Note #1: This post was previously published and is now offered as a forum for discussion. It is the first in a series focusing on the Passion according to St Mark. Please feel free to leave comments, insights, questions, critiques, ect. You can access these discussions by clicking on the “St Mark’s Forum” page listed above in the link field under this blog’s title.
Note #2: I’m using the Douay-Rheims translation of the Bible because it is not under copyright. Some readers may find the translation a bit archaic, and for this reason I have provided links (see “RSV Text”) to the quoted passage in the RSV translation.
14:1 (RSV Text) Now the feast of the pasch and of the Azymes was after two days: and the chief priests and the scribes sought how they might by some wile lay hold on him and kill him.
Passover (pasch) and unleavened bread (Azymes) were two feast which were closely connected. Passover was celebrated on the 14th day of Nisan (March/April) according to the Jewish calender. The reason and ritual of the feast are described in Exodus 12:1-14 (See RSV Text)
Exo 12:1 And the Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt:
Exo 12:2 This month shall be to you the beginning of months; it shall be the first in the months of the year.
Exo 12:3 Speak ye to the whole assembly of the children of Israel, and say to them: On the tenth day of this month let every man take a lamb by their families and houses.
Exo 12:4 But if the number be less than may suffice to eat the lamb, he shall take unto him his neighbour that joineth to his house, according to the number of souls which may be enough to eat the lamb.
Exo 12:5 And it shall be a lamb without blemish, a male, of one year; according to which rite also you shall take a kid.
Exo 12:6 And you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month; and the whole multitude of the children of Israel shall sacrifice it in the evening.
Exo 12:7 And they shall take of the blood thereof, and put it upon both the side posts, and on the upper door posts of the houses, wherein they shall eat it.
Exo 12:8 And they shall eat the flesh that night roasted at the fire, and unleavened bread with wild lettuce.
Exo 12:9 You shall not eat thereof any thing raw, nor boiled in water, but only roasted at the fire; you shall eat the head with the feet and entrails thereof.
Exo 12:10 Neither shall there remain any thing of it until morning. If there be any thing left, you shall burn it with fire.
Exo 12:11 And thus you shall eat it: you shall gird your reins, and you shall have shoes on your feet, holding staves in your hands, and you shall eat in haste; for it is the Phase (that is the Passage) of the Lord.
Exo 12:12 And I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and will kill every firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast: and against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments; I am the Lord.
Exo 12:13 And the blood shall be unto you for a sign in the houses where you shall be; and I shall see the blood, and shall pass over you; and the plague shall not be upon you to destroy you, when I shall strike the land of Egypt.
Exo 12:14 And this day shall be for a memorial to you; and you shall keep it a feast to the Lord in your generations, with an everlasting observance.
The feast of unleavened bread began on the same day as Passover, but it continued for a total of seven days. Here is what we read in Exodus 12:15-39 (See RSV Text) concerning this feast and the Israelites fulfillment of both ceremonies:
Exo 12:15 Seven days shall you eat unleavened bread: in the first day there shall be no leaven in your houses; whosoever shall eat any thing leavened, from the first day until the seventh day, that soul shall perish out of Israel.
Exo 12:16 The first day shall be holy and solemn, and the seventh day shall be kept with the like solemnity: you shall do no work in them, except those things that belong to eating.
Exo 12:17 And you shall observe the feast of the unleavened bread: for in this same day I will bring forth your army out of the land of Egypt, and you shall keep this day in your generations by a perpetual observance.
Exo 12:18 The first month, the fourteenth day of the month, in the evening, you shall eat unleavened bread, until the one and twentieth day of the same month, in the evening.
Exo 12:19 Seven days there shall not be found any leaven in your houses: he that shall eat leavened bread, his soul shall perish out of the assembly of Israel, whether he be a stranger or born in the land.
Exo 12:20 You shall not eat any thing leavened: in all your habitations you shall eat unleavened bread.
