Friday, May 22, 2020

Mark 10: 46-52 + 11 :1-10

and they came to Jericho:
and as he went out of Jericho
with his disciples and a great number of people,
blind Bartimaeus, the son of Timaeus,
sat by the highway side begging.
and when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth,
he began to cry out, and say,
“Jesus, thou son of David, have mercy on me”
and many charged him that he should hold his peace:
but he cried the more a great deal,
“thou son of David, have mercy on me”
and Jesus stood still,
and commanded him to be called.
and they call the blind man,
saying unto him,
“be of good comfort, rise; he calleth thee”
and he, casting away his garment, rose,
and came to Jesus.
and Jesus answered and said unto him,
“what wilt thou that I should do unto thee?”
The blind man said unto him,
“Lord, that I might receive my sight.”
and Jesus said unto him,
“go thy way;
thy faith hath made thee whole”

and immediately he received his sight,
and followed Jesus in the way

Jesus leaves Perea and crosses the Jordan. He passes through Jericho without incident.

There is another story about a man who crossed the Jordan and came to Jericho. He fit a battle there, and the walls came tumbling down. Either Mark doesn’t see the symbolism, or he thinks it is too obvious to be worth pointing out.

This is only the second time that Jesus has been called Jesus of Nazareth. The first time was when he came south to be baptised by John. This makes sense. You only call him "of Nazareth" when he isn't in Nazareth any more. 

We have one more healing. Another blind man. Unusually, we know his name: he’s the son of Timeus.

Four hundred years before Jesus, Socrates had a long conversation with a man named Timeus. They talked about the true nature of the universe. Plato wrote it up in a book. It would be a massive stretch to suppose that Mark knew anything about it.

Why are all these people telling Bar-Timeus to be quiet? Don’t people flock to Jesus for healing wherever he goes?

I once heard a very good sermon. It’s those hard-hearted disciples again. The same ones who didn’t want the little children to trouble Jesus; they don’t want the blind beggar to trouble him either. But as soon as Jesus takes an interest, they patronisingly change their tune. “Cheer up old chap, he’s seen you!” And how very true that is, even today. The people who say that they are Jesus’ followers aren’t very interested in disabled people and poor people and homeless people as a general rule. But if one of them turns up in church, suddenly, we’re all over them.

Well, maybe. But I don't believe the disciples were saying “Don’t ask Jesus to heal you. If there’s one thing we know about Jesus, it’s that he never heals blind people!” I think it is much more likely that what they were saying was “Pipe down. Stop making so much noise.”

Like Peter, Bar-Timeus has worked out who Jesus is. Unlike Peter, he is shouting it from the rooftops. Jesus spent the first half of the book telling demons and evil spirits to hold their peace. No-one can make this blind man shut up.

No-one has called Jesus the Son of David before. There is no story in Mark which suggests that he has a royal bloodline. But Son of David means rightful king. It’s a political challenge. Bar-Timeus might just as well be shouting “Romani ite domen”.

Why does he cast away his garment before he comes to Jesus? There are plenty of expository ideas. He is poor. Unlike the rich man, he is quite willing to throw away his one material possession before entering the Kingdom. In the very early church a baptism was an actual bath so candidates were naked. (The Romans didn’t mind this kind of thing as much as we would.) It has something to do with Jesus’ teaching about patching new clothes with old cloth; Bar-Timeus is throwing off the old robes of Judaism so he can wear the new robes of Christianity. It was a hot day. It was a big heavy blanket. He couldn’t have walked very far in it. Jesus has said that following him will be like an execution and crucifixion victims would have had their clothes removed.

