It’s Wednesday in Jesus’ last week or as Mark narrates the day, “It was two days before the Passover.” This day doesn’t have many verses, but what we hear is the gospel condensed. It is a portrait of two disciples. One is a betrayer. The other is a believer.
Read Mark 14: 1-11.
Perhaps you’ve heard or understood from your own reading of Mark’s Gospel that the portrait of the disciples is pointedly unflattering. No matter how close they are to Jesus, they never really seem to understand who he is, nor do they share his first passion for the Kingdom of God. For us each year, Lent is an opportunity to renew our discipleship as we travel liturgically from Ash Wednesday to Easter Day. In Mark’s story, “Lent” was a physical journey for Jesus and the disciples from Caesarea Philippi to Jerusalem.
Once Jesus “sat his face toward Jerusalem” he tried to prepare the disciples for what would happen to him when he openly demonstrated against Rome as he did on Palm Sunday and on Monday and Tuesday in the Temple. Jesus was preparing to unleash his passion for God’s justice on the empire and he knew it would lead to a passion of suffering.
Jesus was also preparing the disciples for the consequences for them, as his disciples, if they accompanied him all the way to the end. But the Twelve as a group and then finally Judas as lone betrayer, just could not or would not understand what was happening. But Mark records this not just to tell the story of their failed discipleship, but to lift up their failed discipleship as a warning to all who will hear this story. What each of us who claim Jesus as Lord must face every Lent is that we, just like the Twelve, often seek to avoid the real-life implications of journeying with Jesus. He is simply, dangerous.
As Borg and Crossan say in The Last Week, “Confronting violent political power and unjust religious collaboration is dangerous in most times and most places, first century and twenty-first century alike.”
One of the things that’s not overtly obvious when reading the gospels is who all of the disciples of Jesus really are. We hear of the Twelve, although many of them are incredibly obscure. But there were numerous unnamed people who were disciples of Jesus as well. Just think of the devotion and friendship of Lazarus, Mary and Martha of Bethany. They actually show greater discipleship on the pages of the Bible than many of the Twelve. And then there were all those unnamed folks in “the crowds”. I can only assume that in various towns and little fishing points around Galilee, there were many people who sat and listened to Jesus’ teaching, who walked with him part of the way when he was traveling from one spot to another. I’m convinced that one of these unnamed disciples was the mysterious woman who knew Jesus was having dinner in Bethany at Simon’s house (another disciple!) and who came over to anoint the Lord.
I don’t believe she was a stranger to any of those gathered in the house. I suspect she had been a disciple in her own way. And now, nameless woman, is portrayed as the foremost disciple. Why? What is this anointing about?
Surrounded by a houseful of clueless disciples, she comes in with a jar of nard (nard was so expensive because it is made of flowers that only grow in the Himalayan Mountains) and anoints the head of Jesus. The clueless ones only comment on the waste of good nard. But Jesus proclaims that she is preparing him for his burial. Of all the disciples, known and unknown, she is the only one who has heard his predictions about his death and believes what he says.
In Mark’s gospel, she represents the first believer, the first Christian. Before there was Easter Day, she believed what Jesus said concerning his death and resurrection. And then Jesus makes a moving prediction about this believer: “Truly I tell you, whenever the good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.” Wednesday is a day to remember.