- The Explore the Bible lesson for May 19 focuses on Mark 14:3-11, 32-36.
In Mark 8:31, the Gospel writer first brought into his story Jesus’ startling announcement that he would be killed and raised back to life. That statement cast an ominous shadow over the rest of the Gospel. By Mark 14, that shadow looms large as Jesus’ appointment with the cross draws ever closer. Here, Mark shares some stories in the shadow of the imminent cross.
Misunderstood (Mark 14:3-5)
Bound as we are only to the details that Mark gives us (which admittedly are few in this story), we can only speculate what motivated this woman to take in hand the jar of perfume, perhaps a family heirloom, and make her way to Jesus. She would break the neck of that jar and offer its contents as a gift of devotion. Whatever her exact motivation, one thing is clear. She had decided that Jesus was worthy of this extravagant gift.
This unnamed woman offers us a theological lesson, maybe one she was not even fully aware of. In short, that lesson is this: He is worthy. Perhaps there is something (and maybe not necessarily a thing at all) that you have felt a stirring to devote to the Lord. Be reminded: He is worthy.
Honored (Mark 14:6-9)
With the aroma of the perfume thick in the air of the house, the altruistic disciples must have sounded both reasonable and noble in their concern for the poor. Three-hundred days’ worth of pay literally was evaporating right in front of them. That look of disdain on their faces at the “waste” they had witnessed evaporated faster than the perfume, though, when Jesus offered his assessment of the situation. Once again, the disciples missed it … badly.
The disciples recognized only the worth of the perfume. They missed the more significant aspect: the worth of the action. In Jesus’ words, “She has done a beautiful thing to me” (14:6). Her act of devotion accomplished something more significant than she knew, so Jesus explained its significance. Mark tells us Jesus reminded the disciples that they were in the shadow of his impending death, saying, “You will not always have me” (14:7). Jesus also anticipated he would die as a criminal; criminals were not privy to burial anointing (William Lane, Gospel of Mark, New International Commentary on the New Testament, p. 494).
The disciples had been privy to hear what awaited Jesus. If they had been paying attention, they would have assessed the situation correctly. Instead, they took a position that, though maybe appropriate in a different circumstance, failed to appreciate what God was up to in that circumstance. Unfortunately, we have met the disciples, and they are us. I suspect Mark included this story because all of us can (or perhaps should) relate to “missing it.” We become convinced of the rightness of a position and heap “justified scorn” upon foolish actions someone did for the Lord. Consider the last occasion when you were irritated, even angry, at something someone did in service of the Lord. Did they miss it? Or did you?
Betrayed (Mark 14:10-11)
The preceding scene took place in the home of Simon the Leper. The inclusion of his name very possibly indicates this man was known to the early Christian community and its circulating stories. From the added description, “the Leper,” we can safely deduce he had been a beneficiary of Jesus’ healing ministry. He apparently bore that description proudly as a testimony of what Jesus had done for him.
How different the character who takes the stage here. The first mention of Judas in Mark’s narrative included along with his name the infamous title, “the one who would betray him” (3:19). The first step toward the event that would affix shame to Judas for all time started here. Mark does not indicate what exactly motivated him to pursue this course of action. In John 12:6, perhaps as part of a parallel passage to Mark’s story of Jesus’ anointing, John seems to indicate Judas was motivated by greed. There is a tinge of irony in this sequence of Mark’s narrative. In the story of the woman, the price was perceived to be too high. In this story, the price was apparently just right.
Committed (Mark 14:32-36)
The scene in the garden is surely one of the most endearing scenes of the Passion Narrative in general and chapter 14 in particular. Consider why. Remember that all of the stories of this chapter occur within the shadow of Jesus’ imminent death. The chief priests desired it (1-2). Disciples failed to interpret events in light of it (4-5). An anonymous woman prefigured it through her actions (3, 6-9). Judas proved instrumental in bringing it about (10-11). Jesus explained it (12-26). The disciples underestimated its gravity (27-31). In this section, though, we at least get to witness Jesus deal with the reality of it.
Picture the Jesus we have seen through the Gospel: so “otherworldly,” so steady, so committed, so … unlike us. But here, in the garden scene, we have the opportunity to witness Jesus wrestling with taking up his cross. He knew the Father’s will, but he struggled to embrace it. In this power scene, we find a Jesus who looks a lot like us.
Like Mark’s first readers, we too have been commanded to take up our crosses (8:34). Jesus does not admonish us to take up our hammocks or fishing poles. There is nothing easy about a cross. Let us take comfort in the knowledge that Jesus knows this all too well. Let us be challenged by his example, however. As we pursue following the Lord in our lives, it is appropriate to express, “This is a hard!” But this must be accompanied by, “Yet not what I will, but what you will.”
Jeremy Greer is assistant professor of religion at East Texas Baptist University in Marshall.