Priceless

Priceless

We are nearing the end of our 9-week series from the Gospel of Mark, focusing on Jesus’ radical way of defying social norms and religious traditions. Find the sermons in this series here.

Additional Readings
Each week, we will include additional readings to help us work through the entire Gospel of Mark.

  • MARK 13:1-23
  • MARK 13:24-37
  • MARK 14:1-26
  • MARK 14:27-42
  • MARK 14:43-65

The fourteenth chapter of Mark begins the Passion narrative. Following Mark’s Gospel, this is Wednesday of Holy Week and Jesus has been teaching in the Temple. As we explored last week, Jesus has been directly critical of the chief priests, scribes, and elders. Throughout this time, Jesus has been largely protected by the crowds who eagerly listen to him.

But here, we learn that it’s not just the religious leadership who are agitated. Some of Jesus’ closest companions grew angry when an unnamed woman pours expensive oil on his head, and Judas makes a deal to betray the Christ.

Mark 14:1-11 (CEB)
1It was two days before Passover and the Festival of Unleavened Bread. The chief priests and legal experts through cunning tricks were searching for a way to arrest Jesus and kill him. 2But they agreed that it shouldn’t happen during the festival; otherwise, there would be an uproar among the people.

3Jesus was at Bethany visiting the house of Simon, who had a skin disease. During dinner, a woman came in with a vase made of alabaster and containing very expensive perfume of pure nard. She broke open the vase and poured the perfume on his head. 4Some grew angry. They said to each other, “Why waste the perfume? 5This perfume could have been sold for almost a year’s pay and the money given to the poor.” And they scolded her.

6Jesus said, “Leave her alone. Why do you make trouble for her? She has done a good thing for me. 7You always have the poor with you; and whenever you want, you can do something good for them. But you won’t always have me. 8She has done what she could. She has anointed my body ahead of time for burial. 9I tell you the truth that, wherever in the whole world the good news is announced, what she’s done will also be told in memory of her.”

10Judas Iscariot, one of the Twelve, went to the chief priests to give Jesus up to them. 11When they heard it, they were delighted and promised to give him money. So he started looking for an opportunity to turn him in.

Consider these questions:

  1. Consider reading this story in its parallel in Matthew 26:3-16 and Luke 22:1-6. What are the similarities? What are the differences? What do you learn about this story in reading these parallel passages?
  2. When the oil/perfume is poured on Jesus’ head, some grow angry (v4). Do you think the anger is specifically tied to the cost of the perfume? Or do you think there could be another reason?
  3. These verses name price/cost or money/value in several ways: the alabaster jar, the expensive perfume, money for the poor, the quid-pro-quo for Judas. What does this say about tangible value in the time of Jesus? Is this the same today? What about intangible value in that time and today? Which would you say is more important?

Post-Worship Update on 9/9

Audio from the sermon can be heard below, and video can be found at this link (will open in a new tab).

Sunday’s message explored this familiar story of the anointing in Bethany, one that is told in all four Gospels. Mark tells the story in one of his characteristic frames. In the text above, we see:

  • the chief priests and legal experts want to trick Jesus so they can arrest and kill him;
  • Jesus is in Bethany and the unnamed woman pours the expensive perfume on him;
  • Judas goes to the chief priests and agrees to turn Jesus over to them.

Where sometimes Mark’s frames draw parallels or similarities between connected stories, this case seems to be one where the stories are in contrast. The chief priests and Judas are clearly focused on controlling and stopping Jesus and his teachings. The woman in Simon’s home is focused on sustaining and nurturing Jesus and his teachings.

I find it fascinating that this woman remains unnamed in this story. There are others throughout the Markan Gospel who are unnamed and yet who bring critical elements to the narrative:

  • an unnamed man is confident that Jesus can heal his skin disease (chapter 1);
  • several companions faithfully bring a paralyzed man to Jesus by lowering him through a hole in a roof (chapter 2);
  • a woman who had been bleeding for years boldly touches the hem of Jesus’ robe to be healed (chapter 5);
  • a Syrophoenician woman asks for her daughter to be healed and then fiercely defends her request (chapter 7);
  • a father confesses his lack of faith as he begs Jesus to heal his son (chapter 9);
  • a poor widow puts all she has into the Temple collection box (chapter 12);
  • a man in a white robe tells Mary, Mary Magdalene, and Salome that Jesus has been raised (chapter 16).

Consider these questions:

  1. Think of your own sense of faith and spirituality. Are there elements of this that you wish you could control and/or stop? Are there elements that you work to sustain and nurture?
  2. The woman with the jar of ointment appears to boldly pour everything she has into Jesus, not unlike the woman putting her last penny in the Temple collection box. What might it feel like to pour yourself into Jesus in this way?  What keeps you from doing this?
  3. In the (incomplete) list of unnamed people from the Gospel of Mark, what similarities and differences do you see in each of their stories?

2 Comments

    • Bob Rhodes Author

      Great question, Terre! One way that I look at it is that the connecting of these two stories highlights that those in the temple weren’t “bearing fruit.” In other words (and connecting this to Paul’s references to fruits of the Spirit), if we are transformed by God’s love then perhaps our lives should change in such a way that we reflect God’s love.

      Perhaps these religious leaders were caught up in profiteering, perhaps in their own privileged status, perhaps in outdated traditions. The end result is that they were missing the point of what God was asking of them. Jesus’ ministry in Galilee and surely in Jerusalem was about redirecting the religious leaders and the people toward boundless and transformational love.

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