Paul Vanderklay often talks about the providence of reading many different books at the same time and the insights that can emerge as a result. I had this experience recently when reading NT Wright’s The Resurrection of the Son of God, along with the gospel of Mark. Dostoevsky’s The Brother’s Karamazov and a recent Q and A by Jonathan Pageau, were swirling around in my head. Wright was arguing that the gospel of Mark’s abrupt ending “for they were afraid,” was not how Mark had originally ended his book. The ending that was added later, was an attempt to make up for the loss of Mark’s original ending. To argue this, Wright pointed out that the entire book is filled with signposts, pointing towards the resurrection of Jesus. Jesus speaking about “rising again after 3 days,” telling his disciples not to tell anyone about the transfiguration until the son of man has risen again and the prophesies and so fourth. I was struck by one argument Wright made in particular about Jesus rebuking Peter for calling him away from his path to suffering and then calling his followers “not to be ashamed for him.” This is paralleled in the passion narrative when Peter does not follow Jesus to the cross and instead denies Jesus three times:
The same point can be made negatively in terms of the rebuke to Peter in 8.33, and the immediate challenge to follow Jesus, confess him boldly before the world and not be ashamed (8.32-8). This points forward, of course, to a catastrophic moment (14.66-72) in which Peter does exactly the opposite. Is it then likely that the gospel would end with the women ‘saying nothing to anyone for they were afraid?’
When I then turned to the gospel of Mark to read the passage, all of the pieces came together:
And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed and after 3 days rise again.
Notice who is rejecting the Son of Man, it’s the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes. This group of people are portrayed in the gospel narratives as the paradigm archetypes of self-righteousness and hypocrisy.
And he said this plainly and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and seeing his disciples he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me Satan! For you are not setting mind on the things of God and not on the things of man.”
As Jesus makes clear, Peter is a satanic figure, a tempter, who is trying to lure Jesus from his mission, from his path of suffering. The rebuke of Peter is akin to the second temptation of Satan in the desert when he tells Jesus to turn a stone into bread:
And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. And the tempter came to him and said to him ‘if you are the son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread. But he answered, “It is written, “Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that comes out of the mouth of God.
There is a lot more going on here than I can unpack in this piece, I will instead just pull out the elements that pertain to the general theme I am trying to extract. The devil tells Jesus to turn the stones into bread, since Jesus is hungry; this is something he would like to do. So, By telling Jesus to turn stones into bread, the devil is calling Jesus to turn away from his path of suffering, to take the easy route. Jesus response indicates this. In the old testement, rocks were symbolic of God, his strength, his judgement, his protection and so fourth. Criminals were punished by stoning, the ten commandments were written on stone. Turning rocks into bread is to avoid the difficult task of following Jesus, to make it easy, to rationalize or explain away the paradoxical demands of Jesus.
So, we’ve connected Peter’s rebuke of Jesus with the first temptation by Satan in the wilderness to leave the way of the cross. Now, I want to bring in Judas and his temptation of Jesus. This comes up in the story of Jesus and Mary Magdeline:
And while he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he was reclining at table, a woman came with an alabaster flask of ointment of pure nard, very costly, and she broke the flask and poured it over his head.
One way of interpreting this is to say that the women is anointing Jesus as a King would be anointed, proclaiming Jesus as Lord. One of titles of Jesus in early Christianity was Kurios, greek for master or Lord. As NT Wright notes, this title has revolutionary significance, Jesus is not just Lord of my individual life, he is Lord of all of the cosmos, (“all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me”) everyone, including Ceaser is under his rule.
There were some who said to themselves indignantly, “why was the ointment wasted like that?” For this ointment could have been sold for more than 300 denarii and given to the poor.” And they scolded her.
