The Anointer is Anointed
Series: Holy Week
Speaker: The Rev'd Jim Quigley
There are a couple of places where we could get hung up in these eleven verses of Mark’s chapter 14, and maybe miss the points it seems to me he’s trying to get across. The first place is the verse about “the poor always being with us.” It’s a verse that is often taken out of its context and misinterpreted, compelling complacency or resignation, as if Jesus were a fatalist. But we know this Jesus. We know how he came into this world, preaching to the poor, bringing them good news, offering them salvation and treasure in heaven. Elsewhere says he: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
But Mark’s Gospel is subversive like that. Mark’s Jesus condemns our systems of exploitation and oppression at every point. Mark’s Jesus is channeling the words of the prophet Isaiah, or Moses in Deuteronomy where the hope is that when we get it this Law thing right there will be no poor among us. And he’s implying that the way we’ve been living up and until now, we will most almost certainly guarantee that yes, the poor will always be with us. But doesn’t it make us feel better to take an hour or two every now and then to care for them. If maybe we work harder at feeding the hungry than we do at changing the systems that keep them that way.
When the woman came with that alabaster jar full of nard and broke it open and poured it on Jesus’ head there were SOME there – how many we don’t know but certainly more than one – who said to one another in anger, “Why was this ointment wasted in this way! It could have been sold and given to the poor!”
Is Mark is hinting at something we might call unrighteous indignation – when our anger or our service is a mask for our self-righteousness? Thou dost protest too much? But we’re like that, some of us, some of the time, anyway. What I mean by that is that often our anger doesn’t carry us far enough towards changing what legitimately enrages us (Keizer). The cost is just too great. Because changing things would mean that we too, become poor, in some way. Nah, we say, what good would that do?
We could posit that one of the some who protested might have been Judas. John’s Gospel tells us that Judas was a pilferer. After protesting Jesus’ anointing he runs out to the chief priests to betray him. They, the chief priests, rejoiced at the news and promised to give him money. And with that Judas began to look for an opportunity to betray him. And we could get hung up there, too. By focusing on Judas. By wondering what made him do it. But it wasn’t only Judas… that story comes in the next section of our journey to the cross today but suffice it to say those followers of Jesus, every one of them, will wonder whether it might be they who are about to betray him. One after another they will begin to wonder, “Could it be me, no, surely not I!”
Ah, holy Jesus, how hast thou offended, that we to judge have in hate pretended? Who was guilty? Who brought this upon thee? Alas, my treason, Jesus, hath undone thee; I crucified thee.