Posted by: pmarkrobb | March 23, 2016

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 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.”  Sounds about right for Wednesday of the last week of Jesus.

In my studies, 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 begins to draw the outer story (bread) in with a very common theme or application.  Considered together they create a unified “sandwich.”

We find our first slice of bread in the first two verses of Mark chapter 14, with 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.  Although there may be some unrest beginning to brew, Jesus is still very popular with the people.  The leaders are extremely concerned about a revolt, that is, if they don’t play their cards correctly.  We find the second slice of bread by jumping down to verse 10 where we 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 Judas begins to look for opportunity.  The tension and action in the greater story is certainly reaching an apex and will begin to move rapidly downhill from here.

At the very crest of the events of Jesus’ last week, we pause and hear 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 Jesus carrying an alabaster jar.  The jar is full of what is described as “very expensive perfume, made of pure nard.” (Mark 14:3 NIV)

In doing some research, I found 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 spot 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 this jar was the woman’s most prized possession and amounted to most, if not all, of what she had of value in this world.

She approaches Jesus, breaks the bottle, and pours the fragrant oil over his head.  Did you notice the second act 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 it 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 of keeping 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.  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 for which it was broken.  These are the gifts of this unnamed woman: not only her perfume, but also herself.

On seeing this act, those who were in attendance immediately began to criticize her harshly.  What in the world was she doing?!  Did 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 the 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 their rant, 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. (Mark 14:6)  In his divine, kingdom vision Jesus saw the moving of this woman’s spirit to anoint Him for burial – something that was not customary for a criminal’s body.  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.” (NLT)

I see a few parallels here to the events and lessons of yesterday.  First, the purposes of the natural world being in direct opposition to kingdom purposes.  In their focus on perfume and money, the guests completely missed 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), are the same ones 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.  A broken vessel containing the most valuable thing she possessed in this life, poured out for the sacred purpose of anointing.  This is the delicious meat in a sandwich which 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.

4_wednesday_the meat wins


Responses

  1. In breaking the bottle and giving it up to its final and divine purpose of anointing –

    Love that perspective! One that has eyes fixed on what is unseen, not seen!
    “What is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”
    2 Corinthians 4:18


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