54. Mark 14:10-21: The Betrayer and the Son of Man

Wat do we do with passages like this? Mark tells his story but it’s not what we want to know. Why did Judas betray Jesus? Ark doesn’t tell us. Doesn’t even make him out to be a bad guy. The devil didn’t make him do it. Not according to Mark. Nor are we told that Judas was disappointed by Jesus’ kingdom movement and thus offered to betray him to the chief priests. But maybe what Mark doesn’t tell us points us in the right direction anyway. What might Mark be saying by saying nothing we can claim a “reason” for this event. Eugene Boring claims “that Mark is only interested in the unseen hand of God at work in these events (Boring, Mark:10524-10526). That’s why he offers no “reasons” for it. My hunch is Boring is right on this.

The same point holds for the arrangements for Passover. Boring again seems on target:

“’The Lord needs it’ . . . This is the key to the Markan understanding of this scene. Historicizing interpretations have attempted to discern in all this some prearranged plan secretly made by Jesus and his contacts in Jerusalem on previous visits undocumented by Mark, or have claimed that Jesus is resorting to secret signs to locate a secure room in which he and his group could celebrate the Passover. All such approaches miss the Markan point, which is to emphasize the foreknowledge and authority of Jesus. When Jesus predicts in advance how it will be, and the disciples find it ‘just as he had told them,’ Mark is showing the reader once again that the events of the passion do not take him by surprise. He is in control and goes willingly and resolutely to meet his suffering and death in full awareness of what lies ahead. (Boring, Mark:10604-10609)

That evening Jesus and the disciples arrived for the meal. But the meal begins inauspiciously. Jesus solemnly (use of amēn) declares a betrayer sits at table among them. Distressing, you may well rightly imagine. Each thought to themselves, “Surely, not I?” (see Psa.41:9). Placher comments:

“Surely, not I?” The Greek particle at the beginning of the sentence indicates that the questioner expects a negative answer. More colloquially, “‘It isn’t me, is it?’ Yet the asking of the question implies at least a shadow of doubt. As Origen sees it, ‘It may happen, in the struggle against principalities and powers and rulers of this world of darkness, that one may fall quite unexpectedly into evil. … Thus, each disciple feared lest it might be he who was foreknown as betrayer.’ This is part of the memory we preserve when we repeat Jesus’ actions in the Eucharist; as Vernon Robbins puts it, ‘After Mark, no Christian can eat the holy meal without asking himself, Am I myself a betrayer of Jesus?’ None of us can be sure of our innocence, though we can know our guilt” (Placher, Mark:4057-4064).

Mark, Jesus, Judas, and the reader know who it is, though. And “the Son of Man (this strange, eccentric, somewhat Messiah-like figure) goes at is written of him.” Again, this idea of this scene playing out according to God’ will is prominent. None of what is to unfold, as horrible as it will be, calls into question or negates what God is doing through this Jesus. “But woe to that one by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that one not to have been born.”


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