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Friday, March 30, 2018

Book Review: The Last Week by Marcus J. Borg and John Dominic Crossan

A book recommended by David Deutsch

By David Deutsch, Volunteer Verger at Washington National Cathedral, [email protected]

The Last Week: What the Gospels Really Teach About Jesus's Final Days in Jerusalem
by Marcus J. Borg and John Dominic Crossan
Harper Collins, 2007

Thank you, Scott Smith, for suggesting that I read this book.

What I particularly like in this book—indeed any book by Marcus Borg—is that the writing is crystal clear. Having gone to seminary I can attest that most theological books are a real slog. Not "The Last Week." Borg and Crossan dissect the week from Palm Sunday to Easter, day by day, using only the Gospel of Mark. Why Mark? For two reasons. One, Mark was the earliest gospel writer. And because Mark alone went out of his way to chronicle Jesus’s last week on a day-by-day basis.  I had never realized that Mark chronicles Friday’s events in three hour segments (like Roman military watch times):
  • 6 am: “As soon as it was morning” (15:1)
  • 9 am: “It was nine o’clock in the morning” (15:25)
  • 12 noon: “When it was noon” (15:33)
  • 3 pm: “At three o’clock” (15:34)
  • 6pm: “When evening had come” (15:42)
Totally cool!

Borg and Crossan make a good case that the message of Mark’s Jesus is not about himself. Jesus’s core message is that the kingdom of God is both present and the kingdom of God is on its way. Indeed, many of us remember that the disciples continually misunderstood this and always looked at Jesus as Messiah and savior. Also, Jesus is totally upset that the Temple authorities, priests, and scribes are not concerned with doing justice, a core tenet of Judaism and of utmost importance to the prophets. Justice is a core component of the Kingdom of God as those prophets continually remind us. Yet the disciples, i.e., us, just do not get it. This is a prominent theme in Mark:

His story of failed discipleship is Mark's warning gift to all who hear or read his narrative. We must think of Lent today as a penitential season because we know that, like those first disciples, we would like to avoid the implications to be about the interior rather than the exterior life, about heaven rather than earth, about the future rather than the present, and, above all else, about religion safely and securely quarantined from politics.

The above is just one of the themes that run through this book which is clearly and lucidly presented. One other point that Borg and Crossan make—which I will not delve deeply into here; I’ll leave that for you—is the idea is that we sinned, a sacrifice of someone without sin is necessary for atonement, Jesus, Son of God is the one to be that sacrifice. Borg and Crossan totally disagree.

It is not by Jesus substituting for them [disciples], but by their participating in Jesus. They must pass through death to a new life here below on this earth, and they can already see what that transformed life is like in Jesus himself.

Once Holy Week is over, and we vergers have taken a breath, I suggest that you read this marvelous book. Borg and Crossan lay out their interpretations lucidly and logically. For that writing, I give much thanks. The Last Week will give the reader a firm foundation on which to build an understanding not only about the moving drama of Holy Week, but also a deeper insight into Jesus’ message for us as told by that earliest of gospel writers, Mark.

I find the book fascinating.

The 2018 VGEC Annual Conference will be in Denver, Colorado on Thursday, September 20 to Sunday, September 23, 2018. Complete information is available online at 2018.vergers.org.

Online registrations will be live on Tuesday, April 3, 2018 and a blog post about the conference will come out next Friday! 

Abstract: Once you have recovered from Holy Week, David Deutsch, volunteer verger at Washington National Cathedral, recommends "The Last Week" by Marcus J. Borg and John Dominic Crossan, as a book to ponder for a deeper insight into Jesus' last week based on the Gospel of Mark.

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