The Kleptomanic Christ: Studies in Mark, Pt. 50

For the most part, commentaries on Mark’s Gospel tend to offer some very unsatisfying answers when it comes to Mk. 11.5, the scene where Jesus’ disciples untie the donkey (and colt) and take them for a ride up to the Jerusalem Temple. Early commentators wrestled with an ethical dilemma that they thought this passage posed: Jesus advocating stealing. (Of course, this also posed a theological dilemma as well.) So, theological arguments were concocted so as to explain that it was impossible for Jesus to advocate stealing.

Yet, all of the ethical and theological misgivings disappear when we stop taking this story on its own and begin reading it with the larger narrative of Mark’s Gospel in mind. In fact, we see very quickly that there is no ethical dilemma and that Jesus was in fact, not thieving. First of all, Jesus picked the donkey(s) up in Bethany (11.5) and brought them back the same night (11.11). Stealing? Not quite. Borrowing? Yes.

Usually, when we borrow something from someone, we have some type of relationship with them (whether formal or informal). It is clear from the Gospels that Jesus knew many people in the tiny town of Bethany (which, as Mk. 11.1 points out, runs into and borders Bethphage): Mary, Martha, Lazarus (Jn. 11.17), the woman who broke the alabaster jar and anointed Jesus and Simon the leper (Mk. 14.3-9, Lk. 7.36-50, Jn. 12.1-8). It is reasonable to conclude that since Jesus knew at least 5 people in Bethany (and by virtue of this, their extended families, as well as friends and neighbors), we need have no qualms about Jesus stealing. In such a small town, perhaps the population was around 1,000, knowing a few people intimately means knowing a lot of people informally.

It is my view that Jesus either borrowed the donkey(s) from the family of Lazarus or Simon. A narrative reading of Mk. seems to cause me to lean towards Simon, at whose home Jesus is anointed just a few chapters later. Alas, by panning out and seeing the bigger picture, we make logical sense of the smaller things taking place in various episodes like this one. Furthermore, the image of a kleptomanic Christ fades into oblivion.

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