Wondering about Mark 12:18-34

More wondering occasioned by our parish’s Mark study…

The challenge re paying taxes the Pharisees and Herodians put to Jesus sizzles and perfectly fits the scene Mark’s painted (12:13-17). In contrast, the Sadducees’ question (12:18-27) and the interchange with the scribe (12:28-34) seem anticlimactic. What might be going on?

We know little about the Sadducees, so, guesswork! Not believing in the resurrection, they think that it takes a special kind of stupid for Jesus to set himself on a collision course with the authorities. They express this, indirectly, with the question they pose out of indolent curiosity. But for Jesus and the Markan readers, an existential question: if no resurrection, “we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Cor 15:19). Jesus, answering directly, pulls out all the stops.

The interchange with the scribe. Matthew and Luke see the anticlimax problem, make the scribe an adversary (Mt 22:34-40), with Luke placing the story at an earlier point to segue to the Good Samaritan parable (Lk 10:25-28). Perhaps Mark is using the story to circle back to the challenge Jesus left unanswered (“By what authority are you doing these things? Who gave you this authority to do them?” 11:28) to give a partial answer: what do the Jews owe to God? Jesus is doing “these things” to love God and neighbor. And, looking ahead, the interchange invites the reader to contemplate the actions of the protagonists in Mark 14-15: who is loving God and neighbor (or not) and what does that love look like?

There’s a possible corollary to this in the scribe’s response (“and ‘to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength,’ and ‘to love one’s neighbor as oneself,’– this is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices” 12:33). Readers properly wonder what theological frames Mark might be offering to understand the Passion, and OT sacrifice is often suggested as a or the frame. Are the scribe’s words a nudge to understand the Passion first in terms of love?

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