Seward United Methodist Church
Saturday, July 24, 2021
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Loving Jesus

Mark 14:1-11

Mark reminds us here of the setting in which Jesus’ betrayal and death took place, the Day of Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread. These took place in the springtime, March or April in our calendar, corresponding with our celebration of Easter, of course. Passover was just one day, but it was followed by the week-long Feast of Unleavened Bread, and they were basically celebrated as together as one event.

Passover was the most important of the three great Feasts in the Jewish year. It had both historical and agricultural significance. Historically, it remembered the deliverance from Egypt, when the angel of death went through the land of Egypt but passed over the homes of the Hebrew people, the event that finally compelled Pharaoh to relent and release them from slavery. And it was also an agricultural observance; it was the beginning of the barley harvest.

All Jews from all over the world were required to attend at least one of the three great festivals during their lifetime, and being the most important, Passover attracted the largest crowds. The population of Jerusalem would increase at least five times over as more than a million, and sometimes more than two million, pilgrims came from all corners of the world.

It was a time of great tension. Given the remembrance of God’s deliverance from Egyptian oppression, they were reminded of the current oppression by the Romans. Riots were common. The Roman governor, who normally resided in Caesarea Philippi, would come to the city for the feast and bring a large contingent of soldiers with him. His fortress in the city overlooked the Temple courts, the place where most riots began.

The chief priests and other religious elites, those would be the members of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish high council, are looking to capture Jesus and kill him. We know from writings of the time period that they frequently bullied those who challenged them, though murder was quite exceptional. They don’t want to do it during the feast, because of the heightened tensions in the city, but it seems Judas’ betrayal accelerated their plans.

You might wonder, how do we know what they were plotting? Well, at least two members of the Sanhedrin, Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, were followers of Jesus. How much they knew is a mystery, but obviously they knew something was up.

Meanwhile, Jesus is in Bethany, a village located on the eastern slope of the Mount of Olives, about a mile east from Jerusalem. There wasn’t enough room in Jerusalem for all these pilgrims, though they did all crowd into the city for the actual

night of Passover, but many of them stayed in the smaller surrounding villages. Bethany was a place where Jesus had friends and supporters. Lazarus, whom Jesus raised from the dead, and his sisters, Mary and Martha, lived there.

He is in the home of “Simon the Leper.” Presumably, this is a man Jesus healed. He certainly wouldn’t have a dinner party if he still had leprosy!

Mary anoints Jesus. All four of the Gospels include this story, though the timing of the event differs a little from one to another. Remember, in Hebrew writing, meaning is more important than timing. She anoints him with an alabaster jar of nard. Nard was an expensive perfume made from the roots of a tree that grew in India and modern day Yemen. It was very expensive, over 300 denarii, which would be a year’s wages for a common laborer.

It was common for guests to be anointed with a drop or two of perfume when they came into someone’s home. Given how often people were able to bathe in that culture, it was probably appreciated by all. But she pours the whole jar over him.

Kings and priests were both anointed before they began their role. The dead were anointed before burial. All of those are fitting for Christ. He is a King, about to ascend his throne through his death and resurrection. He is a priest, about to offer the perfect sacrifice of himself. And he is about to die and be buried.

But some were indignant, claiming this valuable perfume could have been sold and the money given to the poor.

Jesus reproves them. He calls her action KALOS in Greek, meaning beautiful and good. In Greek there were two words for good. One just meant good in a generic sense. The other meant good and beautiful or attractive. It’s the word that gives rise to the English word calligraphy, meaning “beautiful writing.” There must be a certain measure of extravagance, even recklessness, in genuine love. Love and sensibility are not especially well matched.

He says, “You will always have the poor and can help them at any time.” He is referring to Deuteronomy 15:11 which says that there will always be some in poverty and encourages generosity to them. Jesus is not being dismissive of the poor, but they could be helped at any time. The time to do a lovely thing for him is short. There will not always be a chance to show reckless, extravagant love to him, as she has done.

One of those who was incensed at the act was Judas. When we read all four of the Gospels, one of the things we learn is that he was the “treasurer” for the disciples, and that he had a habit of dipping into the treasury for himself.

Was that his motivation for betraying Jesus? He was put out that he didn’t get the money from this perfume, so he betrayed Jesus for thirty pieces of silver? That certainly was part of it. Greed can make a person blind to what is good and decent, that much is for sure. But many people have wondered about his motivations and suggested that there could have been more to it than just greed.

Perhaps it was ambition. He thought Jesus would establish an earthly kingdom and he would have a prominent place in it. When it became obvious Jesus’ kingdom was “not of this world,” then he became spiteful.

Perhaps it was jealousy. He was one of the Twelve, but not part of Jesus’ inner circle of Peter, James, and John.

Perhaps he thought it was a way to push Jesus into doing what many hoped he would do; to raise up an army and drive out the Roman oppressors. Maybe Judas was a strident nationalist trying to get Jesus to start the revolution.

The Gospel of Luke tells us that Satan entered into Judas. Was it simply a demonic influence? An angry betrayal of Jesus for not being who Judas wanted him to be.

Whatever the reason, the great tragedy is that Judas was devoted enough to Jesus to follow him for three years. He must have loved him at one point. Did his love just grow cold? Was the disillusionment with what he wanted in a Messiah and what Jesus was just too much? I guess we really don’t have an absolute answer.

Whatever the cause of his betrayal, it becomes all the more tragic when it is set side by side with the selfless love of Mary, as Mark portrays it in his Gospel. And I think it begs us to consider the direction of our own lives. Are we moving in the direction of reckless, extravagant, beautiful love for Jesus? The kind of love that motivates us to act in radical obedience to his words and example? Or is our love growing cold? Is it waning? Are things like greed, ambition, and jealousy at work in our lives instead?

Maybe none of us are in the same place as either Mary or Judas, but the question is, “In which direction are we moving in our relationship with Jesus?”

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