Daily Reflection
June 4th, 1999
Eugene E. Selk

Tobit 11:5-15
Psalm 146:2, 7-10
Mark 12:35-37

Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn
Dutch, 1606 - 1669
Christ Preaching (La petite tombe), circa 1652
Etching, engraving, and drypoint
153 x 205 mm

click on picture to enlarge

Today’s passage from Mark presents a brief discourse immediately after Jesus has engaged in an extended interchange with the religious leaders of his day.  The discourse is puzzling, not only to us but to most scripture scholars.  The intention of the verses seems to be that the Messiah is not of Davidic descent.  It was Jewish custom that no one would address his own descendent as “Lord.”  Thus when David calls the Messiah “Lord,” he is showing that David could not be speaking of his descendent.  One explanation of this passage is that Mark and his community, contrary to the other Gospel writers, did not accept the Davidic line of Jesus.

What is curious about this passage is that Jesus uses what appears to be a purely verbal argument.  After all, the force of the argument depends entirely on how one takes the word “Lord,” and the word was used in many different ways during the time of Jesus.  We can conjecture that Jesus himself was probably aware of this.  So what is the point of the discourse?  First, Jesus, as is the case with both the Hebrew and Christian scriptures, uses modes of discourse of his time.  It was commonplace for students of the Torah to engage in what to our ear is hair-splitting.

But we should also note how rare this is in the gospels.  Jesus much more typically presents broad stroke lessons (see the preceding discourse on “the first of all the commandments” (Mark 12: 28-31) and paints wonderful images of God the Father,  the relationship between the Father and his people, and the Kingdom of God.

What might, then, this brief passage suggest to us?  Like Jesus, we should not eschew the language and modes of discourse of our times in explaining our Christian beliefs.  At the same time we should always keep before us the grand visions.  It is the latter -- the person of Jesus, the images of the Kingdom of God, the transfiguration, the pascal meal -- which inspire us and others to follow Jesus.

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