Exo 12:21 And Moses called all the ancients of the children of Israel, and said to them: Go take a lamb by your families, and sacrifice the Phase.
Exo 12:22 And dip a bunch of hyssop in the blood that is at the door, and sprinkle the transom of the door therewith, and both the door cheeks: let none of you go out of the door of his house till morning.
Exo 12:23 For the Lord will pass through striking the Egyptians: and when he shall see the blood on the transom, and on both the posts, he will pass over the door of the house, and not suffer the destroyer to come into your houses and to hurt you.
Exo 12:24 Thou shalt keep this thing as a law for thee and thy children for ever.
Exo 12:25 And when you have entered into the land which the Lord will give you, as he hath promised, you shall observe these ceremonies.
Exo 12:26 And when your children shall say to you: What is the meaning of this service?
Exo 12:27 You shall say to them: It is the victim of the passage of the Lord, when he passed over the houses of the children of Israel in Egypt, striking the Egyptians, and saving our houses. And the people bowing themselves, adored.
Exo 12:28 And the children of Israel going forth, did as the Lord had commanded Moses and Aaron.
Exo 12:29 And it came to pass at midnight, the Lord slew every firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharao, who sat on his throne, unto the firstborn of the captive woman that was in the prison, and all the firstborn of cattle.
Exo 12:30 And Pharao arose in the night, and all his servants, and all Egypt: and there arose a great cry in Egypt; for there was not a house wherein there lay not one dead.
Exo 12:31 And Pharao calling Moses and Aaron, in the night, said: Arise and go forth from among my people, you and the children of Israel: go, sacrifice to the Lord as you say.
Exo 12:32 Your sheep and herds take along with you, as you demanded, and departing bless me.
Exo 12:33 And the Egyptians pressed the people to go forth out of the land speedily, saying: We shall all die.
Exo 12:34 The people therefore took dough before it was leavened; and tying it in their cloaks, put it on their shoulders.
Exo 12:35 And the children of Israel did as Moses had commanded: and they asked of the Egyptians vessels of silver and gold, and very much raiment.
Exo 12:36 And the Lord gave favour to the people in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they lent unto them: and they stripped the Egyptians.
Exo 12:37 And the children of Israel set forward from Ramesse to Socoth, being about six hundred thousand men on foot, beside children.
Exo 12:38 And a mixed multitude, without number, went up also with them, sheep and herds, and beasts of divers kinds, exceeding many.
Exo 12:39 And they baked the meal, which a little before they had brought out of Egypt in dough: and they made hearth cakes unleavened: for it could not be leavened, the Egyptians pressing them to depart, and not suffering them to make any stay; neither did they think of preparing any meat.
Because the two days were so closely linked it was not uncommon to refer to them as one feast, as St Mark does here.
According to Exodus 12:19 the Jews were to rid their house of all traces of Leaven. It was required that they do this on the day before the 14th of Nisan, but devout Jews then as now usually began cleaning the house of leaven up to a week before this. The Exodus marked a new beginning in the relationship between the people and God, and leaven, which is a corrupting influence, came to symbolize that which adversely effected the relationship with God and the covenant. For this reason the meticulous removal of leaven from the home came to symbolize the need for moral renewal.
At a time when devout Jews were engaging in such devotion, the chief priests and scribes were seeking to do evil by wiles. The feast of Passover was a celebration of God as the God of freedom and life, but as it approached we read that the chief priests and scribes were plotting how they might lay hold (i.e., arrest) our blessed Lord and put him to death.
This information lends poignancy to the literary connection St Mark has established between the opening of his Passion narrative and the end time discourse of chapter 13. Now the feast of the pasch and of the Azymes was after two days: and the chief priests and the scribes sought how they might by some wile lay hold on him and kill him.
Now is a translation of the Greek de, which is what one may call an adversative conjunctive. As a conjunctive it links up what is about to be written with what has just been written. As an adversative it alerts the reader to some intended contrast between the conjoined texts.
