Monday, March 26, 2018

Holy Monday (3/26/18)

MARK 14:1-15 It was two days before the Passover and the festival of Unleavened Bread. The chief priests and the scribes were looking for a way to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him; for they said, “Not during the festival, or there may be a riot among the people.”

While he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he sat at the table, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very costly ointment of nard, and she broke open the jar and poured the ointment on his head. But some were there who said to one another in anger, “Why was the ointment wasted in this way? For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii, and the money given to the poor.” And they scolded her. But Jesus said, “Let her alone; why do you trouble her? She has performed a good service for me. For you always have the poor with you, and you can show kindness to them whenever you wish; but you will not always have me.  She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for its burial. Truly I tell you, wherever the good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.”

Then Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve, went to the chief priests in order to betray him to them. When they heard it, they were greatly pleased, and promised to give him money. So he began to look for an opportunity to betray him.

On the first day of Unleavened Bread, when the Passover lamb is sacrificed, his disciples said to him, “Where do you want us to go and make the preparations for you to eat the Passover?”  So he sent two of his disciples, saying to them, “Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you; follow him, and wherever he enters, say to the owner of the house, ‘The Teacher asks, Where is my guest room where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ He will show you a large room upstairs, furnished and ready. Make preparations for us there.”

 There are two things on which I would like to reflect about this section of Mark 14. The first is about the concern regarding the cost of the nard and the second is about Judas' betrayal. It is easy to skim the Bible passage and assume that you know all the details.I encourage you to read the verses out loud to yourself and to ponder the details that both included and excluded. 

In Mark's version of the anointing woman story, Jesus is in the house of a man who has a type of skin disease characterized as leprosy. He's already in a place that may well have made his disciples uncomfortable. Why is Jesus in the house of this man who would have been considered unclean? Why are other people willing to eat in that place, breaking those rules, but then find this woman's action a bridge too far? 

This woman has a gift that she has likely saved for a long time. If it is not for her own burial, it is probably for someone in her family. Yet she sees Jesus and feels the strong urge of the Spirit to spend out what she has saved up on him. She makes a costly sacrifice of her nard and her pride to appear before the group of dining men and anoint Jesus for who she sees and perceives him to be. 

Many who witness this self-sacrificing act are aghast. Are they embarrassed to be seen in the house of a leper? Are they feeling guilty because they have hesitated to spend out for Jesus? Are they seeking to shame this woman for this specific action or for presumed actions in her past or present?

They are acting as gatekeepers- determining not only dinner party etiquette, but also other people's stewardship. The woman has not followed the proper "channels" for offerings, but has proven generous perhaps beyond what the others gathered are willing to do. Unable to sit with their own feelings of discomfort and uncertainty, they lash out at her and at Jesus for allowing her generous and sacramental act. 

What does gate-keeping look like in your life, your community, or your congregation? Are there unwritten expectations that people are shamed for not understanding? Is there a community hierarchy based on money, talents, or time in place? Are there excuses made (we could have done this for the poor, if s/he/they hadn't...)? Do you hold yourself back from the generosity to which you are called because of your own internal gate-keeping around fear, grief, worry, or habit? 

Secondly, as I read this out loud, I saw the end of the sentence about Judas: "in order to betray him to them." I thought about "to them". Judas is not the only betrayer. The complainers in the first part betrayed Jesus by rejecting not only what he had taught them about generosity, but also by not paying attention to what the Father and the Spirit had shown them about who Jesus was. 

Betrayal may not always be active, like Judas seeking out the chief priests. Betrayal can also be passive. When we sin by omission, staying quiet when we should speak, accepting the status quo rather than working for change, resigning ourselves to evil instead of forceful renunciation... these are betrayals of Jesus, denying his call, his claim, and his conversion of our hearts and minds. 


God of grace and hope, we give you thanks for your healing work that we celebrate in this Holy Week- work of forgiveness and resurrection. Open us to the Spirit's leading- away from our gate-keeping habits and into new ways of being your people in the world you love. Forgive us for our every day betrayals of your commands and guide us into the holy and whole living that is a life in imitation of Christ. We give thanks for your faithfulness as you revealed it to the whole world through Jesus, our Savior and Lord, in whose name we pray. Amen. 

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