Mark 12:24

“Is not the reason of your mistake,” answered Jesus, “your ignorance of the scriptures and of the power of God?

it is never enough
to quote scripture
the dry husk
of past wisdom
yearning to breathe free
so cyclically xenophobic
captured only for the pure

sola scriptura
refuses a presence
rewriting old stories
rummaging through new
to find a next treasure
shared well past
an answer sheet

To not be able to suspend our disbelief is a repudiation of the “power” of G*D. Everyone seems to have something that they don’t believe represents or is within the purview of G*D.

These two show themselves in over-strict purity or setting up of rules for how everyone “should” behave.

Here resurrection is one thing too many for some to swallow. It is off the table of conversation because it simply offends their sensibility of how things should work.

This same resurrection becomes problematic if it is the only designated way in which life progresses. There is no need for resurrection to be an automatic at some point in the future.

All creedal statements attempt to either protect G*D or shape the limits of G*D. In doing this to G*D we are also doing it to our Neighb*r and *urself.

It is so easy to become distracted and start saying just a little more than we know until finally we are espousing much more than we know as the one and only, literal and fatalistic, way life can make sense.

The questions we ask carry loaded ideas within them. Simply listen to the way people try to frame a conversation through questions. Once this can be heard it will be time to simply listen to the way you ask questions.

We too easily turn scripture into stone by choosing which parts are literal and which metaphoric. At this point of choice it seems that we are likely to confuse our categories and make literal that which is clearly metaphoric and find all manner of ways to justify our behavior in the face of a clear dicta.

When we are better at being Readers (and thus Re-writers) of scripture we have an easier time of relaxing with G*D. Resurrection or not won’t really make any difference in the joy of this moment.

Mark 12:23

At the resurrection whose wife will she be, all seven brothers having had her as their wife?”

once a designation of property
is made and instituted
within our little cultural universe
it can’t be returned to its chest

set loose to cast a mirage
over family clan community
it rises to national sovereignty
possession becomes paramount

this kind can only be cast out
by a wilderness prayer retreat
long enough to learn enough
and be bound by release

Now the question based on the story of Seven Brothers and One Bride—whose property will the still unnamed woman be at the time graves are opened and the dead are reanimated?

How can this preposterous set-up ever come ’round right, transforming dominion to delight?

If we stick with the premise of the story there is no reason that any one of the brothers has any more of an advantage in the mystery of any life after death than they had while they had their faculties clustered about them.

Although it is not legitimate to make quite such a big linguistic deal out of it, the action involved in resurrection is “rising up”. This brings to mind both a folk song magazine, “Rise Up Singing”, and the importance of uprising in the midst of occupation and oppression. Occupation and oppression are mechanisms of death; uprising is new life in the midst of the old.

An appropriate uprising to this question is to bypass it, not engage it directly. This dismissal of a false premise is an important step on the way to any journey to rising up with a song in your heart and letting it loose into a dark night.

In a modern day of romance the emphasis of marriage is upon personal feelings and decisions. In older days, as well as the abominable Quiverfull movement of today, arranged marriage, even in childhood, were all the rage. This goes beyond a marriage made in heaven or men’s minds and ends up in legalism and fate. The decision made by my older brother seals my fate. No wonder I easily and quickly die when so entrapped.

To find a way to move beyond any current tradition is to find a key to responding to a false question with a larger response. This needed response is a wilderness response to a temptation to be right.

Mark 12:22

All the seven died and left no family. The woman herself died last of all.

we live under the tutelage
of one fairy story or another
to tell your totem
is as revealing
as your personal name

we are sure we are
a dismissed third child
overlooked and under-valued
who by dint of empathy
finds a way through

and then we find we are
a fourth or fifth
even a sixth
resigned forever
another doomed failure

perhaps lucky number seven
will bring a charmed life back
and all generations will rejoice
when we hear those words
for such a time as this . . .

but no
some tasks
are unfinished
no matter
who tries

One by one the brothers wear themselves out trying to make their brother’s image live. Pygmalion had a much easier time. In George Bernard Shaw’s telling, there is no happy ending marriage between Henry and Eliza, just as there is no happy ending of progeny here.

All six substitute brothers are said to λαμβάνω (lambanō, take something in order to use it) the woman. This is added information to see this as a property transaction. Who owns whom is an ongoing issue as old as Cain.

