Thursday, 22 March 2007

Dying, we live

Kate is currently studying for a Certificate in Biblical and Theological Studies and I am peering over her shoulder whenever I have the time. We are having plenty of interesting discussions about Mark's Gospel and the spectrum of commentary that exists on the text. There is no shortage of 'liberal' interaction with Mark, but in many cases it really isn't all that impressive. For example, Dying, We Live: A New Enquiry into the Death of Christ in the New Testament, Kenneth Grayston, OUP 1990)...

So Jesus prays to God to take the cup from him... If it is asked what Jesus wanted God to take from him, what acutely distressing imposition should be removed, it is safest to avoid speculation and to hold firmly to what Mark says. He gives no indication whatever that Jesus is unwilling to suffer or die, least of all that Jesus begs God to spare him death and yet is willing to be fobbed off with three fractious visits to somnolent disciples. If we avoid romanatic elaboration, Mark's intention is tolerably clear. Jesus has previously said that if the shepherd is smitten the sheep will be scattered, or - to put it plainly - if he dies, his followers will be disbanded. What Jesus is therefore seeking in Gethsemane is an assurance from God that when he dies his name and work will be preserved by his followers. (214)

Grayston's imperious style has perhaps goaded him into a too ready dismissal of the idea that Jesus struggled with his impending death. If we avoid thinking about what Mark actually says - "remove this cup from me, yet not what I will but what you will" (verse 36, repeated in verse 35 and 39) - then his first bit of interpretation might sound reasonable. After all, from a conservative evangelical perspective we might struggle with vacillation in Jesus, the divine Son of God. But we really do have to ignore the word "cup" altogether if we are to swallow the claim that Jesus' only concern here is with being remembered by an endangered group of disciples.

The resonances of the cup [of the wrath of God] are extremely significant. Susan Garrett inadequately explains them in her The Temptations of Jesus in Mark's Gospel (Eerdmans, 1998), in which she desperately tries to evade the implications of divine anger and punishment, but at least she considers the possibilities!

If Grayston's wilful blindness is typical of how liberal scholars seek to bypass historic Christian teaching then we have little to fear from their exegesis as we interact with their works and learn from them.