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.

Mark 14:51

One young man did indeed follow him, wrapped only in a linen sheet. They tried to arrest him;


a strange story
shrouds
an unwillingness
to find our own
nakedness

there is no hand
but our own
that can turn
our freedom
into restraint


Mark, like Jesus, gives us puzzles/parables that are not easy. We need to open our eyes and ears wider than usual. There is no satisfactory way to reduce the puzzle of this young man to a single solution.

To be wearing a single layer of clothing, particularly if it is a sheet, is unexpected even though it is evening and much energy has been spent on sleepy disciples.

Is this Bartimaeus who threw off his cloak before being healed and has not put it back on? Is this a representation of the beginning of the end when we are not to go back for a cloak? Perhaps it is someone who placed their cloak on the road into Jerusalem and it was soiled beyond cleaning? Might it be a set-up for the next puzzling appearance of an unnamed youth in Chapter 16?

Such questions do not exhaust the speculations that include this young person being Mark himself.

A personal remembrance of the Police Riot at the 1968 Democratic Convention and being willing to discard any loose clothing that could be grabbed makes this an all too vivid scene. Both this youth and myself could have been there innocently (I was taking a break from studying at Loyola to become an elementary teacher after just returning from two years in the Peace Corps and was curious about all those people over there) but innocence is no protection from things falling apart.

Mark does talk about clothing as it represents status. In such a case the last disciple to leave is a poor one without an outer garment.

Generously, the young man had been on an apostolic mission with the appropriate lack of a purse and only one cloak. Speculatively, in the process of their proclamation, the clearest message of mercy they could give was to give their one cloak to someone. This is to say what has already been said—there is no way to come to an explanation of this scene. Nonetheless, it is clearly drawn and undoubtedly meant something to Mark and his circumstance. Imagine, if you can, what this might have to do with Mark’s immediate audience.

Mark 14:50

And all the apostles deserted him and fled.


standing between mobs
loneliness personified
brings an unexpected
place of prayer
in a wilderness
of proliferating systems

there is no need
to search out a retreat
it finds us
in the most awkward
and common places
we will allow

at question
is not where or when
or why to listen
in the silence of absence
there is naught else
worth attending to


If this verse is a fulfillment of scripture that the sheep will be scattered (Zechariah 13:7), there are additional questions to be asked about fulfillment. Aichele18 looks at that question in regard to Judas but it is equally applicable to disciples and  Readers in every age.

If God wills Jesus to be betrayed, as is implied in the prayer-scene in Gethsemane, then Judas also does the will of God and deserves no condemnation. However, if Judas betrays Jesus on his own and is therefore worthy of condemnation, then in what sense are the scriptures “fulfilled?”

With the word “all”, Jesus is returned to the wilderness after his baptism (1:13). The impetus this time is from Powers and Principalities, not a Spirit of Belovedness. He is with the beasts without the offset of angels or a response to his Gethsemane prayer.

We begin again an extended wilderness stay that cannot be returned from with a learning to pass on. There are some wildernesses that are too deep. Like black holes, there is no return past its event horizon. The gravitational pull of the massive amount of material packed in an extraordinarily small space will not release what enters this black wilderness to come out the same way it came in.

Here we are lost in a dark night or a cloud that has taken the information of creation and lined a black hole with it. Ordinary activities of making meaning must now give way to unknowing.

If we were following Mark’s usual rapid recounting of events, this verse might very well follow verse 46 without the intervening episodes with a sword and an un-answerable question to a mob. In such a case Mark would immediately jump from the arrest of Jesus to the scattering of the disciples.

For such a small verse that has been anticipated for quite awhile, there are enough sparks to keep a Reader lingering.

Mark 14:49

I have been among you day after day in the Temple Courts teaching, and yet you did not arrest me; but this is in fulfillment of the scriptures.”


you’ve waited too long
a teaching has gone out
in the seat of power
an antidote is loosed

an ancient hope
held in abeyance
dimmed through time
rises once more

claiming tomorrow
recalculates today
it is worth adjusting
for fuller joy


It is difficult to know what needs commenting on and what needs no response. LaVerdiere2252 puts it this way,

Jesus had not responded to Judas’ hypocritical address and display of affection. Nor did he respond to the bystander’s effort [with a sword]. Like Judas’ gesture, it spoke for itself. Instead, Jesus responded to those who arrested him.

Those in a mob are seldom able to understand their own action. There is not a response from this crowd that would be believable. Jesus’ comment would seem to appeal to some narrative need for a comment.

