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Bible Commentaries
Mark 12

Orchard's Catholic Commentary on Holy ScriptureOrchard's Catholic Commentary

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Verses 1-44

XII 1-12 The Parable of the Wicked Husbandmen; cf.Matthew 21:33-46; Luke 20:9-19—In this parable Jesus made it clear to the deputation from the Sanhedrin that he was aware of the plot to put him to death, and warned them that this crime, which was the climax of Israel’s ingratitude and disobedience to God who had given so many favours to the chosen people, would bring dire punishment. Their privileges would pass to the Gentiles. ’Therefore I say to you that the kingdom of God shall be taken from you and shall be given to a nation yielding the fruits thereof’, Matthew 21:43.

1. The careful preparation of the vineyard (cf.Isaiah 5:1 f.), which was equiped with everything necessary for protection and for the extraction of the wine before being handed over to the husbandmen, symbolizes the lavish favours which God had extended to the chosen people.

2-5. The servants represent the prophets and others who spoke in God’s name to the chosen people, urging them to remain faithful to the covenant and to obey God’s law, but constantly received ill-treatment at their hands.

6-8. ’The beloved son’ (cf. 1:11; 9:6) is Christ. The contrast with servants throws into relief the fact that Christ claims divine sonship in an altogether unique sense. He is the Son and Heir, Hebrews 1:1-4, and, like God the Father, enjoys full rights over the vineyard because of his divine nature.

9. By the death of Christ the old order is abrogated. In the new dispensation which replaces it the privileges of the Jews are extended to the Gentiles. ’The vineyard is let to us on condition that we yield fruit to God in due season’, Jerome, PL 26, 158.

10-11. In the original context of Psalms 117:22 f. the stone rejected by the builders represents Israel which, though despised by the pagan empires, was destined to play a decisive part in God’s providential design; cf. Calès, Le Livre des Psaumes, 2 ( Paris 19366) 402. In like manner, Christ, though rejected by the leaders of the Jews, holds a position of supreme importance in the Messianic kingdom. His triumph over his enemies would be complete. ’Head of the corner’: the corner stone which joins two walls, an essential element in the building.

12. The significance of Christ’s words was quite clear to the representatives of the Sanhedrin and they would have attempted to seize him were it not that they feared the people.

13-17 The Tribute to Caesar; cf.Matthew 22:15-22; Luke 20:20-26—The tribute in question was the poll-tax, payable to the imperial treasury, which had been imposed by the Romans after the deposition of Archelaus in a.d. 6. The tax was resented by many Jews on patriotic grounds. It created a real problem of conscience for those who thought that the payment of tribute to a pagan overlord was inconsistent with the theocratic conception of God as the only true ruler of Israel. The Zealots, led by Judas of Galilee, refused to pay the tax on this ground; cf. Jos., Ant. 18, 1, 1; B.J. 2, 8, 1. 14b. ’Is it lawful to pay tribute to Caesar or not? Should we give (it) or should we not give (it)?’ In practice, the Pharisees as well as the Herodians (cf. 3:6) submitted to Roman overlordship and paid the tax. The sole purpose of their hypocritical question was to trap Christ. They knew his Messianic claims, and interpreting these in accordance with the popular conception of the Messias as a national hero who would overthrow foreign domination, they felt that Jesus would declare that the tax should not be paid. They could then ’deliver him up to the authority and power of the governor’, Luke 20:20, as an agitator against Roman rule.

15-17. The use by the Jews of Roman coinage stamped with the image of the Emperor and bearing his name and titles was a sign of acceptance of Roman dominion. In the words ’Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s’ Christ teaches that the practical recognition of Roman authority implied in the payment of the tribute to Caesar was not incompatible with duty to God. This reply of Christ embodies a principle which has a wider application to the relations between the demands of civil authority and the fulfilment o? obligations to God. The obligation of submission to the civil power is limited by the primary duty of conforming our conduct to the law of God; cf.Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-17.

