Tobit 11:5-17; Mark 12:35-37
After entering Jerusalem, cursing the fig tree, and clearing the temple, Jesus has a series of six encounters with religious authorities — chief priests, scribes, and elders, Pharisees, Herodians, and Sadducees. The first five result in a variety of responses — fear of the crowd, withdrawal, utter amazement, and silence. Finally, he responds to the honest enquiry of a single scribe, who asks, “Which is the first of all the commandments?” Jesus responds by naming not only the first, the command of the Shema (Deut 6:4-5) to love God, but he also adds a second, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev 19:18). The scribe not only affirms Jesus response, but tops it, by saying the love of God and neighbor is greater than the liturgy of the temple. Jesus affirms the scribe, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And no one dares to ask him any more questions.
Then Jesus turns to address the great crowd who had been watching these encounters, and he poses a riddle. He says, “How can the scribes claim that the Messiah is the son of David. David himself seems to refute that teaching by saying in Psalm 110, ‘The Lord (God) says to my lord (the Messiah), “Sit at my right hand until I place your enemies under your feet.”’ David himself calls him ‘lord’; so how is he his son?’” Mark concludes by observing, “The great crowd heard this with delight.”
Now, of course, it is we the readers are puzzled. Jesus’ observation appears to be exactly what Psalm 110 is saying. Yet, this seems to deny that the Messiah is son of David. Is Jesus denying that he is the son of David? That seems unlikely. We know from other sources that Son of David was a traditional title of the Messiah, based on the prophecy of Nathan to David, that David’s son and heir would rebuild the temple and rule over an everlasting kingdom (2 Sam 7:13), which Jewish tradition understood as a major prophecy of the Messiah as the son of David, (and also son of God). Is Jesus here denying Jewish tradition? And if so, why would the crowd hear this “with delight”?
From the crowd’s point of view, Jesus is poking fun at the authorities — always a matter of fun for ordinary folks in a repressive regime. But, within the full scope of Mark’s way of telling the story of Jesus, something more profound is going on. We know from Mark’s account of the inquest of Jesus by the Sanhedrin, that Jesus accepts the title Messiah (14:62), but not as people had typically understood that title, that is, as a warrior-king who rules with military force. Rather he will become king in the manner of the donkey-riding king of Zech 9:9 — but also as resurrected Lord, who will, reign like the Son of Man in Daniel’s vision (Daniel 7) and sharing the Power of the God of Israel. It is in that sense that he is indeed in the line of David, only different in the kind of king he is — as suffering servant become risen Lord.
So our lesson is much more than the great crowd understood. We accept Jesus as fulfilling the expectation for a descendant of house of David who becomes the “king of Israel,” but in a way that transcends what anyone had expected before his death and resurrection and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. All this is a reminder to us who follow Jesus that he is always much more than we understand. What the Father has done through the Son become flesh as Jesus of Nazareth is always more than we can fully grasp. The result is nothing less than what St. Paul calls a new creation. The only right response to that revelation of God’s love is our love of the Father and every other creature that we meet.
By Denis Hamm