In Mark’s gospel, and particularly in the New Revised Standard Version, you can read the beginning of the passion narrative begin with a plot to kill Jesus. And the heading says…The Plot to kill Jesus. followed by a small section of verses… Then we have another heading…the anointing at Bethany…with considerably more verses than the plot, followed by the third section title, Judas agrees to betray Jesus. And when I looked at this as a whole…I thought how interesting the way Mark has structured this. A plot to kill on one end as an opening, and a betrayal to help make it happen on the other end, and then in the middle of those bookends comes this small love story you might call it, between Jesus and an unknown woman. Why would Mark structure these verse this way? Why this intermission in the middle of
Mark’s version of this story leaves us with more questions than answers.
A woman with no name, an expensive alabaster jar of ointment, worth a year's wages. Jesus at the table of a house owned by a leper named Simon, So many questions already. Who is she? Why hasn’t Mark given her a name? John’s gospel calls her Mary. Luke calls her sinful. But not Mark, our earliest Gospel writer, for Mark She’s unknown.
Then there are the ones who get angry but we’re not told who they are. In Luke they're Pharisees and in Matthew they’re disciples. And I’m glad we don’t know who they are. My favorite translation calls them critics. “The critics in the room.” That I can relate to. There always seem to be critics in a room. Wherever you go. Have you ever noticed that? And if they're not literally in a room, then they live in our heads, in a room up here….and you can hear them all the time. If you remember that sermon…And the prayer of Mother Teresa…It was never between you and them, anyway…at the end of the day, it’s between you and God….
But these men, these critics don’t seem to know that. You can hear them…” you stupid woman, why would you break open a jar of the most expensive oil. And who are you, a woman to anoint any man?” Anointing kings, with oil over the head, is a mans job in a man's world. And what a waste of money…it could have gone to do some good in the world…like feeding the hungry, something Jesus himself has spoken about and demonstrated…
This unknown woman doesn’t need a name for us to be able to relate to expressing love and then somehow being criticized for it. A highly intimate love for God…and critics all around who will tell you why they think it’s a waste of time and energy.
And in case you’re not getting how intimate and deeply personal this love for Jesus is…Mark gives us this world…nard. An oil made of pure nard.
Mark and John are the only two using this word… And it’s a word that harkens back to the song of songs, or song of Solomon, which lives in the Hebrew Bible (our old testament) And that book is a love story, filled with sensual imagery, even sexual metaphors. It's either beautiful or embarrassing depending on who you talk to.
Chap 1: vs 12-While the king was on his was on his couch, my nard gave forth it’s fragrance…and she continues… My beloved is to me a bag of myrrh that lies between my breasts….AH you are beautiful, my love; ah you are beautiful; your eyes are doves, ah you are beautiful, my beloved, truly lovely….
Mark chose a word that takes us back to this image of a woman and her king… fragrant oil of the same name….back in time to what is probably their best-known love story….that lives in holy scripture.….
And before you get too excited and think I’m suggesting Jesus had an affair, that’s not what I’m suggesting, although personally, I’m not against the idea that he fell in love…what I’m suggesting is that for Mark, this act of anointing brings with it the kind of love that is so intimately felt and experienced, it will leave you wanting more, and it will bring with its critics. It’s the kind of love that some might call sissy stuff or too corny… But It’s also the stuff of poets, and of 1940’s movies, it’s Bogie and Bacall, Hepburn and Tracey… its a love that expresses itself in a glance, in an embrace…..it’s the kind of intimacy that words can’t capture….But the act of anointing might… To anoint her king, over the head…was also a political act in the eyes of those watching…which may be the very thing that really wakes up the critics in the room…
this intimate love takes on a radically different flavor. The personal becomes political.
That’s what happens in our world too. People are hit all too personally, and it wakes them up to what needs to be said, and what needs to be done.
We can’t separate the two. When we see injustice as we see it, wherever you are, when it becomes that deeply personal it wakes us up to do something about it.
When it gets so personal that it threatens the authority of the existing king or rulers of the time, when they see peace as a threat, poverty as a threat, the welcoming of refugees as a threat, the healing of lepers as a threat, the bold actions of an unknown woman who is every woman as a threat…
You can begin to understand the that the same division we have today existed then. Because the personal is political.
In the middle of surrounding chaos, in the middle of the chaos of our world, we must also take time to fall in love with God and Christ. To take the time to create spaces for anointing one another in love. Lord, prepare me to be a sanctuary….
Help me be that place that can cause heads to turn because it’s fierce in love. We can create peace in chaos. We can provide calm in a storm, and safety when there are threats.
This past week, students gathered outside the capitol to demonstrate their love for the lives of fellow students and for the lives of children across the united states.
(7k pairs of shoes were set out on the lawn to represent the lives of children lost since sandy hook, not only in schools but in any gun-related violence across us. That number comes from June 2017 study by Pediatrics, a peer-reviewed journal that found 1,300 children (birth to 17) die from gunshot wounds every year. )
And out of a radical love for their fellow students, out of a radical love deeply rooted in empathy for children everywhere, these teenagers have organized to say surely we the adults in the room can love us better…
(to lay on the grass as a visual representation of who was missing from this world, is a powerful message of the why they are doing what they are doing…)
Despite all the chatter and the critics in the room, can we agree that we understand why something needs to change.
The unknown woman was waking up the critics in the room, to the why…why we take care of the hungry, why we serve, why she was anointing her king with the finest oil… is all because first and foremost she had been loved by him...We don’t have to know who she was to understand what it feels like to have our lives forever changed by love...Whether it’s been the love of another person, spouse, child, friend…when you’ve been deeply intimately loved…you’ve experienced being loved by God. When you experience how very small and very connected you are with all of creation and the sight of beauty brings you to tears, you are experiencing intimacy with God. Radical love deserves our extravagant best of what who we are. Individually and collectively, God and Christ deserve our best in return, as we pour out onto our neighbor and our children a deep and intimate radical love in return
But maybe the best words for this intimacy with Christ came from Reverend Elizabeth McCord, who at my ordination gave me a charge…and I’ve shared this with before but I think it's worth repeating.
Keep falling in love.
Take long walks with Jesus. Talk to each other about your day when you get in bed at night. Watch for him in unexpected emails and phone calls, and especially in those conversations that you don’t think you have time for. Listen for him in the scriptures; listen for him when people speak back to you what they heard in your sermons. Look for him in the faces of those you serve. Hold his hand in the hospital room. See him move when you sit with the dying. Sing sweetly to him when you rock a little one. Let his fire burn within you when you speak truth to power. Let his peace sooth and relieve you when you are tired from carrying other’s burdens. Adore him in worship. Share his abundance at the table. Bath others in his lavish love at the font. Let your kids remind you that he still has new things to teach you. Let your friends remind you that he loves you even with all your imperfections. Help lead your congregation to be his tangible body here on earth. Make him ever your heart’s greatest desire.
Keep falling in love…Keep falling in love with the Divine in all the mysterious and miraculous ways She presents Herself. Because when you do, that love will overflow, spilling into the lives of those whom you serve.
That love will overflow, spilling into the lives of those whom you serve.
Like an expensive jar of oil, that love will spill…and overflow…into the lives of those you serve.
Extravagant love is radical love. Express it. Look into the eyes of those you love and know they are a gift from God. Anoint them with your time and your kindness and your love. Tell the critics in the room to hush up. because you’re taking time to love Christ who now lives in all those around you. The jar has been emptied, and in just two more Sundays the tomb will once again be emptied… the oil will be gone but the anointing love forever lives in each of us.