The treatment of women as property continues. As this is being written, The United Methodist Church attempted to modify their constitution to affirm the importance of “women’s and girls’ equality and well-being.” While receiving a 66.5% positive vote, it failed the two-thirds needed. Women are still going to their grave having been ranked and treated as a commodity.

Mark’s readers are being asked to wonder about religious rules that only benefit some as this will be part of a needed response. Can anyone other than a “son” deconstruct a patriarchal system? Yes.

The specifics of this story come to an inglorious end. The only end is that of suffering and death for all. There is some of this unsatisfactory ending that will conclude Mark, but that is another story for another time. For now we simply come to terms with that which doesn’t end well.

Mark 12:21

and the second married his widow, and died without family; and so did the third.

if at first you don’t succeed
there is no guarantee
that any x-number of tries
will bring satisfaction
in a task well-done

all that’s available
is the comfort of a work
for its own weird sake
whether appreciated or not
it is quite enough

should work arrive
under a condition of profit
it turns suddenly thin
a mere shadow
lived under domination

Premise: A man’s property is to be passed on to his son(s). In this story, the man is dead, gone, period. At question is how to honor his memory (justifying the keeping of everything— property—in the hands of men). It becomes the responsibility of his closest representative to stand in to see that there is a proper path for his property to be passed on. With the familial, tribal structure this became the duty of his brother or father.

In this particular, a brother “invests” further in the “woman” by marrying her and attempting to bring forth a son.

Given a clue earlier that the Sadducees didn’t believe in resurrection, we can see their sense of resurrection as something that takes place in this world—brother resurrecting brother. A part of the irony here is that resurrection in this world, this Paradise, is very much a good place for the kind of renewal Baptizer John spoke about. People did not come to the Jordan for some eternal reward, but a very present challenge of meaning in their present context.

A wilderness reflection on baptism will be revealed in a final response about living now, not sometime later.

At any rate, we have now gone through three of the seven brothers and still no heir.

When seen through the eyes of the unnamed woman, we can hear the echo of what has recently been claimed, “Me, too!” Is a woman’s uterus her value? Is her virginity an added value? Is property anywhere near a proper valuing of an image of G*D?

Such a devaluing of women also devalues men. Is siring a child for my brother my value in this family? (Am I my brother’s penis?) In terms of an earlier construction (3:27)—procreation was created for humans; humans weren’t created for procreation.

Mark 12:20

There were once seven brothers. The eldest married, but died and left no family;

brothers are connected
blood thick

one commits all
all back-up one

compulsion beats desire
first constrains last

limits another’s self

knowing one’s place
decides one’s pace

until only shadows remain
casting their pall over all

Seven brothers. This is going to be a long story, perhaps even shaggy.

As soon as the first line is uttered, those familiar with Jesus’ religious heritage could see a line of argument being set in place.

As soon as the last phrase is spoken, there is an inevitability to the next verses. It would be interesting to combine this story with the pattern of “The House that Jack Built” to get a feel for the nested connections between individuals, family, tribe, and additional levels of cultural and economic relationships.

Instrumentally, marriage here is a family relationship expressing ownership. Marriage for kings is an expression of political alliance, which has a large economic component. For those who are under the sway of a king, marriage is also commoditized through dowries and other customs of who lives where. In both cases, it keeps power with the male of the species simply on the basis of a particular gender expression of biology. As much as anything, male succession is an economic construct.

While the text talks of “children” it should be noted that we are primarily talking about a son. There are some exceptions for daughters to inherit (see Numbers 27:1–11), but the Sadducees, like all interpreters, are capable of selecting which stories to emphasize and which to conveniently overlook.

When marriage as ownership and power-over enters to claim universality, there needs to be a process for what to do when the assumptions do not pan out as planned. This Deuteronomic story asserts a right to complete an original intention to pass on the eldest son’s property within the family. This keeps the property of a “wife/son” in the husband’s family. Thus the economic value of the “marriage” is brought to completion and all remains as it “should be”.

