether there are one or two questions asked by the high priest. In addition to the double question printed above, it could be: “Aren’t you going to respond to the testimony these people have brought against you?.”

Either way, the hope is that of every prosecuting attorney—to have the accused say one extra word that will destroy their defense. Imagine Jesus proceeding to show how the false testimonies contradict one another. An explanation usually digs a deeper hole by opening the way for the whole kitchen sink to be thrown in someone’s face.

The attempt to reduce the ambiguity of silence heightens a key element of Mark’s writing. Aichele28 describes it this way:

How the reader understands Mark’s ambiguous conclusion will be largely governed by how she understands the previous parts of the narrative, including the arrest/trials sequence. …they continue a pattern of ambiguity that has already been well-established in Mark – a pattern that begins not at the beginning of the passion narrative but at the strange beginning of the gospel itself.

Aichele continues,

…Mark is a continuously and conspicuously self-disruptive narrative which resists every attempt to define its identity or even to render it coherent. …the whole gospel of Mark presents a proclamation which is, like Jesus’s responses to the high priest and to Pilate, “no answer.”

Readers may also want to know Jesus’ response to the situation that he is in, to clearly justify himself, so they won’t have to trust a parabolic mystery, offer their own service to wounded children.

Mark 14:59

Yet not even on that point did their evidence agree.


disciples are disciples
whosoever’s they are
they can’t help themselves

still practicing
a fine art
of mimicry

behaving themselves
into the shape
of their master

whether of Jesus or Council
overly enthusiastic disciples
betray their assignment

every one
had a better idea
of how to best please

resulting in no result
again and again
acting before praying


When in doubt about how to respond, be sure to get the technicalities correct. If at least two witnesses report, their testimonies must cohere. If they differ in any detail neither can be used to condemn you. Not only is the devil in the details, so are the angels.

As our end is in our beginning, and all along the way, we might begin to see that not only does Mark’s story carry an “ironic mixture… or uncanny truth with deliberate falsehood” [Sabin2135] but so do our lives. This irony is a better description of our experience of life than is “original sin”.

What is not ironic here is the reality of the danger Jesus poses to institutions that just roll along of their own weight. His call, along with John’s and other prophets, is a reordering of hearts and, thus, behaviors. When such are changed, so are the systems in which they live and move and have their being.

Myers199 sharpens this irony and points it back upon us and asks:

… disciples to face up to the ways in which we have denied the suffering Christ who is present in the world. Where have I seen the Christ and pretended that I did not know him? When have I broken faith with the Human One to save face, to stay safe, to guard my own life?

The opportunity to betray is always present. It is important to recognize this as part of our reality so we won’t fool ourselves with our self-persuasive denial and rationale to break the trust of creation and next generations. Our incremental excuses lead us to miss one critical detail or another. We become climate deniers or deniers of belovedness in this moment. As a result we shade the truth in a hope of getting by with an easier way for another day.

Mark 14:58

“We ourselves heard him say ‘I will destroy this Temple made with hands, and in three days build another made without hands.’”


I heard a threat
to our lovely Temple
with its awesome stones

my ancestors built it
my offerings support it
my meaning depends on it

a threat to this edifice
is a threat to the one
who cannot be directly named

I heard he was Joshua
who would shout walls down
not that I believe that

I heard he had aliens lined up
to build it in the shape
of a pentagon

I heard he would snap his fingers
and broken walls would
arise of their own accord


Mark is clear that this is a false testimony. The irony here is laid out by LaVerdiere2264:

In Mark’s presentation, those who brought false witness against Jesus had no idea what they were saying. From their point of view, distorting Jesus’ words, they gave false witness. From Mark’s point of view, they could not have spoken more truly. So understood, the “false testimony” against Jesus plays an important role in the trial, introducing Jesus’ interrogation by the high priest and Jesus’ extraordinary Christological proclamation (14:60–62).

The accusation of another can lead to a great affirmation. Those in the Methodist tradition are very fond of the story of gaining their name through the misapprehension of their way of approaching holiness—methodically. The slur of “Methodist” was turned into a positive value.

It might be asked what sort of building can be built without hands. Today we might think of robots, but then we would have to ask who built the robots. There is no way to get away from our anthropocentrism.

Mark is looking for a different kind of “temple”—one not built with human hands—a baptism of repentance that results in forgiveness (1:4, 15). This “building” will have elements of changed hearts in a matrix of mercy and compassion. There will be a breathing, a beating of life—seeds that grow of their own accord.

Mark 14:57

Presently some men stood up, and gave this false evidence against him –


witness number one
come on down

what’s your name
where are you from

do you promise to play
according to our rules

tell us in words we need
what you saw and heard

be careful a loophole
will upset our apple cart


Definitely a strange verse. It is open to the perspective that Mark protests too much. It is almost like modern campaigning that the one who calls “liar” first wins or the pervasiveness of negative ads.

