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.

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