In the opening verse of the passion narrative quoted above St Mark writes (literal Greek): And the chief priests and scribes kept on looking how they might by some wile lay hold on him and kill him. St Mark, by employing a site verb (zeteo) in the imperfect tense is emphasizing the intensity and commitment the enemies of our Lord have toward gaining the end they have in view, namely, his death. Now, as we will see (I do not want to get ahead of myself) the passion of our Lord inaugurates the end time, a period which, as the Lord made clear in his end time discourse, will include the attempt to delude and persecute his followers, hence the emphasis on watching and seeing:
Take heed (literally, “look out”) lest any man deceive you…(13:5 See RSV Text). But look to yourselves. For they shall deliver you Up to councils: and in the synagogues you shall be beaten: and you shall stand before governors and kings for my sake, for a testimony unto them (13:9 See RSV). And when you shall see the abomination of desolation, standing where it ought not (he that readeth let him understand): then let them that are in Judea flee unto the mountains (13:14 See RSV). And then if any man shall say to you: Lo (see, behold), here is Christ. Lo, he is here: do not believe. For there will rise up false Christs and false prophets: and they shall shew signs and wonders, to seduce (if it were possible) even the elect. Take you heed (look out) therefore: behold (see), I have foretold you all things (13:21-23 See RSV). Now of the fig tree learn ye a parable. When the branch thereof is now tender and the leaves are come forth, you know that summer is very near. So you also when you shall see these things come to pass, know ye that it is very nigh, even at the doors. Amen, I say to you that this generation shall not pass until all these things be done. Heaven and earth shall pass away: but my word shall not pass away. But of that day or hour no man knoweth, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but the Father. Take ye heed, watch and pray. For ye know not when the time is. Even as a man who, going into a far country, left his house and gave authority to his servants over every work and commanded the porter to watch. Watch ye therefore (for you know not when the lord of the house cometh, at even, or at midnight, or at the cock crowing, or in the morning): Lest coming on a sudden, he find you sleeping. And what I say to you, I say to all: Watch (13:28-37 See RSV).
As the end time winds down the enemies of Christ and the Gospel will only become more zealous in their animosity. Christians must be aware of what is going on around them and equally committed to holding fast to the faith and defending it. Mark wrote his Gospel as persecution loomed, and it seems he was afraid many would succumb, and go the way of Judas.
Chief Priests and Scribes. The animosity of the scribes began early in Jesus ministry, when at Capernuam Our Lord healed a paralytic and forgave him his sins. “Who,” They asked, “can forgive sins but God alone?” and they accuse him of blasphemy. This is in chapter 2. Latter, in this same chapter, some scribes, along with some Pharisees, object to our Lord’s associating with sinners at a meal. Latter still, in chapter 7, we see some scribes come to Jesus from Jerusalem itself and they are incensed by seeing His disciples eating food without having ritually purified themselves. Only after this event with the Jerusalem scribes do we get an indication that Jesus will have trouble with the Chief priests. This indication comes in his first passion prediction in chapter 8, where Jesus teaches that the elders, the chief priests and scribes will put him to death. Apparently, the Jerusalem scribes brought back to the chief priests a report concerning our Lord which did not sit well with them. So when Jesus entered Jerusalem and cleared the money changers-who, incidentally, belonged to the priestly families-when he cleared them from the temple the chief priests were probably already less than well-disposed towards him. In fact, at the end of the account of the temple cleansing and the reasons for it in chapter 11, St Mark tells us that the chief priests and scribes sought to destroy him.
Mar 14:2 (See RSV) But they said: Not on the festival day, lest there should be a tumult among the people. Jesus’ popularity among the people led the authorities to fear the crowd. Any public move against Jesus would have been difficult as the leaders had already come to realize (11:18; 12:12), thus the necessity of wile (14:1). For all their careful seeking and planning their desire will be thwarted, Jesus will die during the festival, for he and His Father are on their own time schedule, not that of their enemies. Prophecy, not the will of man will be fulfilled. Even their desire to put him to death will be thwarted, for he will rise again.