We are studying Mark 14:17-24 and Hebrews 8 for Sunday, June 2. Here are my very brief notes on the Mark text, which includes Jesus’ remarks to his twelve disciples at the last supper; notes for Hebrews 8:6-12 are here.

BACKGROUND AND CONTEXT: The Gospel of Mark is thought to be the earliest of all the gospels, and generally taken to be the or one of the source texts for Matthew and Luke. I was taught it was composed in the early 70s CE, but that dating depends on whether we think the evangelist knows the Second Temple has been destroyed, which happened in 70 CE. Jesus mentions its impending destruction – and he would presumably have known, so on that reading, the gospel could have been written even a bit earlier.

This significant episode is wedged between stories that set the stage for the passion: the authorities’ plot to kill Jesus (14:1-2) and Judas’ participation (14:10-11), an anointing at Bethany that Jesus says is anointing for his burial (Mark 14:3-9), and preparations for the Passover (14:12-16). If this were a movie, there would be a lot of cutting back and forth, between the conspiracy scenes and the foreshadowing scenes of anointment and preparation for a meal that commemorates a symbolic event in which lamb’s blood was incorporated into God’s action of liberating God’s people from bondage.

Then, after the Passover meal action, come the events of Gethsemane, the meeting-up of the two strands of narrative – the strand of the preparation of Passover and the strand of the preparation of betrayal. The gospel moves through the events of the passion, to the finale of the empty tomb (Mark 16:9).

The eucharistic verses are very familiar to Christian readers, because of the way they are often used in eucharistic or communion liturgy. The betrayal verses, maybe a bit less so.

CLOSER READING: In v17, Jesus “with the twelve” comes to the place where two of his disciples who have been making preparations for the Passover meal – they are unnamed, and don’t seem to have been among “the twelve.” We could speculate on who they might be …

The choice of twelve disciples, as people note over and over, seems to be a reference to the twelve “sons of Israel” who become the twelve tribes. This may be worth mentioning, since the Uniform Series lesson planners would like to focus our attention on the role of covenant relationship in the coming weeks.

The elements of the betrayal and the Passover come together and travel side by side for a few verses, here.

First, Jesus addresses the imminent betrayal (in verses 18-21). The news of betrayal shouldn’t really come as news to the twelve, because Jesus mentioned it in Mark 9:31. “But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.” [I’ve just finished grading midterms. I feel like I can relate.]

What’s interesting to me is that one by one, the disciples say “Surely, not I?” They’re distressed, too. Are they distressed because they suddenly realize this is it, or because they are afraid they might have done something … fatal? Without knowing it? Or … with some awareness that they were taking a risk, playing fast and loose with the “loose lips sink ships” rule? Because otherwise – if they were confident they hadn’t done anything wrong, or dim – why the concern? They are not very self-aware. [Again … I feel like I can relate.]

Jesus doesn’t really reassure them, when he says “it’s one of the twelve.” That narrows it down … not much at all.

This is typical Markan Jesus – hard core. The consequences for this betrayal will be so severe, that one will wish that one had never been born. And it feels like it could be anyone around the table.

And yet, alongside this dire warning, the grace of Jesus’ body and blood, in the form of bread and cup.

The language of “taken … blessed … broken … given” is the core of Henri Nouwen’s wonderful, remarkable Life of the Beloved. [I still don’t have my own copy of that book, because I keep giving it away …]

The sentences uttered here by Jesus already feel liturgical. The word translated “gave thanks” is the Greek word that gives us our word eucharist. For which Christians are the ones who give thanks.

In verse 24, there’s a text issue. Does Jesus say “covenant,” or “new covenant”? I will leave that to the experts, and try not to make too much out of that one word.

It’s hard to imagine the disciples can have understood the significance of what Jesus was doing in this scene.

But I don’t like to be too hard on the twelve. I have the benefit of a couple of thousand years of hindsight, and I still think I can relate.


St Mark the Evangelist Mosaic showing angelic lion