Mark 12:35-37 Jesus’ Playful Riddle


Mark 12:35-37


After all of the trick questions that he has received, Jesus offers up one of his own.


After his arrival in Jerusalem, Jesus endured a litany of questions from different Jewish groups, some straightforward, some meant to trap him and one from an earnest seeker. Though he responded to the earnest question in an equally earnest manner, Jesus evaded his other interrogators, playing the role of trickster and causing his opponents to fall into their own traps. He caps the sequence off with a playful question of his own.

Jesus’ question brings a citation from Scripture (Psalm 110) and the traditions of the scribes into seeming conflict by playing upon societal expectations. The expectation of first century society was that a father would always be master of his children. Thus, it seems impossible that David’s “son” could also be his “Lord.” Like the questions that his opponents formulated, Jesus’ riddle is meant to trap the answerer into denying either the Davidic nature of the Messiah or the Messiah’s lordship.

The playfulness of the riddle is evident in two ways. First, Mark has made sure that his audience already knows for certain that Jesus is both the Messiah and the son of David. The first line of the Gospel confirms that Jesus is the Messiah and on the road to Jericho, Bartimaeus confesses that Jesus is the son of David. Thus, the riddle is not meant to seriously imply a contradiction. Second, the reaction of the crowd shows that they understand the humor. Mark reports that the crowd heard his riddle “with delight” instead of their usual astonished reaction.