Mark 14:27

“All of you will fall away; for scripture says – ‘I will strike down the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’

first call the olives together
thank them for growing well
acknowledge they can’t stay
the same branch stem fruit

they will bring new life
to those who eat them
those who press flesh to oil
their preparation has ended

faithfulness from last season
trusting flower and tree
now needs a different calculus
accounting for a press

we falter during transitions
deeply disappointed
the old does not hold
the new does not cohere

though nothing new
we are thrown for a loop
out of time out of joint
we practice trusting nothing

Mark again uses his εὐθύς (immediately) jump. This time the shift is not about geography but from songs of praise to a foreseeing of abandonment. This is quite a shift from the heights to the depths.

What the Common English Bible (CEB) sees as a “falter[ing] in your faithfulness” needs to be seen in light of other uses Mark has made of σκανδαλίζω  (skandalizō, take offense or loss of confidence). It describes his hometown’s rejection of him, what the disciples did to the children by keeping them at bay, and what one should do to an arm or an eye should it offend.

If seen in light of the quote about the shepherd from Zechariah 13:7, Bratcher442 notes it means:

not that the disciples will lose their faith in their Master, but that their courage will fail and they will abandon him.

Likewise, Mark’s πατάσσω (patassō, smite or kill) can bring to mind a rainbow story where G*D says flooding/smiting all won’t happen again and to a Passover that protects a first-born from being destroyed. This is not a mere “hitting” of a shepherd, but a killing of that shepherd and subsequent scattering of the flock in all directions.

The abandonment is an abandonment to death. That death has been denied by Peter already and in just another two verses he will deny his part in that death by being one who abandons.

Imagine the whiplash here—Jesus has triumphantly entered Jerusalem, rebutted religious authorities, upset the Temple and predicted its downfall, and sung songs of praise. Now, abandoning disciples!

Mark 14:26

They then sang a hymn, and went out up the Mount of Olives,

high and lifted up
in the city
about to be grounded
in an olive grove

all our power
and symbols
will be pressed
to their essence

and so we sing
and change and dance
toward release
of old and new

A song of praise stimulates our hope and hope energizes any song we sing into praise.

Even as Mark hurries the story along from a prepared room in Jerusalem to beyond its walls where oil is prepared, we can pause to wonder about hope and praise in moments of betrayal, suffering, and death.

Sabin2128 reflects further on the previous verse when Jesus raised a last glass of wine:

Although in one sense it suggests that he is moving toward death, in another sense it offers hope that there will be another time, a new time, in which God’s kingdom will at last prevail. And by showing that Jesus speaks of this time as one in which there will be “fruit of the vine” to drink, Mark also suggests that there will be a time when the fruit of God’s vineyard will be accessible again to God.

It seems clear that Judas was present for the sharing of bread and wine. What is not clear is when he was no longer present with the rest of the disciples and on his way to the Chief Priest to complete the betrayal he had begun. This will be the first of the options. Its strength is the very energy of singing songs praise-fully. In such a setting people would not be tracking where others were and gives the most time for the planning that went into handing Jesus over to the Chief Priests and on to Prefect Pontius Pilate and finally to a Centurion to administer death.

With the adjustments Jesus made to the Passover ritual, there is no need to be limited to singing the traditional Psalms 113–118. As the party left Jerusalem, paralleling the Hebrews leaving Egypt, there may have been someone who lifted Miriam’s song of victory after passing through the sea and the drowning of Pharaoh’s army. This takes us back to the praise going on as Jesus left the Mount of Olives and entered Jerusalem in what seems like a long time ago. In between these times, Jesus sat on the Mount of Olives to speak of the Temple’s fall, echoing Jericho’s fall as the people shouted their victory praise.

Mark 14:25

I tell you that I will never again drink of the juice of the grape, until that day when I will drink it new in the kingdom of God.”

I am pouring out
the old wine
it has run its course

the new wine
isn’t ready yet
an involuntary fast

a laying down of body
without a rising in sight
another kind of fast

in such in-between times
a new covenant
isn’t full-blown

what we know of the old
persists in hanging on
and will until finally gone

awaiting new fermentation
raises uncertainty
to new heights

Peter’s denial of Jesus when he speaks of suffering and death is a beginning place to affirm that Mark’s writing is difficult to deal with. The matter of having preconceived ideas about what a Messiah should look and act like is one that continues down to the current proliferation of independent congregations.

Mann581 speaks of verses 22–25—instituting words for a Last Meal ritual—by remarking that a bibliography of writings about these verses, “would be daunting to the general reader.” His conclusion is: “In general most works on the history of liturgy deal with the Last Supper and what may be gleaned from the New Testament, but many come from denominational presuppositions.”

Remembering a previous debate about Jesus’ disciples not fasting, we have here an announcement that a time of fasting (not drinking) is upon Jesus, and, thus, the disciples. At question is whether we should still be in such a refusal of all that “wine” means, for everyday news would seem to confirm that we are not yet in a new relationship with G*D’s presence, much less a new relationship with our Neighb*rs.

Myers185 notes: “Mark’s portrait of the Last Supper is also significant for what it omits. ‘Do this in remembrance of me’…. But Mark…cited them in the commendation of the woman who anointed Jesus. Instead of memorializing Jesus, Mark wants us to remember discipleship practice.”

It might be interesting to continue sharing bread with one another, to give strength for a journey continuing toward good news, and to see (not drink) of a cup to encourage us to keep on toward the end of toasting a new G*D and Neighb*r partnership.

