Down the Straightway
Mark isn’t one to waste time in his telling of the story of Jesus. In fact, his favorite word is “straightway” (in the KJV). Newer translations use different words that mean the same thing- “just as” or “immediately” or “at once” or “just then” or “as soon as.” All of those are used in the NIV in once chapter (Mark 1) to translate the Greek phrase kai euthus. Mark uses that phrase (by my very quick count) 42 times in his 16 chapters (it only appears 18 other times in the NT). Mark is plowing through the story of Jesus at breakneck speed- Jesus did this and immediately He did that and as soon as that was over, He did this other thing. Mark doesn't have long teaching sections; Jesus is too busy on the straightway!
But Mark can’t bring this story to an end without a final confrontation between Jesus and his enemies, the Jewish leaders (scribes, Pharisees and priests). He is headed down the straightway to the cross but there are some spiritual swords that have to be crossed first. Mark has been showing conflict all through the book (for examples, go back and skim over Mark 2:1-3:5 and Mark 7:1-3). The confrontation between Jesus and the Jewish leaders is constant. They have already decided to kill Him (Mark 3:6)...and Jesus knows that they are going to kill Him (Mark 8:31, 10:33).
As Mark races down his straightway toward his conclusion, he sets up one final conflict in Mark 11:27-33. While Jesus is teaching in the Temple courts following his triumphant entry in Jerusalem, the Jewish leaders come to him and demand to know, “By what authority are you doing these things? And who gave you authority to do this?” OK, they had seen Jesus' miracles, and none of them had denied the power those miracles demonstrated. But they were so sure they were right that they didn't stop to think about that. But when you are hot-headed and dead-certain you are right, you miss the obvious.
Tony Campolo tells about cutting his grass on a Saturday. His neighbor was a Seventh Day Adventist and believed it was wrong to cut grass on the Sabbath. Campolo said, “Jesus healed people on the Sabbath.” Without thinking about what he was saying, the neighbor shot back, “Oh Yeah? Well, two wrongs don't make right!” Two wrongs? When you are hot-headed and dead-certain, you aren't open to seeing the truth. Is there a lesson here?
The Jewish leaders are hot-headed and dead certain and they aren't really open to truth. They have already decided (again) that Jesus has to die (11:18). They aren't here really looking for authority; they are looking for an excuse! Jesus clearing the Temple (11:15-17) was the last straw. He has to go, and they start looking for a way to trump up a charge against Him. So Mark 12 is a series of trick questions that try “to catch him in his words” (12:13) so they can charge him and move this story toward a conclusion (but not the conclusion they imagine).
But that’s tomorrow's reading.