Posted by: pmarkrobb | April 4, 2012

the meat wins

In traveling through the seven days that comprise a week, Wednesday represents the apex.  Also referred to as “hump day,” the connotation of Wednesday is that the uphill climb toward week’s end is about to encounter its highest point, and once it is reached “it’s all downhill from here.”  We don’t find much difference in the Wednesday of the last week of Jesus.

In my studies preparing for today, I came across a literary technique with an odd name that is ascribed to the gospel writer Mark.  It’s called the sandwich technique and describes Mark’s pattern of breaking up a story by inserting another seemingly unrelated story in the middle of it.  This middle story typically has big action or significance (meat), and on further reflection it begins to draw the outer story (bread) in with a very common theme or application to create a unified “sandwich.” 

We find our first slice of bread in the first two verses of Mark chapter 14, where we get a window into the plot that is beginning to brew amongst the religious leaders.  The chief priests and teachers are looking for a “sly way” (v1) to capture Jesus and kill him.  It is still true that, although there may be some unrest beginning to brew, Jesus is still very popular amongst the people.  The leaders are extremely concerned about a revolt, if they don’t play their cards correctly.  We get our second slice when we jump down to verse 10 and see Judas approach the chief priests for the purpose of handing Jesus over to them.  They consider this a great windfall and talk terms of a deal, and he begins to look for opportunity.  Things are certainly reaching their apex and will begin to move rapidly downhill from this point.

At the very crest of the events of Jesus’ last week, we pause and hear of an amazing story of an unnamed woman and her blessed initiative.  The setting is a meal at the house of Simon the leper.  The scene fits.  Doesn’t it?  Are you at all surprised that Jesus would be enjoying a meal at the house of a former leper?  Yeah, me neither.  Jesus is reclining at the table with the other guests and, contrary to proper etiquette, a woman (who would normally only approach the table to serve the men who were eating) walks up to him with an alabaster jar.  The jar is full of what is described as “very expensive perfume, made of pure nard.” (Mark 14:3 NIV)

Doing some research, I found that nard comes from very remote regions of the Himalayas in modern-day China, India and Nepal, so it would stand to reason that this assessment of its value is right on.  It is suggested that perfume in this quantity and of this value would likely have been a treasured family heirloom or inheritance.  I think it is fair to say that this would be the prized possession of this woman and would amount to most, if not all, of what she had of value in this world.

She approaches Jesus, breaks the bottle, and pours it over his head.  Did you notice the second action in the sequence?  I believe there is deep significance in her breaking the bottle.  The unnamed woman did not simply uncap the bottle and measure her pour.  She broke the bottle, making an irreversible commitment that its entire contents would be spent in the anointing of Jesus.  A whole vessel would allow for restraint and the possibility to keep some for herself.  Or even give the appearance of pouring it all out but still allowing for an amount to be hidden and saved.  A broken vessel is an exposed vessel.  There is no hiding in a broken vessel.  And a broken vessel is a submitted vessel.  One that can no longer be used for its prior purposes but rather given up fully to the purpose it was broken for.  This is the gift of this unnamed woman, not only of her perfume, but of herself.

Immediately on seeing this act, those who were in attendance began to criticize her harshly.  What in the world was she doing?!  Does she not know how valuable the perfume was and how much money could have been gained from its sale and given to the poor?!  It is important to understand that alms for the poor was a very integral part of the Passover celebration.  Much like our modern celebration of Christmas, it was customary to be very generous to the poor during Passover season.  So in their own reasoning the guests saw the horrible injustice and waste in this apparently frivolous act.  In their own reasoning, that is.

As quickly as they began, Jesus jumped to the woman’s defense and put the rebuke back on them.  “Leave her alone … she has done a beautiful thing to me.” (v6)  In his divine, kingdom vision he saw the moving of her spirit to anoint him for burial; a broken and complete sacrifice to honor him and prepare his body for what was to come.  It was not customary for a criminal’s body to be anointed for burial.  Knowing this would be his Son’s fate, God authored this beautiful and purposed act.  Jesus chastises the guests with the truth that they will always have the poor amongst them to offer their help to, but they will only have him for a very short time.  And lest this be interpreted as a selfish statement, Jesus is quoting the Old Testament text of Deuteronomy 15:11 where God says, “There will always be some in the land who are poor. That is why I am commanding you to share freely with the poor and with other Israelites in need. (NLT)

I see a few parallels here to the events and lessons of yesterday.  First, the reality of kingdom purposes in stark contrast to the purposes of the natural world.  In their focus on perfume and money, the guests miss the point of the kingdom act of anointing.  They are focused on the denarius, while Jesus and the unnamed woman have the Father’s kingdom on their hearts.

Then there is the greatest commandment and Jesus’ answer to the teacher of the law the day before when he questioned, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” (Mark 12:28) In breaking the bottle and giving it up to its final and divine purpose of anointing, the woman loved the Lord her God with everything she had.  Jesus words, “She did what she could” (Mark 14:8a), is the same language he used the day before in describing the widows offering.  In response to what she did, Jesus promised that throughout the remainder of human history “wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.” (Mark 14:9)

An unnamed woman in the house of a leper approaching her Lord and pouring out the entirety of the most valuable thing she possessed in life.  That is the delicious meat in a sandwich that is otherwise trying to be spoiled by two moldy pieces of bread.  Eventually, that bread is discarded and the meat wins.  He is Risen!  He is Risen, Indeed!


Responses

  1. It’s good to be reminded that God wants it all, and yet in doing that we are never diminished. Lord please give me the courage to not hold back.

  2. Broken and spilled out…………..that challenges my default to measure and hold back for myself. Father, the breaking of the jar in somewhat of a mystery to me. Do I just do it? Can I just do it? Is it a place You prepare and lead me to?

    “We have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” II Corinthians 4:7

    Thanks for the thoughts and encouraging challenge to me. Continue to “observe” and enjoy!

    Jerry

  3. Mark, coupla thoughts:
    why didn’t Luke record this encounter? It was an unusual event, a women having a possession of great wealth, Jesus pointing out it’s significance highlighting His soon to happen sacrifice.
    I find the comment Jesus makes stating this story would be part of the future gospel story in her memory curious and certainly unusual. Is there another story with this promise of future retelling? and in honor of a women that didn’t even have her name recorded?
    I think your thoughts on ‘breaking’ rather than ‘uncapping’ the ponderable for tonight and tomorrow. Thanks for sharing, brother.

    the mark from another mother.


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