From another perspective, we could see this as a great money-maker for those willing to join in a game of perjury when there are only positive consequences. We may not get 30 silver coins for bringing a false witness, but it may still be worth it. When a bounty is placed on heads it can get paid in many different ways.

Mark has been leading us along to see Jesus as a new Temple. Now Mark says that testimony about Jesus being a Temple is false.

What seems to be false is that Mark doesn’t want any side story to take away from Jesus being good news. In a land occupied by a foreign power and assisted by a religious system under the leadership of the occupier, there needs to be a credible threat to the powers that be.

There is not much more to be said than Mark is working from multiple sources and is stuttering a bit at this point.

Mark 14:56

for, though there were many who gave false evidence against him, yet their evidence did not agree.


the very richness
of our database
is working against us

there is no designing
a bumper-sticker
from this mish-mash

everything is riding off
in every direction
stampeding even

our procedures
have let us down
it’s time for a consultant

who are we going to call
the best money can buy
we’ve got to get this guy


The sequence in 13:9–11 is not an orderly progression. An arrest has been made. Who knows if an interrogation or a beating will come first. Whichever it is, it is to be understood as part of the reality of a situation when authoritarian tendencies ascend.

At some point there will be questions. To respond to all of them or none of them is one kind of witness but giving selected testimony is the strongest position to be in.

At this point there is no spirit-led position that would improve on letting the contradictions flow of their own accord. This doesn’t sit easy for folks who try to make their point and will go to practically the same length their accusers will go to shade things their way.

To follow the insights of chapter 13, it is important not to be in a worry mode (like Peter is when he tries to warm the hope in his heart by sitting near the light). It is only time to observe what is important and what isn’t important.

If one is clear that there is no exceptional exception available to the difficulties of life and judgments within it, attention can be made to what a spirit not bound to institutional protection will envision. This is a time to get to the heart of the matter and not be sidetracked by all the squirrels jumping here and there and back again.

I am exhausted when talking with true-believers fixated on doing anything to win. They expertly flow back and forth between accusations that I don’t measure up and then, caught making one too silly an accusation, will then flip into whining that they are the injured party. This is exemplified in the little scene about authority (11:27–33) where an accusation is followed by a whine and then followed by plans to bring bigger accusations and traps (12:13–17 and 18–27).

At such times I need to expectantly await a new spirit’s Wisdom.

Mark 14:55

Meanwhile the chief priest and the whole of the High Council were trying to get such evidence against Jesus as would warrant his being put to death, but they could not find any;


our self-imposed rules
require filling
check every box
of Form W6H6Y6

what was the offense
when did it take place
where did it occur
who was a witness

no there is no line
for why
there is no excuse
for this behavior

just do the best you can
give us the facts
that best describe
how bounds were broken


A difficulty with any attempt to come to a desired conclusion is uncooperative reality. There is a need to be careful in cherry-picking evidence. If climate change is denied, the very proof offered only lasts for a moment as the change will eventually wipe out all theories to the contrary.

There is an even more difficult problem than picking among pieces of evidence—finding any at all that would stand up to the criterion of having 2 or 3 witnesses who agree.

Institutions have a built-in disadvantage of appearing to know what they are talking about. It doesn’t take much to make any institution or process appear foolish if it tries to fudge a bottom-line of truthfulness.

Not finding evidence is not a breaking point for true believers playing at being realists. The Grand Inquisitor’s Speech from The Brothers Karamazov continues to reveal what is going on in this scene and in countries and churches around the world to this day.

The Speech takes place during the burning of thousands of “heretics”. Christ has quietly and humbly returned and been recognized by the Church. The Inquisitor says:

What I now tell thee will come to pass, and our kingdom shall be built, I tell Thee not later than to-morrow Thou shalt see that obedient flock which at one simple motion of my hand will rush to add burning coals to Thy stake, on which I will burn Thee for having dared to come and trouble us in our work. For, if there ever was one who deserved more than any of the others our inquisitorial fires—it is Thee! To-morrow I will burn Thee. Dixi’.”
[gutenberg.org/files/8578/8578-h/8578-h.htm]

Christ’s return is dangerous to the Church for it threatens to upset the social order and wealth the church controls.

Mark 14:54

Peter, who had followed Jesus at a distance into the courtyard of the high priest, was sitting there among the police officers, warming himself at the blaze of the fire.


the cold
of my heart
is spreading

I need warmth
even as fearsome
as an enemy’s

I’ll sit in
double discomfort
to abate one

I am self lonely
running back
but only this far

so brave before
so marginalized now
a situational traitor


Having run away in order to fight another day, Peter fled just far enough to be able to turn around and see the crowd on their way back to and through the Jerusalem walls. Picking up their scent, he follows until he finds himself in the courtyard of the high priest.