I don’t find any of this entirely convincing. There is nothing particularly unlikely about a beggar dumping his blanket before being introduced to the King. But why does Mark think this one detail worth mentioning?

and when they came nigh to Jerusalem,
unto Bethphage and Bethany
at the mount of Olives
he sendeth forth two of his disciples,
and saith unto them,
"go your way into the village over against you:
and as soon as ye be entered into it,
ye shall find a colt tied,
whereon never man sat; 
loose him,
and bring him
and if any man say unto you,
‘why do ye this?’
say ye that the Lord hath need of him
and straightway he will send him hither”

and they went their way,
and found the colt tied by the door without
in a place where two ways met;
and they loose him.
and certain of them that stood there said unto them,
“what do ye, loosing the colt?”
and they said unto them even as Jesus had commanded:
and they let them go.
and they brought the colt to Jesus,
and cast their garments on him;
and he sat upon him.
and many spread their garments in the way
and others cut down branches off the trees,
and strawed them in the way.
and they that went before, 
and they that followed,
cried, saying,
blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord:
blessed be the kingdom of our father David,
that cometh in the name of the Lord
hosanna in the highest”

And now we come to the climax of the story: the stories which everyone knows; the stories which define the liturgical year. We’ve all waved palm branches (made out of green cartridge paper) in Sunday School or carried palm crosses (made in Africa) home from church. We can hear "all glory, laud and honour" and "ride on, ride on in majesty" and “hey zana ho zana hi” much more clearly than we can hear Mark’s words.

Mark gives us a little build-up to the main event. Up to now Jesus has walked everywhere. He is never said to own or borrow a horse or a camel; the fact that he criss-crosses the lake in Peter’s boat speaks against it. But this story about Jesus sending the disciples ahead doesn’t really tell us anything.

There are lots of puzzling incidental details. Why does it matter that no-one has ridden on this particular donkey before? What difference does it make that the disciples found it at a cross-roads? Was "the Lord needs it" an agreed code-word? Were the donkey wranglers in the business of lending animals to important folk? Or are we to envisage the disciples asking with a Jedi-style wave of the hand?

It doesn't really matter. Why did Jesus ride into Jerusalem on a donkey? Because his disciples had fetched him one. Why did he send his disciples to fetch him a donkey? So he could ride into Jerusalem on it.

Six hundred years before Jesus, a man named Zechariah had written a poem in which the true king of Jerusalem rides into the city on a donkey. How could he possibly have known? What are the chances?(One in ten to the seventeenth, if we trust Josh McDowell, which we really, really, shouldn’t.)

But this isn’t a co-incidence. Jesus has planned it. If he is fulfilling a prophecy, he is doing so consciously. He has taken the trouble to obtain a donkey in order to make it clear that he self-identifies as Zechariah’s king. Now Bar-Timeus has shouted it out there is no longer any question of keeping it secret.

Jesus has brought a cadre of students with him from Galilee, and presumably has picked up some more in Perea. As he rides into the city, they start shouting that King David’s kingdom is going to be restored. That is what “messiah” means to them.

We were told that Bar-Timeus “cast his garment off” before Jesus restored his eyesight. Jesus followers are “casting their garments on him.” People tearing off their clothes is evidently now part-and-parcel of a public appearance by Jesus. Mark doesn’t appear to say that people waved palm branches at Jesus; he says that they threw clothes and leaves in front of him for the donkey to walk on.

When a King comes to town riding on a beast of burden rather than on a war-horse, he is probably signifying that he comes in peace. But that doesn’t mean that he is a hippy king or that from how on there won’t be any more soldiers. Peace is good because it comes at the end of a war. Zechariah’s king was proclaiming peace because he had just defeated all his enemies.

Hosana is right up there with kumbyah as a word everyone uses but no-one knows the meaning of. There was a children’s Bible that we used sometimes in Sunday School which translated it as Hurrah!

It’s a Hebrew word: yasha na. Yasha means “deliver” or “save”. Na is a word you add to another word to turn it into a request. We are told that it means “we pray” but our English Bible most often translates it simply as “please”. (“Say na my sister you are” = “please say you are my sister”.)

So when Jesus rode into Jerusalem, his followers were shouting “Deliver us, please!”

As everyone knows, the name Jesus is an anglicisation of Yehoushua. It’s the same name as the man who fought the battle at Jericho after the Israelites had crossed the wilderness. It comes from YHWH-yasha: God-will-deliver. So the disciples are coming very close to shouting Jesus’ name at him: YHWH-yasha, yasha na! Deliverer, deliver us! Avenge us, Avenger!