Mark 14:24

“This is my covenant-blood,” he said, “which is poured out on behalf of many.

this wine
is my thin thin blood
too little for my news
spilled too soon

I raise a toast
to those not here
who will yet taste
joy released anyway

I tip this glass
from which we all
have sipped a bit
to nourish unsown seeds

This is a controversial verse. No matter how you approach it, the relationship between wine and blood is tricky to hold together beyond a too-simple analogy. A lot of blood atonement theory takes root here, but it is not the only way to extend the comparison.

Wright195 notes:

Since this meal was and is so central, we shouldn’t be surprised that its meaning, and the way it is enacted, has often been the subject of bitter disputes and divisions within the church. Sorrow hung over the Last Supper itself, and sorrow hangs over every re-enactment of it within a divided church.

The “blood of the covenant” goes back to the Israelite experience related in Exodus 24. This is a unilateral agreement initiated by and dependent only upon G*D, not G*D’s people. We see some of this in the way Mark chooses to use διαθήκη (diathēkē, last will and testament) rather than the expected Greek word then used as “covenant” or agreement—συνθήκη (sunthēkē, bilateral agreement). This is a choice to continue to a hierarchical process that runs differently than the partnership emphasis I have followed. For Mark this is a theological/systems/process choice, not simply a linguistic or translational matter between Hebrew and Greek.

When Jerome translated the Greek manuscripts he had available to him into Latin, he used the Latin word we know as Testament. This is held to in the King James Version and others up to the late 1880s when “covenant” became the preferred English translation.

This opens for us the possibility of looking further and making a different choice. With the unilateral disposition of goods, there is also, finally, an entering into the trust needed for a partnership. It says, “I’ve brought things this far along the way and now you will carry them on.” Surely, wills can try to constrain the use of what is passed on, but this has the sense that the sorrow, each coming suffering and death, must be met contextually, not proscriptively. At issue is whether Jesus’ “covenant” is a constraint or setting loose of a partner.

Mark 14:23

Then he took a cup, and, after saying the thanksgiving, gave it to them, and they all drank from it.

a cup of wine
courses through blood
refreshing cooling freeing

a cup of wine
courses through gatherings
blessing disinfecting freeing

a cup of wine
courses through time
fortifying unifying freeing

In the previous verse praise was given for broken bread. The word used is εὐλογέω (eulogeō, celebrate with praise). This is “eu” (good) “logos” (words), or an extension of where Mark began—with good news. Bread and the breaking of it to have a meal together is praiseworthy. “Leavened” bread is that which is primarily turned toward one’s benefit, not the other’s.

In this verse the word changes to εὐχαριστέω (eucharisteō, to give thanks). In addition to containing “eu” (good), we also have “charis” (grace), as in say grace at a meal. This is where Mark has come to as his story moves toward its end—a meal together, even though its participants will all be participating in coming betrayals. The response to good news is a graceful response. No matter what has happened or will happen, we give thanks—it is enough that we made it this far, dayenu.

These two words help define one another, just as does bread and wine, good news and grateful/graceful response, G*D and Neighb*r.

Sabin1193 continues the definitional process by connecting the meal at Leper Simon’s house with this anonymous upper room:

In a poetic way these linking words [“break” and “pour”] serve to anticipate the Passion Narrative to come. There is a graphic link between the woman’s breaking of the alabaster vase and Jesus’ breaking of the bread that stands for his body, between the woman’s action of “pouring out” the oil and Jesus reference to the wine as his blood “poured out for many”. The woman’s gestures also appear to take place at a Passover meal, for the incident is set on the eve of Passover, and Jesus is “reclining at table”. Jesus himself says the woman has anticipated his burial. Thus this breaking and pouring out in the house of Simon the leper is linked to the breaking and pouring out of the Passover meal—actions that, in turn, are linked to the narrative of Jesus’ death….

These meals reminded us that boundaries are inappropriately set by insiders against outsiders. Eu logos needs eu charis.

Mark 14:22

While they were eating, Jesus took some bread, and, after saying the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them, and said, “Take it; this is my body.”

what we eat becomes us
seven days of unleavened bread
resets the body

resetting meaning
goes on every time we speak
what we say becomes us

a feast of talking
blesses all around a table
breaking the old tasting the new

good news unburdens
unleavens bloated systems
this is my sign

One prior reference to bread is the yeast of the Pharisees and Herod, which is not a good thing. By itself, leavened or unleavened, Bread is to be blessed. A traditional blessing goes, Blessed be thou, O Lord our God, king of the world, who causest bread to come forth from the earth.

For Jews, the Temple is part and parcel of their presence. The Temple is their body in the same way Christians name the body of their meaning, Jesus. The temple falls to pieces, Jesus disciples are to be as scattered as the stones of the Temple.

Bread is here acting as a promissory token where both persons have one-half of the whole token that will bind them together where’er they go. It will have a magnetic effect to always draw them back together. No matter how they change, the token will be recognized when the two pieces are rejoined.

We get into circular causality with this formula of took… blessed… broke… gave…. It looks and sounds as if Jesus is instituting a new ritual. Knowing how such stories as Mark’s work, we can also see Mark grounding the actions and processes of his community by putting these words into Jesus’ mouth. Which came first will never be known with certainty.

It is important to remember even one verse back. Presumably, Judas is still with the Twelve and receiving his portion of Jesus’ “body”. If betrayal is not a sufficient reason to keep someone from receiving a token of “belovedness”—what, then, would be? Even Jesus’ body will fall apart into suffering and death. This is foreshadowed with the breaking of the flask of anointing oil.

Bread is a needed gift in the wilderness when brought by messengers of hope in a dire time. Here we find strength for the journey.

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. Sabin2129 observes:

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 Mann567 describes, “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!

Bratcher437 describes 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 mēti expects 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 acknowledgment 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.