Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Wednesday: the smell of perfume and the smell of betrayal

Mark 14.1-11

Once again Mark uses a frame for the main story. The frame is the need for a betrayer and Judas' adoption of that role set around the main incident of the woman and the jar of perfume.

The religious authorities want Jesus executed but are deterred from overt action because the whole crowd was spellbound by his teaching. Following his prophetic and symbolic actions in first, his entrance into Jerusalem to establish God's non-violence against imperial domination and second, his entrance into the temple to establish God's justice against high-priestly collaboration, the crowd currently stands with Jesus against their own religious authorities who oppose him.

The religious authorities need to act in stealth to kill him for they said Not during the Passover, or there may be a riot among the people. They can not arrest him during the festival and after it he would be gone. They give up - unless they can find out where he is apart from the crowd and that leaves 14.2 hanging in the air for the arrival of Judas, the stealthy one, in v10.

One of the things about Mark's Gospel is Mark's relentless criticisms of the disciples for being dense: all too often they simply don't get it. Mark's story of failed discipleship is his gift to us today. We must think of Lent as a penitential period because we know that, like the first disciples, we would like to avoid the implication of the journey with Jesus. We would like its Holy Week conclusion to be about the interior rather than the exterior life, about heaven rather than about earth, about the future rather than the present and above all, about religion safely and securely quarantined from all wider manifestations of politics. Confronting violent political power and unjust religious collaboration is dangerous in all times and places. Just look today at how the African churches are treating LGBT Christians as a simple contemporary example.

Mark's criticism of the disciples is used to good effect as it is now set against the actions of the unnamed woman and her alabaster jar of perfume. She alone seems to have understood Jesus' prophecies of his death and resurrection, has believed them and acted accordingly: she has anointed my body beforehand for its burial. She is for Mark the first believer and for us the first Christian. She believed the word of Jesus before any discovery of an empty tomb. Hence the unique and supreme praise for her as the first believer and model leader. She represents the perfect disciple-leader and is in contrast to Judas, who represents the worst one possible.

It is worth noting that Mark does not deal at all with Judas' motivation and he is always referred to as Judas, one of the twelve. His betrayal is simply the worst example of how those closest to him failed him dismally in Jerusalem. That is a salutary thought for all disciples today.

And so Wednesday ends and the plot has been set in motion.