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Mark 14-15

Passion Sunday - Year B

Be sure to  note the general comments about the "Palm Sunday" texts including Mark 11.1-10.

I will try to briefly highlight some of the significant differences in Mark's passion account from the other Gospels.


Luke (22:3) and John (13:2) indicate that the Devil/Satan enters into Judas to have him betray Jesus to the authorities, so it wasn't really his fault. In Matthew (26:15), Judas agrees to betray Jesus after they have promised him 30 silver coins -- Judas is motivated by personal greed. However, in Mark (14:10), Judas offers to betray Jesus to them before they have offered him any money. His actions are not controlled by the demonic nor motivated by greed.

Mark emphasizes that the betrayer is "one who is eating with me" (14:18d, see also 18b, 20c) and "one of the twelve" (14:20b).

A theme I have used is that "It was an inside job." Very seldom is a church torn apart by outsiders. I know of many congregations that were destroyed by their own members fighting and arguing with one another. Mark makes it clear that Judas is one of the insiders.

When Jesus predicts Peter's denial in Mark, he says, "You, today -- this night -- before the cock crows twice -- you will deny me three times" (14:30 -- the words marked in boldface are found only in Mark). Mark emphasizes the suddenness of Peter's denial -- it happens today, and the fact that the cock crows twice. I would think that the first crowing would have served as a warning and reminder to Peter -- but it doesn't.

In Mark, we are told that Peter is "warming himself by the fire" (14:54). He is seeking comfort while Jesus is facing a very uncomfortable situation (see comments below about the greater harshness in Mark). It is while Peter is in this comfortable position that a servant girl sees him and stares at him and offers the first challenge to his connection with Jesus (14:67).

Peter denies, saying, "I don't know -- I don't understand what you are talking about" (16:68). Mark presents a double phrase about Peter's feigned ignorance of Jesus.

In Mark, it is the same servant girl who repeats her observation that he is one of them. She is certain that he is one of them. He continues to deny it.

Mark reminds us of Jesus prediction about the cock crowing twice and tells us that the cock crowed a second time. Didn't Peter hear it the first time? Wouldn't that have jogged his memory about what Jesus had said?

Peter is presented as even more dense in Mark than in the other gospels.

Only Mark tells us that in the Garden of Gethsemane, the three disciples "didn't know how to answer him [Jesus]." The are presented as slightly more ignorant than in the other gospels.

In the longest, unique section of Mark's passion (14:51-52), a follower of Jesus is so intent on running away, that he leaves his clothes behind and flees naked. He would rather "be exposed" than to be arrested with Jesus.


Only Mark tells us that Jesus it taken away "under guard" (14:44).

Mark emphasizes the falsehood in the testimonies against Jesus. The following are only in Mark, or stated more strongly in this gospel: 

Mark also has a greater emphasis on Jesus' silence by adding the phrase "He gave no answer" (14:61), but only Mark has Jesus answer the question, "You, are you the Christ, the son of the Blessed?" with "I am" (14:61-62).

There is a greater emphasis on the punishment Jesus received before the trial (14:65). 

Mark includes the "scribes and the entire council" as part of those who decide to turn Jesus over to Pilate (15:1).

Mark tells us more about Barabbas than the other gospels. In John (18:40), he is just a robber. Matthew (27:16) tells us that he was a "infamous" man or "notorious prisoner," but no mention of his crime(s). Luke (23:19) indicates that he had committed murder, perhaps during a riot or revolt in the city which he started. Mark (15:7) also tells us that he had committed murder, but in addition that he was with the rebels. The riot/revolt was not a spontaneous act, but a planned rebellion against the Romans. If what I suggested about the Palm Sunday actions and words that they were a cry for a mighty, military leader who would overthrow the occupying forces, Barabbas, especially in Mark, fits the roll better than Jesus.

Although not unique to Mark, the name "Barabbas" means "son of abba" or "son of the father."

Only Mark tells us that "Pilate wanted to please the crowd" (15:15a). Perhaps this could be related to Peter seeking personal comfort by the fire and by denying Christ. I wonder how many people seek to follow Jesus in order to please themselves, e.g., "I'll go to heaven when I die," or to please others, e.g. "My grandparents expect me to be at church every week"?

Only Mark tells us that Simon was father of Alexander and Rufus. This might indicate that his sons were known to Mark's community.

The centurion makes a confession in all three of the Synoptics, but in Mark it is the most paradoxical. Literally:

Truly, this human being (anthropos) was the Son of God (15:39c)

Matthew omits "human being," writing: "This one was the Son of God" (27:54d) Luke omits "Son of God," writing: "This human being was innocent/righteous" (23:47c). Especially for Mark, to properly understand the divinity of Jesus ("Son of God" -- a term Jesus never uses of himself), one has to see the human Jesus (anthropos and "Son of man" = Heb. phrase for "human being" which Jesus often uses of himself) dying on the cross.


In Mark the disciples are presented in a more negative light than the in the other gospels. At the same time, Mark has a greater emphasis on unconditional grace. Mainly because he needs to!

Even though Jesus is aware that one of the twelve betray him, another will lie to him and deny him, and all will desert him; he still shares the fellowship meal with all of them. They all prove unfaithful to Jesus (an emphasis in Mark), but Jesus remains faithful to them.

This is especially true in the case of Peter. Mark's stresses his stupidity by having the cock crow twice, but Mark also redeems him by having the angel at the tomb single out Peter: "Go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee" (16:7).

Perhaps more than the other gospels, Mark has a greater sense of the two natures of Christ. He is a human being (not a divine man), illustrated not only by the centurion's confession, but also Jesus' repeated phrase "Son of Man," which is a Semitic way of saying, "a (mortal) human being" (see its use throughout Ezekiel, e.g., 2:1) and the great suffering he endures. He is also the Son of God, a title which appears in the first verse of the book, as well as the centurion's confession -- a title which can only be properly understood in Mark after the crucifixion.

Brian Stoffregen
Faith Lutheran, Marysville, CA