Though there may be something in verses 48–49 a Reader might well attend to, this explication of the unnecessary nature of a night-time raid with implements of violence it is more likely a reminder of Chapter 13 with betrayals in every direction and arrests. It is just as likely that it fills a narrative need to prepare for the running away of the disciples that was set-up back in verse 27 with the quote from Zechariah about scattered sheep.

Aichele19 raises questions about the identification of the scripture reference and what is fulfilled here.

It is not clear what specific scriptures, if any, have been fulfilled in this story. The best intertextual candidate is perhaps the “servant song” of Isaiah 52:13–53:12. Or is the reference in Mark 14:49 to “the scriptures” simply a euphemism for God’s will? However another possibility is that the only “scriptures” which have been fulfilled are Jesus’ three intratextual betrayal prophecies in Mark 9:31 and 10:33 (see also Mark 8:31). Could Mark’s gospel be referring to itself in this passage as “scripture”? Could any single text possibly fulfill itself?

It is Aichele’s last question that is most intriguing. Is scripture, in its entirety or particulars, fate or fulfillable? If it is, what is fulfilled when a heart and behavior are changed? A circularity of good news?

Mark 14:48

But Jesus spoke up, and said to the men, “Have you come out, as if after a robber, with swords and clubs, to take me?


let’s hear it
for rhetorical questions
setting up our
fine analysis

your escalated response
only shows how right
I’ve been all along
demons recognize me

such recognition
reveals their weakness
to rely on strength
and eventual failure

at best they can keep
the top at the top
of every category
that doesn’t matter

your sword
will reveal the dullness
of power’s
position


This is a second image of thieves. The first was in the Temple when Jesus identified it as a Den of Thieves. There is yet one more time to come when thieves are mentioned.

Jesus began the teaching part of his ministry with a parable about robbing a house and the need to bind a strong man before robbing his house (3:23–30). If you have not already read it, Ched Myers, Binding the Strong Man: A Political Reading of Mark’s Story of Jesus is a must read to assist in moving beyond a personalistic reading.

The thief here is Jesus breaking into the strong collusion of country, clan, and cult that makes an idol out of present power structures. The symbol of this becomes the entry into Jerusalem to “beard a lion in their own den”.

Subsequent uses of “thief” identify such as Satan. In Jesus’ next parable (4:2–20) the thief is Satan, stealing a word of creation from the lives of people.

In this concluding part of Mark we come to three references: Den of Thieves (11:15–18); accusation of Jesus being a thief (here); and crucifixion between two thieves, placing Jesus as the King of Thieves (15:26–27).

The imagery of who is a thief and what of value is being stolen ranges widely in differing episodes. The Reader needs to take care to not push them all together in one meaning. Stealing power from the powerful is not the same as the powerful stealing more and more from those subject to them.

Here we have to ask the same question Jesus did. Of all the arrest scenarios, does this reflect well or badly on those doing the arresting? What does this say about the strength of their position?

Mark 14:47

One of those who were standing by drew his sword, and struck at the high priest’s servant, and cut off his ear.


Sweet Honey prays
must I do to others
before they do to me

in this reversal
any following news
loses its goodness

retaliation leaves
no choice but to remain
one step behind

even threatening hell
cannot get ahead
of a reptile brain

cutting off ears
doesn’t assist in hearing
a different drum


The Greek suggests the sword-drawer is known—literally, “a certain one”. In Mark’s time of writing it may be too early to reveal who this is. When John’s story is finally written we learn it was Simon Peter (in all the glory of both his names and parallel with his denial that a Messiah would suffer and die), again coming to an impetuous, authoritative, and incorrect conclusion that a violent resistance to repression was the only way to go.

Jesus has on multiple occasions used imagery from Isaiah regarding those who cannot or will not hear a wider option for human relationships. To cut off the ear of “one who cannot hear” (one enslaved to sustaining the current power imbalance) is a less-than-useless action.

Mark records no response from Jesus to either Judas’ betraying kiss or to this side action of swordplay. In contrast, Matthew has Jesus teaching, “Those who live by the sword will die by the sword” and Luke has Jesus saying, “No more violence,” and healing the identified “right” ear. John not only has Simon Peter being the sword-wielder but hurries Jesus to announce what Mark won’t get to for another two verses—the “fulfillment of scripture”.

Readers with an acquaintance of all four gospel stories can note how this scene plays differently in each author’s retelling and reveals a portion of the context in which they write. This is also encouragement for Readers to reflect on what this response might mean for their time and place.

Imagine the confusion here in dark. Wright200 concludes:

The church is called to live in the middle of this great scene: surrounded by confusion, false loyalty, direct attack and traitor’s kisses, those who name the name of Christ must stay in the garden with him….