In Remembrance of Her
Whereas on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday the action has all begun with Jesus coming into Jerusalem from Bethany, today the action is in Bethany. Specifically in the home of Simon, the leper. The fact that Simon has a home suggests that possibly his leprosy has been healed and he is now considered clean. Otherwise, he would be an outcast and not be able to live in a home within the town. Perhaps Simon is one those unnamed people whom Jesus has healed, and this is a case of hospitality offered to Jesus in return for his "hospitality" of healing?
Malina and Rohrbaugh (Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels, page 208) note that having failed to undermine Jesus through their challenges in Chapters 11 and 12, the religious authorities now resort to the tactics elites use to exact satisfaction: stealth. Specifically, under the cover of darkness, they will:
- bribe an insider, Judas (Mark 14:10-11);
- bring false witnesses (Mark 14:55-56);
- trump-up accusations before the Roman governor (Mark 15:3-4);
- incite a crowd against Jesus (Mark 15:11);
- mock Jesus as he hangs, shamed, from the cross (Mark 15:31-32).
Mark 14:1-11 is another "Mark Sandwich." It begins with the announcement that the religious authorities were looking for a way to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him (Verses 1-2), and ends with Judas going to the authorities to provide them with the means to do it (Verses 10-11).
In the middle is the story of the unnamed woman who anoints Jesus (Verses 3-9). Whatever else we might make of this story, we should begin by noting the high praise Jesus gives her:
By my word of honour, wherever the good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her (Verse 9).
Jesus gives us a pretty clear directive for our preaching on this day!
It ought to intrigue us that this woman is not named in the text we have. It can hardly be the case that her name was unknown to those present, or accidently got lost in the re-telling of the story - particularly given Jesus' own directive that what she has done will be told in remembrance of her. Unfortunately, at this point we can only idly speculate on the causes of this omission. Blatant misogyny? Protecting her identity for her safety?
Her behaviour is certainly exceptional. Simply walking into a room where the men were eating was crossing a huge social barrier that no honourable woman would dare even think of doing.
And she seems to be a woman of some means. An alabaster jar is very expensive, and not something a peasant woman would normally have. And the nard is also very expensive - a year's wages for a day labourer.
Her actions provoke an angry response. Such waste! Think of the poor!
But Jesus leaps to her defense. "Let her alone. She has performed a good service for me. She has done what she could."
Borg and Crossan, The Last Week, pages 85 to 107, make a good case that this story is presented by Mark to sharply contrast and highlight the failure of the core, inner group of disciples to get what Jesus began teaching them from the time of the Transfiguration:
Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. Mark 8:31
Jesus teaches about his rejection, suffering, death and resurrection three times in Mark: 8:31, 9:31, and 10:33-34. And each time, the disciples say or do something that completely misunderstands or avoids the reality of what Jesus is saying.
But here at last, on the day before all that Jesus has been teaching begins to unfold, here at last, this unnamed woman demonstrates her loyalty to, and bonding with Jesus. She "does what she could" under the circumstances - anoints his body in anticipation of his death.
The protests of the disciples only further illustrate their failure to "get" Jesus and his mission.
Pause for a moment and deeply sink into the circumstance of this story, and then listen to the disciples getting angry at this unnamed woman, scolding her for "wasting" a bottle of perfume to anoint Jesus before his rejection, suffering and death. Wasting! I'm surprised at Jesus' patience with them all.
She has anointed Jesus; Judas is about to sell Jesus into the hands of the authorities; Peter will deny him; the rest will run away in fear. Who among this group should be remembered throughout the world wherever the good news is proclaimed?
As Jesus says:
She has performed a good service for me. She has done what she could. What she has done will be told in remembrance of her.
May it be so.
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* Link to Amazon.com Bibliography for Bruce J. Malina and Richard Rohrbaugh, Social Science Commentary on ... The Synoptic Gospels; The Gospel of John; The Book of Acts; The Letters of Paul; The Book of Revelation; and others.
+ Link to Amazon.com Bibliography for Amy-Jill Levine and Marc Zvi Brettler, Jewish Annotated New Testament, The Bible With and Without Jesus, Short Stories by Jesus, Entering the Passion of Jesus, and others.