Mark 12:19

“Teacher, in our scriptures Moses decreed that, should a man’s brother die, leaving a widow but no child, the man should take the widow as his wife, and raise up a family for his brother.

there is not much more ironic
than using a disbelief
as a values test of someone else

we are now in the realm
of pure speculation unbounded
by protocols of engagement

control of the past
is a perk of the present
to trap any other future

if we start there
if we apply here
if we end anywhere

our ifs are not
ifs freed of wilderness
but lead us deeper

once begun in test
there is no end
but an end of learning

It may be helpful to remember the Mosaic legislation regarding a childless widow and any brothers of her deceased husband as found in Deuteronomy 25:5–10. In doing so it can be noted that the concern was with the maintaining of property within the family.

It is easy to read “trap” here even if it is not specifically stated because the reference has been dramatically changed from present property to future resurrectional relationships that are implicitly denied by the questioners.

Challenges to Jesus, his Disciples and today’s Readers of Mark rise to protect the property and finances of a ruling class. Challenges follow questions that are raised about domination by those currently in power. Jesus and his followers reveal the vanity of any status quo that requires harm be done in order to be maintained.

It is most likely that the question here comes from another story about Judah, his sons Er and Onan, and Tamar (Genesis 38). As an aside, Tamar’s story and Levirate marriage are only two places that throw into huge question any idea of what is currently meant by “traditional” family values and reveal it as cover for other agendas.

From whichever source the challenge arises, it is shaped to turn into a dualistic question limited to a “Yes” or a “No”. In that limitation, whether 4,000 years ago, or 2,000, or today, there seems to be no way out of a Gordian Knot of details and assumptions so interwoven that any direct response will be subject to “Gottcha!” It is often best to wait and listen for an earlier and deeper return question.

Mark 12:18

Next came some Sadducees – the men who maintain that there is no resurrection. Their question was this –

there are not 10 rounds
in everyday life
some never make it
to the struggle
when we do
we are trapped
by rope and cage
into win or lose
round by round
stage by stage
we value each
in its turn
knowing each
lives on in
dreams nightmares
constraining opening
boundaries journeys
vanquished victorious
we exit to
everyday eternities
rued cherished
breathing beyond
a new venue

Information about the Sadducees is not the clearest. Suffice it to say they “maintained a literalist reading, while the Pharisees fostered the tradition of an oral interpretation—the ‘Oral Torah’” (Sabin193. It might be said the Sadducees were a social class of priests who were able to work with whomever was in political and military control of Palestine—from the Hasmoneans to the Romans.

The Sadducean denial of resurrection also included angels and other spirits. Their focus was on Torah and Temple in their most conservative forms (literal and physical). They saw resurrection and angels as recent liberal speculations from late writings by Daniel and others, as well as foreign religious influences.

The Sadducees were basically in charge of the Temple through the High Priesthood and lost their authority and presence after the Temple was destroyed. After the fall of the Temple, the Pharisees developed into an ongoing rabbi and synagogue combination.

The Acts of the Apostles 22:30–23:10 gives another glimpse into the differences between Sadducees and Pharisees and the importance of resurrection which brings images of G*D into play for Jesus, Disciples and Readers. At stake is a theological point—if G*D can create an image of G*D, can or will G*D re-create and/or re-partner with that image in the present and future?

Religious opponents come toward Jesus with questions that would either trap or in some way discredit him. When their political frontal attack of a taxation question brought by the Pharisees failed, the Sadducees enter with a flanking theological challenge regarding resurrection. This is a significant one-two punch.

Mark 12:17

“The Emperor’s,” they said; 17 and Jesus replied, “Pay to the Emperor what belongs to the Emperor, and to God what belongs to God.” And they wondered at him.

in the premise
is our conclusion

until a sacred jujitsu
uses a premise
against itself

a simple conclusion
holds a constructed premise

until jujitsu sacra
concludes a conclusion
in a different frame

premised conclusions
conclude premises

By the time Mark is writing, the Maccabean revolt has come and the Roman retaliation destroyed the temple. The revolt was brought to a head by the image of Caesar in the temple. This brought a strong enough remembrance of Daniel and his “abomination of desolation” that revolt turned to war. That war was victorious for a moment and then disastrous beyond forced occupation.

It is understandable that the interpretation of this story by the early church obligated Christians to pay the tax. It has ensnared the church in state affairs to this day with the perk of tax exemption in the United States that in effect quiets any concern the church has about actions by the state.