18-27 The Resurrection of the Dead; cf.Matthew 22:23-33; Luke 20:27-40-18. This is the first mention of the Sadducees in Mk. They were the section of the Jewish nation who had been influenced most deeply by Hellenism. Members of the sect belonged mainly to the priestly families and upper classes; cf.Acts 5:17. Under the Romans they gave ready submission to the established order. One of their number was regularly selected as high-priest at this time. In religious matters, ’the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, nor angel, nor spirit: but the Pharisees confess both’, Acts 23:6-10; cf. Jos. Ant. 18, 1, 4. They also differed from the Pharisees in their refusal to attach importance to the traditions of the ancients; cf.Mark 7:1-4. According to some of the Fathers ( Jerome PL 26, 165), they accepted only the first five books of the OT; cf. Schürer, Geschichte, 114, 480 f. In numbers and influence with the people they were altogether inferior to the Pharisees. 19-23. The imaginary case submitted to Christ was intended as a reductio ad absurdum of the doctrine of the resurrection. The case was based on the Mosaic Law concerning levirate marriage, Deuteronomy 25:5 f. If a man died without issue, his brother was commanded to marry the widow. The first son of this marriage was regarded as the offspring of the dead man, thus perpetuating his name. Fictitious cases like that submitted to Christ were probably put forward by the Sadducees in their controversies with the Pharisees in order to ridicule the idea of the resurrection.

24-25. The denial of the resurrection by the Sadducees shows that they do not understand either the teaching of Scripture or the power of God. They misconceive the manner of existence of those who rise from the dead. Their question is futile because it supposes that life in the resurrection is merely a prolongation of the conditions of the present life. But the power of God will so transform he risen body that ’they cannot die any more, for they will be like angels, and are sons of God, being children of the resurrection’, Luke 20:36. Marriage is an earthly institution for the conservation of the human race. In the resurrection, however, men will be immortal and like angels in their freedom from preoccupation with marriage and other temporal matters.

26-27. ’in the bush’; e+?p?+^ t??+? ßát?? = ’in (the passage about) the (burning) bush’,Exodus 3:2 ff. This method of quoting Scripture was used in the absence of chapter and verse divisions; cf.Romans 11:2; Mark 2:26. The selection of a text from the Pentateuch rather than, e.g.Daniel 12:2 or Isaiah 26:19, may have been due to the refusal of the Sadducees to recognize the authority of the rest of the Jewish Scriptures. In its original context, the passage quoted, Exodus 3:6, means that God, who reveals himself to Moses, is the God whom the Patriarchs worshipped. The argument here proceeds on the basis that God’s declaration contains the assurance that he has not ceased to be the God of the Patriarchs; he has not forgotten his promises nor their loyal adherence to the covenant concluded between them and God (cf. Hebrews 11:16); he will not abandon to death those who served him, for ’he is the God of the living, not of the dead’. In the actual state of Jewish belief, death was a penalty and the life of Sheol was considered an imperfect form of existence. It was inconceivable that God should fail to re-unite the souls and bodies of those whom he loved. The resurrection is part of the recompense due to Abraham and the other Patriarchs for their faithful service. God is faithful and just, and he will make them live again; cf. Lagrange, Saint Marc, 319f.

28-34 The Greatest Commandment; cf.Matthew 22:34-40; Luke 10:25-28-28. Mk does not suggest that this question was prompted by hostility to Jesus. The Rabbis enumerated 613 precepts of the Law, 248 commands and 365 prohibitions. These were further classified into ’light’ and ’grave’; cf.Matthew 23:4, Matthew 23:23. The question of the relative importance of these precepts, which included religious laws and ritual ordinances as well as expressions of the natural law, was a subject of discussion among them.

29-30. The commandment to love God with all their powers, Deuteronomy 6:4 f., was quite familiar to the Jews as it was part of the monotheistic profession of faith which every faithful Israelite recited twice daily. This profession of faith was known as the Shema from the first word of the passage (Heb. šema’ = Hear!). The importance of the command to love God may have been obscured by the fact that in the Shema it was immediately followed by passages from Scripture which dealt with temporal prosperity and with the wearing of tassels upon garments (Deuteronomy 11:13-21; Numbers 15:37-41).

