Mark 11:27-12:34 narrates a series of interactions between Jesus and a succession of leaders from the Jerusalem hierarchy. These interactions cannot be characterized as peaceful and collegial. Instead, they are more like verbal fights in which Jesus and his opponents spar for honor. Each contestant tries to land a knockout blow that will diminish the opponent’s status in the eyes of the witnesses, while simultaneously increasing one’s own honor. Following the narrative from one account to the next is a lot like watching a series of boxing title fights!
Round 1: Jesus v. CSE. Jesus faces off against the chief priests, scribes, and elders (CSE) in the first matchup. CSE choose a direct-attack style. They come right out and ask Jesus who gave him authority to do stuff in their territory (the temple). Jesus parries this attack with a simple jab: answer a question with a question! They couldn’t answer his question, so Jesus knocked them out with the first blow! Then Jesus follows up with a devastating right: the parable!
ROUND 1 WINNER: JESUS!!
Round 2: Jesus v. P&H. With Jesus now holding the title, a new challenger comes forward: P&H (Pharisees and Herodians). P&H have a different style of fighting. Whereas CSE take a direct-attack approach, P&H try a feint. They start by praising Jesus—but is he worthy of this praise? A risky move. If Jesus can answer their follow-up question, he wins. He can!
ROUND 2 WINNER: JESUS!!
Round 3: Jesus v. Sadducees. Next up, the Sadducees. They’re philosophical fighters. They ask Jesus a question they deem impossible to answer. But not only does Jesus give a great answer, he points out their philosophical deficiencies: they do not really know Scripture nor the Power of God!
ROUND 3 WINNER: JESUS!!
Round 4: Jesus v. TWS. The wise scribe (TWS) faces Jesus next. Actually, though, he demonstrates the most appropriate response to Jesus. He doesn’t try to fight Jesus; instead he engages Him in an honest conversation. He relates to Jesus as a person, not as an opponent.
ROUND 4 WINNER BY FORFEIT: JESUS!!
Round 5: Jesus v. Everyone. No one else dared to challenge Jesus.
ROUND 5 WINNER BY FORFEIT: JESUS!!
We can easily see that Jesus is the best “boxer” of his time! He is able to handle every challenge with ease. That’s why it’s so surprising when we come to Mark 15:4-5. Here’s one more challenge: Jesus before Herod. We’re all ready to see Jesus deliver one more knockout punch…but this time Jesus forfeits! He doesn’t answer at all! What’s going on?? Jesus, why aren’t you fighting according to your ability?
Jesus has a different agenda now. Jesus chooses not to fight back because defending his honor is a secondary consideration. In fact Jesus redefines honor:
- Giving up all to follow Jesus is honorable (Mark 10:46-52). Blind Bartimaeus threw aside his clock—the equivalent of his beggar’s can—in order to follow Jesus. He held nothing back, nothing to rely on besides Jesus.
- Sticking up for the powerless is honorable (Mark 11:15-17). Jesus cleared the temple of sellers and moneychangers because they were taking advantage of temple worshippers. They were requiring people to buy special, high-priced items for sacrifices rather than bring their own from home.
- It is honorable to give for God, not for glory (Mark 12:41-44). While everyone else was honoring the people who gave big amounts of money, Jesus drew attention to the widow who gave out of dedication to God.
- The Way of the Cross is honorable. Jesus proved that he was powerful, not powerless. He could beat anyone who tried to challenge him. But he chose to follow a path of greater power than his opponents could ever imagine: victory over death on the cross. Although the cross was considered the worst form of dishonor, Jesus proved that the greatest honor comes by choosing to endure the world’s shame on behalf of others. He did not seek His own honor but chose instead to defend the poor, the powerless, the helpless. He chose to go to the cross for us!
As followers of Jesus, we also must shun the world’s methods of gaining honor. The only honor that counts in the long run is honor in the eyes of God. Jesus showed us the way to that kind of honor!