What hit me with this passage was the word “wasted.” Judas (he isn’t mentioned in Mark, but the other gospels mention him) thinks the ointment was wasted on Jesus, he sees no value in the anointment. Judas is rejecting Jesus as Lord. Judas wants to be self sufficient, he thinks he is good enough on his own, he wants to do good on his own. In his November Q and A, Jonathan Pageau was asked about the spirit of the antichrist, something he said came back to me when reading this passage. According to Pageau, the spirit of the antichrist is “ethics without Jesus.” This is exactly what Judas is doing here, he wants to sell the ointment and give it to the poor, a noble act in itself, but as Pageu says, it is the spirit of the antichrist. Judas wants to be his own Lord, he wants to do good on his own, without reference or help of a higher power.
In Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, Ivan meets the devil. The devil is a well spoken, seemingly ethical man who wants to improve the lot of humanity. But he has the same vision as Judas, he wants “ethics without Jesus,” this is the vision of the antichrist:
Oh, I love the dreams of my ardent young friends, quivering with eagerness for life! ‘There are new men,’ you decided last spring, when you were meaning to come here, they propose to destroy everything and begin with cannibalism. Stupid fellows! they didn’t ask my advice! I maintain that nothing need be destroyed, that we only need to destroy the idea of God in man, that’s how we have to set to work. It’s that that we must begin with. Oh, blind race of men who have no understanding! As soon as men have all of them denied God—and I believe that period, analogous with geological periods, will come to pass—the old conception of the universe will fall of itself without cannibalism, and, what’s more, the old morality, and everything will begin anew. Men will unite to take from life all it can give, but only for joy and happiness in the present world. Man will be lifted up with a spirit of divine Titanic pride and the man-god will appear. From hour to hour extending his conquest of nature infinitely by his will and his science, man will feel such lofty joy from hour to hour in doing it that it will make up for all his old dreams of the joys of heaven. Everyone will know that he is mortal and will accept death proudly and serenely like a god. His pride will teach him that it’s useless for him to repine at life’s being a moment, and he will love his brother without need of reward. Love will be sufficient only for a moment of life, but the very consciousness of its momentariness will intensify its fire, which now is dissipated in dreams of eternal love beyond the grave’… and so on and so on in the same style. Charming!
“The man-god will appear.” When the God-man is rejected, man becomes the measure of all things and the man-god appears.
This entire episode with the ointment can also be connected with the third temptation of Jesus:
Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”
Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’
Reject God and the path of the cross and all the kingdoms of the earth (empire and power) will be given to you says Satan. Again, Jesus rejects this temptation, he embraces the path of suffering and death, putting his trust in God. The meek, the submissive-those that submit to the rule of Christ, will inherit the earth. Jesus is proclaiming a kingdom “not of this world.” Although it seems that evil has won, the Christian hope is that God will prevail. Following Jesus requires a leap of faith, a trust that radical Jesus following, a rejection of the violent tactics of empire, will lead to the kingdom of God coming to earth.
Back to Bethany:
But Jesus said, “leave her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. For you will always have the poor with you, and whenever you want, you can always do good for them. But you will not always have me. She has done what she could; she anointed my body beforehand for burial. And truly, I say to you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.”
Jesus loves the sinners who come to him. Peter and Judas both betrayed Jesus. Peter came back with remorse, and became the rock upon which the church was built. Judas made himself the man-god and despite his later remorse and despair, would rather kill himself then come back to Jesus in repentence.
What follows immediately after this story is significant:
Then Judas Iscariot who was one of the twelve, went to the chief priests in order to betray him. And when they heard it, they were glad an promised to give him money. And he sought an opportunity to betray him.
Judas is going to the chief priests, the paradigms of hypocrisy and self righteousness. He is casting his lot with those who think they are good enough on their own, the self righteous ones who want “ethics without Jesus.” He, like the Chief Priests, is his own Lord. He sells Jesus for money. He is rejecting the path of suffering, the path to the cross (and the eventual resurrection) by giving into the satanic temptation of the “kingdoms of this world.”
To submit to Jesus and proclaim him as Lord is to reject the way of the world and to embrace the path of suffering. It is to reject the comforts of easy route and to follow Jesus to the cross, to be crucified, and be raised again. Can I live up to that? No, I can’t.