The Jesus Seminar has voted this saying as an authentic statement by Jesus.

A fragment from the Egerton Gospel (one of the oldest found) shifts the story at this point by reporting:

Jesus knew what they were up to, and became indignant. Then he said to them, “Why do you pay me lip service as a teacher, but not [do] what I say? How accurately Isaiah prophesied about you when he said, ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart stays far away from me; their worship of me is empty, [because they insist on teachings that are human] commandments.’”

Whether Jesus gives his enigmatic response or calls the religious leaders on their attempt to trick him, we can imagine the result is the evocative word, “dumbfounded” (The Scholars Bible), which has overtones of awe and wonder, but in a confused manner. The choice behind the choice to pay or not is to pay attention to one’s values and this can be quite confounding. Likewise it is being caught with one’s motivations hanging out for all to see.

Mark 12:16

And, when they had brought it, he asked, “Whose head and title are these?”

you ask after Law
you ask before Caesar

which ascends
which bows

in a zero-sum game
there must be a loser

in naming one
the other will bite

have you stopped
beating your spouse

all Cretans are liars
except for me

being shown Caesar
we are asked to say Law

Big Brother couldn’t have laid
a better test of hate love

Jesus’ pedagogical strategy is to break the spell of credulity that the social order casts over its subjects and so to force a crisis of faith. He engages the disciple-reader with disturbing and disrupting quandaries that animate toward change, rather than with logically satisfying answers that pacify. Might this suggest that the church’s own theological discourse should be less declarative and more interrogatory?

This quote from Myers155 raises an important question about the difference between our seeking answers that quiet or investigating our responses to situations and more actively engage life. Use of a Socratic methodology grows disciples who can stand on their own as opposed to sycophants who are always looking back to their teacher looking to see if they got it right. Being able to deal with what is in front of us is more healthy for ourselves and helpful for others than carrying the past along as though it were a Procrustean Bed forcing every today and tomorrow into its shape and size.

Beyond looking at the image of the coin with a head and inscription (“Tiberius Augustus Caesar, son of the divine Augustus”) a Jewish Jesus would also be reflecting on “image” as it has come to us from Genesis. Sabin1163 notes: “Mark is working with the intersection of all these traditions when he shows Jesus to be, at one and the same time, ben ’adam—common humanity—and the very likeness of God.”

It is helpful to carry this image question with us outside our reading. Mark helps us make this an everyday question of who is trying to shape our image into theirs and has political implications.

Mark 12:15

Knowing their hypocrisy, Jesus said to them, “Why are you testing me? Bring me a coin to look at.”

when caught betwixt
takes your eye off
both shiny objects

refocus from always
to a teensy moment
mundanely grounded

no taking a long view
immersed in grimy details
seek an example

now we can be real
between tesseracted rooms
possibilities bloom

for such a time as this
and this and this and this
we live beyond tests

Which is the stronger word: “deceit” or “hypocrisy”? Both indicate a separation between what comes out of the mouth and what is hidden from view. In today’s world, lying is perhaps stronger than either.

Is the test of an ability to deal with the tax question or to see through the lie about what the questioners were doing?

The story could continue quite well without the “testing” question. It is as if this were an internal aside while in an internal wilderness. In this there is connection between what Matthew and Luke spell out as testing questions in the wilderness. Here in Mark they are scattered through the tale.

Mann470 translates “deceit” as “casuistry” and notes:

Few things have been more destructive of an understanding of Jesus’ critics than the translation of hupokrisis by “hypocrisy” and the corresponding hupokritēs as “hypocrite,” with all the underlying assumptions of deliberate playacting. Originally, the word…meant a hypercritical attitude, niggling, pettifogging…. It is also important to remember, for all the obloquy that has attached to the word, that there is an entirely legitimate place for casuistry, concerned as it is with the bearing of the law on some particular case. To all outward appearance, there was a legitimate (and, at that time, burning) concern about handling tax money with a portrayal of a human figure on it.

If the question were not labeled as mean-spirited [Mark, ὑπόκρισις (hypokrisis, hypocrisy); Matthew, πονηρία (ponēria, malice); and Luke πανουργία (panourgia, cunning)], we would more likely read it through the cultural realities of the time. This makes reading more difficult but also adds better texture to our wrestling with the text.