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The Others and Jesus

Mark 14:1-11


It was now two days before the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread. And the chief priests and the scribes were seeking how to arrest him by stealth and kill him, for they said, “Not during the feast, lest there be an uproar from the people.”
And while he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he was reclining at table, a woman came with an alabaster flask of ointment of pure nard, very costly, and she broke the flask and poured it over his head. There were some who said to themselves indignantly, “Why was the ointment wasted like that? For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor.” And they scolded her. But Jesus said, “Leave her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you want, you can do good for them. But you will not always have me. She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for burial. And truly, I say to you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.”
Then Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve, went to the chief priests in order to betray him to them. And when they heard it, they were glad and promised to give him money. And he sought an opportunity to betray him.

(Mark 14:1-11 ESV)

The Others and Jesus

The scene is set and the death of Jesus is imminent, no force of nature could overtake this path.  Yet, right in the middle of the story, before the Passover, we see the vitriolic attitude of the chief priests and scribes mounting as they seek to 'arrest him by stealth and kill him.'  But, in the middle of this rage stands the people, who could cause an uproarious affair and stunt the plan of the priests.  We get a sense of the fear of these priests and scribes, sensing that the crowds might catch the message of Jesus and follow him rather than heed the call of the leaders.  Mark here seems to hearken us back to the consequence of Jesus' teaching in the first chapter when the crowds said he spoke with one with authority, not as the scribes.  Jesus was a frightening figure for these chief priests and scribes, one with more authority than they.  There is a separation here between the priests and scribes and the people, an Us v. Them mentality.  The people are deluded and not right in the head, but we are the righteous ones, able to codify the Law of God in our practice.

In steps Jesus, the breaker of all traditional conventions.  The first thing said about him is that he was reclining at table with a leper, Simon.  Often, I run quickly over this detail in the text to the main action, seeking to know the meaning of the story.  Yet, this detail is important.  For skin diseases in the ancient world were some of the worst kind of ailments, affecting the whole body and debilitating the person who has the disease.  Even more, leprosy was taboo in this Jewish culture, not only deemed unclean but often these lepers were untouched for years, unable to see family or maintain a substantial living of any kind.  Yet, Jesus shares a table, an intimate setting for the sharing of food or drink.  To share a table is another way of saying, "Step up to the table, take a chair, we are family here."  Whatever is going on outside in the world with sin, frustration, and brokenness, you are welcome here at the table.  Jesus steps into the world of uncleanness and brokenness, and, offers himself in ministry to others.  There is not us v. them at the table with Jesus.  Can you imagine what it would feel like for someone to share a table with you after you have been ostracized for years?

In steps a woman, with a costly flask of pure nard anoint Jesus head for burial.  Surely this text is a foreshadowing of the death of Jesus, but it is also a witness to the ministry of Jesus in the context of outcasts, women, and uncleanness.  The flask of oil was worth more than 300 days work of wages, a huge amount in any culture. The indignation of others in the room rises to the top with their statement, "Why was the ointment wasted like that?  It could have been sold for 300 denarii and given to the poor.  They scolded her."  We are not sure who exactly the others were, could be disciples or other followers of Jesus.  Yet, they had a different idea for the use of the ointment, they had the right idea for this costly ointment.

Notice what they say, "They scolded her."  In this context, this scolding distances themselves from the very act of grace the women exhibits toward Jesus.  By acting in indignation and callousness, they are able to wave the flag of 'Being Right' and pin the tail on the women as 'Being Wrong.'  They were more concerned with their expectation of what to do with the nard than with their awareness of the women's gracious act of serving her King.    Jesus' response is that this woman has done a beautiful thing for me, anointing my body beforehand for burial.  Do the onlookers fail to understand the import of this act, the subsequent path of Jesus?  Has not Jesus told his followers and the people of his impending death?

Often, we get the sneaking suspicion that it is better to have the right answer than to praise the service of others.  In doing so, we distance ourselves by internally saying, 'We are on the right side of the track and those others have it all wrong.'  What we fail to see is that Jesus did not cast others because their actions didn't foot the bill of conventional and traditional ways of following him.  Rather, by incorporating the society's others as his own, Jesus cut through the religious hypocrisy and arrogance through mercy, acting as God's Servant to the least of these.

Jesus' message is offensive, not just to his 1st century culture but to ours as well.  The way of the cross is taking upon the ravaging effects of sin and brokenness and meeting them head on.  Jesus did not call out the religious right or the notable priests for service in his ministry, but anyone who would follow him regardless of their past, their sin, their limitations.  There are no others in the ministry of Jesus.  There should be no 'others' in the ministry of the gospel today.  Sharing a table with the widow, with the diseased, with the poor is not an option for the Christian, but a calling to imitate the person of Jesus Christ.  How do we do this?  We start with our homes, with our churches and communities, ministering through the power of the Spirit and the strength of Jesus Christ.

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