Silencing Skeptics – Friday, 9th week in ordinary time – Mark 12:35-37
The text of today is situated in the Holy Week and Jesus is in the temple. Four groups of religious leaders have attacked him in order to discredit him if not to bring him into direct confrontation with the Romans. Wave after wave of attacks have been dealt with by Jesus leaving the religious authorities red faced. Now that Jesus has silenced the crowd he chooses not to be silent. At the end of the Holy Week they may finally arrest Jesus but they will not succeed in arresting the fact of who he is, the Messiah.
What is at the heart of this text? In word and deed, Jesus has revealed himself to be the Messiah, yet that acceptance has been hard to come by especially for the religious leaders. The crowds on the other hand have been following the Lord in faith, acclaiming him to be the Messiah; a fact seen in the triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem in Mark chapter 11.
To those who refuse to accept Jesus as the Messiah, Jesus chooses to confront them. These skeptics may not finally accept the Lord but Jesus decides that it is time to challenge their thinking of him. In Matthew 22:42 Jesus asked the Pharisees what do they think of the Messiah, whose son is he? They reply that the Messiah would be the son of David. Now since they readily admit that the Messiah would be the son of David as revealed in the scriptures, Jesus goes to the scriptures that they are referring to, in order to prove a point.
Quoting Psalm 110:1 Jesus asks the scribes to re-visit the text on David, who prompted but the Holy Spirit declared that “My Lord (Yahweh) said to my Lord (Adonai) sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet.” The Jews claimed that the Messiah would be the son of David, yet David acknowledges the Messiah (Adonai) to be David’s Lord. How then can one who acknowledges another to be his Lord be his son; since the Jews claimed the Messiah to be the son of David? The absurdity of the position that the Jews held is now laid bare.
But acceptance is hard to come by. The scriptures take the silence of the Jewish authorities for granted and chooses not to give their silence even a mention. However verse37b acknowledges the crowds who listened to Jesus with delight.
What then is our takeaway?
The skeptics are not limed to the Jewish authorities of a time gone by but exist even in our world. Christ is denied often by many of the baptized who choose to be governed purely by their rational categories of understanding on religious matters. There is a beautiful quote that says, “For those who believe no explanation is necessary, for those who do not believe no explanation is sufficient.” This is not some simplistic retort to the skeptic; it is a fact because the stubbornness to accept the truth, like the Jewish authorities, exists in the heart and not merely in the head.
What made the crowd delight in Jesus’ teaching? Was it merely that Jesus had scored a verbal victory over the vociferous Jewish authorities? I think that would be trivializing the truth of the text. It often takes simplicity to see the truth. I suspect that unbridled education clouds the mind while clarity comes with openness. The anawim or the poor who seek the Lord for deliverance find him even if they are unlettered and often truth comes from the mouth of babes.
Finally, Jesus walked the talk and that is what the crowds saw. The scriptures attest to this fact when we are repeatedly reminded that they acknowledged Jesus because he spoke with authority unlike the leaders of his time.
Fr Warner D’Souza