Some people think that The Highest is a circumlocution for God, so "Hosana in The Highest" means something like "Save us, highest one, please!" But surely it makes more sense as an intensifier? Hosana in the highest! Hosana as big as it can get! Ultimate Hosana!

That word, hosana, yasha-na, turns up in one other place in the Bible, in Psalm 118.

save now, I beseech thee, o Lord
o Lord, I beseech thee, send now prosperity.

blessed be he that cometh in the name of the Lord

we have blessed you out of the house of the Lord

There is no doubt that when the crowds start shouting hosana at Jesus, we are supposed to think of this hymn. The disciples are actively quoting it. And Mark must also know the next lines, although the crowds do not shout it. 

God is the LORD, which hath shewed us light: 
bind the sacrifice with cords, even unto the horns of the altar.

The song is about welcoming the king to the city. But it is also about the arrival of a sacrificial lamb.


When the Psalm says that the sacrifice is going to be tied to the alter "with cords", the Hebrew word is baabotim. The word aboth is overwhelmingly translated in our Bible as rope, cord, bond or chain.  Isaiah (5:18) says the people are connected to sin as if by the "rope" of a cart. When Samson is imprisoned by the philistines, he manages to break the "ropes" he is tied up with (Judge 15:14).

However, on two or three occasions, context requires the word to have a different meaning. Ezekiel (19:11) talks about a vine “whose stature was exalted among the thick branches, and she appeared in her height with a multitude of branches”. On the first occasion the word for "branches" is aboth. 

Leaves in the higher branches of trees can appear to be wreathed or woven together; so while woven-together-thing generally means "rope" it can be taken figuratively to mean "foliage".

It follows that Psalm 118:27 could be translated, very literally, as

“with woven-together-thing bind the sacrifice to the corners of the alter”

and therefore

“with foliage bind the sacrifice to the corners of the alter”.

Psalm 118 is probably connected to the Jewish festival of Tabernacles which does indeed involve ceremonially waving branches over a sacred tent or hut, so at a stretch you could take it to mean:

“with the foliage you are going to subsequently wave over your tabernacle already in your hand, go and bind the sacrifice to the alter.”

The New International Version optimistically translates the verse as:

“with boughs in your hands lead the festal sacrifice to the alter”.

The Good News Bible goes even further:

“with branches in your hands, start the festival”.

The Contemporary English Version goes with:

“march with palm branches all the way to the alter” 

which seems to me to be actively deceptive.

Eugene H Peterson gives up altogether and goes with

“Festoon the shrine with garlands, hang colored banners above the altar!”

Mark certainly thinks that some things in the Gospel were foretold by the Prophets. Psalm 118 is quoted over and over again; Jesus will reference it directly in the next chapter. But if translators are allowed to go back and change the text of the Old Testament in the light of what they have read in the New, Josh McDowell's odds are shortened considerably.

I'm Andrew. I like God, Doctor Who, Star Wars, Wagner, folk-music and Spider-Man, not necessarily in that order. I have no political opinions of any kind.

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James Lynn said...

I've always associated 'colt' with horses. Google tells me that it can also apply to young male donkeys, but there doesn't seem to be anything in the (English) text to say that it was a donkey colt, rather than a horse colt. Given the importance this has for the fulfillment of a prophecy, you'd think that Mark would have made the effort to say so if it were a donkey colt.

As I understand it, you have to train horses, and presumably donkeys, so that they will let you ride them. If the colt was unridden then it had presumably not had this training, and would have been expected to throw off anyone trying to ride it. Which might be one reason to mention it. But it's a bit late in the story for 'was able to ride an untamed colt' to be worth making much of a fuss about. Perhaps its some sort of ritual cleanliness thing?

AndrewSshi said...

You know, I've always found the instructions to pick up the donkey to be so deeply weird because it heavily implies that there's a whole nother set of people that Jesus knows besides the Twelve, to the extent that he's already set up a password and countersign. You could found so many heresies off of that...