17 March 2016

Mark 12:35-37

“David himself calls him Lord; so how can he be his son?” (v. 37)

Psalm: Psalm 63:1-8


The question of how Jesus could be fully God and, at the same time, fully human has caused countless theologians countless sleepless nights. Charles Wesley penned the famous line: "Our God contracted to a span / incomprehensibly made man" (Singing the Faith 208). At times, it can be tempting to simplify matters by gravitating towards one aspect of the incarnation (God becoming flesh) and ignoring the other.

Mark's Gospel, it can be argued, tends to focus on Jesus' divinity, rather than his humanity. In contrast, Matthew's Gospel is rooted in Jesus' family tree, numbering the generations between Jesus and King David (Joseph's ancestor) in Matthew 1:1-17. Mark, on the other hand, never mentions Joseph, and (prior to today's passage) links Jesus to David only twice - when Bartimaeus cried out "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!" (Mark 10:47) and when the crowds who welcomed Jesus to Jerusalem shouted "Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!" (Mark 11:10). Both instances tell us something about the expectations that surrounded the promised Messiah, but not the way in which Jesus chose to identify himself.

In this passage, Mark's Gospel appears to be affirming Jesus' divinity - Jesus responds to conversations among the scribes by saying that as David calls the Messiah 'Lord' in Psalm 110:1, Jesus cannot be merely his descendent. Matthew, on the other hand, celebrates Jesus' genealogy and sees in him the fulfilment of numerous Old Testament prophecies (eg 2 Samuel 7:12-14Isaiah 11:1-10; Jeremiah 23:5). Perhaps the question "David himself calls him Lord; so how can he be his son?" (see also Matthew 22:45) is not intended to shut down debate, but an invitation to explore how Jesus, the Messiah, can be both fully God and fully human, Son of God and son of David.

Jesus repeatedly confronted the expectations that surrounded the promised Messiah and particularly the sense that, as a descendent of King David, he too would restore Israel's fortunes and liberate the people from foreign rule through rebellion and war. Perhaps it is helpful to recall that David, when anointed as a future king, was an unknown shepherd boy, the youngest and smallest of his brothers.

To Ponder

  • How do you picture Jesus? Are you more comfortable thinking of Jesus as 'fully God' or 'fully human'? Why?
  • Books like 'Did Jesus wear blue jeans?' address children's questions about Jesus' humanity. What details do you wish the Gospel writers had given us about the 'fully human' Jesus?
  • To what extent do you think the Gospels are presenting their readers with a set of answers - and to what extent are they still wrestling with the big questions themselves?

Bible notes author

Naomi Oates

Naomi Oates has worked for the Connexional Team in a variety of guises since 2012, currently as the Executive Officer to the Secretary of the Conference. She is also training part-time for presbyteral ministry.