31. ’The second is this: thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is no other commandment greater than these’. The command to love the neighbour, quoted from Leviticus 19:18, is introduced here because, in the teaching of Christ, it is inseparable from the command to love God. ’If any man says "I love God" and hates his brother, he is a liar. . . . This commandment we have from him, that he who loves God should love his brother also’, 1 John 4:20 f.; cf.John 13:34 f.; Romans 13:8-10; Galatians 5:14. In Leviticus 19:18 the ’neighbour’ is a Jew, a compatriot. Christ, however, made it clear in the Parable of the Good Samaritan, Luke 10:29-37, that ’neighbour’ included all men without exception; cf.Matthew 5:43-47. The twofold precept of charity is the greatest commandment. It sums up all man’s duties to God and to other men. 32-34. These verses are found only in Mk. The prophets (cf.Isaiah 1:11-20; Jeremiah 6:20; Os 6:6) had taught that the interior spirit of religion and fulfilment of the moral law were superior to the external ritual of sacrifice. That teaching, however, had not received due emphasis in the rabbinical schools. The Scribe showed understanding in deducing from Christ’s words the superiority of the law of charity over ceremonial worship. His good dispositions won the approval of Jesus, but we do not know whether he entered the kingdom by becoming a disciple of Christ.

35-37 The Origin of the Messias; Cf.Matthew 22:41-46; Luke 20:41-44—35b. ’How do the Scribes say that the Messias is son of David?’ It was not simply in order to confound his opponents that Jesus raised this difficulty about the origin of the Messias. He was then engaged in teaching in the temple, and ’the great multitude listened to him gladly’, 37. Rather he wished to direct attention to an important aspect of Scriptural teaching concerning the Messias which the Scribes had overlooked. The prophecies had foretold that the Messias would be a descendant of David; ’son of David’ was the most popular title of the Messias; cf. 10:48; John 7:42; Romans 1:3. It was a title, however, which suggested a merely human Messias who would restore the temporal kingdom of Israel. Jesus did not question the belief that the Messias would be a descendant of David, but he quoted a passage of Scripture, Psalms 109:1, which indicated that the Messias would be something more. ’The Lord [Yahweh] said to my Lord [Adoni]’, i.e. the Messias. If David, to whom the Psalm was attributed, calls the Messias his Lord, then the Messias is assuredly more than a ’son of David’. The fact that the Messias is to sit at the right hand of God points to the same conclusion. The answer to the difficulty, 37, is contained in the doctrine of the Incarnation. The Messias is both God ’the Lord of David’, and man ’the son of David’; cf. 14:62.

38-40 Denunciation of the Scribes; cf.Matthew 23:1-39; Luke 20:46 f.—The preceding section (7361) gives an instance of how the Scribes had failed in their role of teachers of the people. Here they are condemned for their bad example, which was all the more reprehensible in those who set themselves up as zealous defenders of God’s law. The vanity of the Scribes showed itself in their seeking after marks of honour to which they claimed a right as models of legal righteousness.

40. ’Who devour the houses of widows and make pretence of long prayers’. In their avarice the Scribes did not refrain from victimizing the most defenceless section of the community. They gained possession of the property of widows, either by using their expert knowledge of the law in order to defraud them, or by a pretence of piety which was calculated to impress. Their hypocrisy in making long prayers only adds to their guilt. The vanity, avarice and hypocrisy of the Scribes are directly opposed to the humility, detachment from wealth and sincerity of spirit inculcated by Christ.

41-44 The Widow’s Mite; cf.Luke 21:1-4—The building known as the Treasury was situated within the temple area. In it were kept the treasures of the temple together with vessels and vestments used in the services. Apparently it was also used as a place of safe keeping for the property of private individuals; cf.2 Mac 3:10. According to the Talmud, there were thirteen trumpetshaped receptacles for offerings for the temple. Christ, showing his knowledge of hidden things, drew the attention of the disciples to the offering made by the widow in order to inculcate once again the importance of the intention of the heart in the service of God. The moral worth of the mite offered by the widow is measured by the sacrifice which she made.

Bibliographical Information
Orchard, Bernard, "Commentary on Mark 12". Orchard's Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/boc/mark-12.html. 1951.
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