Waking up at this point, Peter either needs to leave or blend in. Most translations say that Peter sat with the guards. The Greek is ὑπηρετῶν (hupēretōn, servant). This can be extended to the soldiers of a king. Whether regular servants such as a maid or guards, there is a significant question about not being noticed. Even with just a warming fire for illumination, dress and familiarity with a person are hard to fake. If the heightened energy of gathering dignitaries and an arrestee having just come through, it seems unlikely that a stranger would not be spotted.

Even if Peter pulls off this Mission Impossible, we still have the prime insider only marginally closer than all the other missing-in-action disciples. Betrayers are now all outsiders, no matter what their intentions might be. While Peter is being warmed, Jesus is facing the fire of fearful antagonists.

It is worth noting a word more about the setting of a fire from Waetjen219:

…the natural expectation is that Peter is warming himself at the fire, as, in fact, it is translated in most English versions. But the word pye (“fire”), which occurs in 9:48–49, is not used here. Instead, the narrator has chosen the noun phōs (“light”). Peter is deriving warmth from some kind of light, and the most reasonable assumption seems to be that its source is Jesus, who is inside the high priest’s palace being interrogated before the Sanhedrin.

This helps keep us in the realm of a Wisdom story, not history.

Mark 14:53

Then they took Jesus to the high priest; and all the chief priests, elders, and the teachers of the Law assembled.


privilege
means never
having to say
welcome

you come
burdened
with chains
without agency

all who enter
are bound
to agree to terms
already drafted

our name is Council
you question
our authority
prepare to die


Text Box: privilege
means never
having to say
welcome

you come
burdened
with chains
without agency

all who enter
are bound
to agree to terms
already drafted

our name is Council
you question
our authority
prepare to die
The high priest was appointed by the Romans and the other groups mentioned have their own reasons to collude with the Romans. Together they act as a kind of parliament or advisory council and as the kinder and gentler face of occupation. Remembering the parable of the vineyard, it seems that many of them were also absentee landowners who also had an economic incentive to keep a lid on change. We are entering into a system based on power, which requires manipulation and lies.

The first evidence of irregularity in due process is a meeting called in the night. We are already in the midst of an ad hochearing very similar to an after-meeting gathering in a parking lot to re-do of just-made decisions.

This meeting, at the high priest’s domicile, is the equivalent of a smoke-filled backroom where deals are made outside of public view. It is a place where institutional malice aforethought can take place.

Those who deconstruct narratives can have a field-day with the distance this scene comes from the arrest of Jesus. Between the arrest and here there have been three events—the cutting off of an ear, an aside to those carrying out the arrest, and a youth running away naked. None of these have moved the story along, but they have added style and given opportunity to review the scene from other perspectives.

We have seen the arrest through sleep-crazed reactions to a stressful situation trying to live up to promises to die with Jesus—what is one sword against a mob? We have seen irony out front—why go to this nighttime charade outside the walls when it could have been ever so much easier at a number of earlier points? We have seen a mysterious figure flee helpless—where are the guardian angels?

Abusive Power continues to this day—think Black Lives Matter and Me, Too. Too many have been falsely killed/raped/detained.

Mark 14:52

but he left the sheet in their hands, and fled naked.


when our identity
is known by
the corporate insignia
we willingly
put on every day
there comes a time
to give the economy
of the time
what belongs to it

leaving a corporate shroud
behind
in its owners grasp
turns one to a shadow
haunting
all who lay burdens
on others enslaved
to provide their place
and time of power


Just like in an earlier episode when someone with a sword cut off an ear, this scene had no groundwork laid for it and no follow-up. If it were not for Mark’s frequent interruption of one story with another, these could be seen as arbitrary insertions from other stories about the arrest that were too dramatic to leave out and just stitched in.

What this episode does do is highlight that the disciples are not only quick to run away, but willing to go to every length to do so. In this case to run out of their clothes—to run away naked.

Waetjen250 does put a positive spin on this scene when he looks back on this moment from the vantage point of another youth announcing that Jesus has risen, and sees the “youth” as Mark’s narrator.

The youth of 14:51–52 fulfills the strategy of the implied author by serving as the ideal disciple in mirroring the reality of dying with Christ in baptism and its witness to the judgment of the Day of the Lord, which Jesus inaugurated and suffered.

This allows Waetjen, and others, to turn this transformation of a naked youth into a white-clad youth in a tomb being a sign of transfiguration for the disciples’ turn from inept students to fully fledged, spirit-filled, leaders in Galilee and beyond. This reading rests on references to a linen cloth and the age of the characters. Readers can tuck this away in their memory and see what they think of it at the end of Mark’s gospel.

My preference is more in keeping with La Verdiere2253 who notes the short scenes of swordplay and running away play, “a symbolic, literary role in the story, if not a historical one.” The energy present in both of these incidents adds images of importance and intensity to the narration to raise the stakes of betrayal.