Tuesday, July 3, 2012

What are you talking about? Mark 14

Mark 14 (link) is another of those really extended chapters in Mark. It runs to 72 verses, and would likely take me about 10 sermons to scratch the surface of it. Instead, though, we’re going to have to cover this quickly.

Overviewing the chapter, we move through the whole of the events at the Last Supper. Jesus celebrates the Passover meal with His disciples, which includes the shocking moment where He washes their feet and the announcement of His impending betrayal. Moving ahead, we see the time in the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus prays, asking the cup to pass from Him but accepts God’s will in the issue.

We have His arrest and the beginning of His trials. Much ink has gone into discussing how many forms of injustice, even by first century standards, are involved in these events. To read through the mockery that these trials contain and consider that the Roman scourging and crucifixion will be worse strains, or should strain, our conscience. Here is the one innocent man to ever walk the earth, and we would go on international television complaining had we simply been blindfolded at trial. That does not even consider being spit on or beaten or slapped.

What I want to point your attention to, though, is not the center portions of this passage. Rather, I would point you to the framework around the chapter. Let’s look at these two stories in-depth:

The first is the story of the woman who anoints Jesus with an expensive perfume and wipes His feet with her hair. The latter is the story of Peter’s three denials of Christ. He starts with a simple “No, not me” and finishes with a curse.

Both of these stories show people with a personal cost to pay for identifying with Christ. Both show the two options in front of us when that cost presents itself to us.

We can take our cue from Peter. We can follow through the easy times and the moderately difficult times, as he did. We can learn all the right answers and even recognize Jesus as the Messiah. The time with Jesus has developed Peter’s understanding, given him many advantages as a follower of Jesus.

Yet we see him come to the point of standing at a distance, watching what happens to his Lord and Savior. We see him, having just recently lopped the ear off of Malchus, following the mob to the home of the high priest. It does not take long for someone to notice him, his appearance, and his accent. Yet in each of three opportunities to acknowledge Christ, he denies that he even knows “this man.”

We could follow this cue: first try to prevent what God has willed, then passively wait for someone to ask about our relationship with Christ and then fumble the answer. Many times I have done so, and I regret every one of those moments. That is the path of Peter in this chapter, but it is not the better path to choose.

Better is the path of Mary in this chapter. At dinner one evening, she comes into the home of Simon the Leper (rough name, dude) and publicly demonstrates her love for Jesus and her understanding of what is about to take place. Jesus declares that she has recognized His coming burial and praises what she has done.

Consider it: she did not wait to be asked, nor did she expect a benefit from what she did. Instead, she receives a scolding from one of the Twelve and the silent treatment from many. After all, she has violated a few social norms to directly honor the One who she worships.

Which example will we follow? It is true that we should recognize how Peter recovers and moves forward, in that his example is exemplary. Yet in this moment, we would do well to consider the actions of a woman Mark did not even name in his retelling of the events. Let us not wait to be asked, but let us boldly fill the room with the fragrance of our worship of Jesus.

Today’s Nerd Note: Anonymity. The Gospels are written in it, for there is no direct statement of authorship. Yet sometimes what is left unsaid is strongly hinted at in the text.

In this case, let us consider Mark. Let us consider, especially, his presence in the Garden of Gethsemane. Longstanding tradition makes Mark the young man in Mark 14:51-52 who flees the arrest scene, leaving behind only the sheet he was wearing. Other traditions make it someone else, yet we cannot know for certain.

I like the Mark tradition. It’s hardly a detail that anyone else would have noticed in the chaos, except perhaps the guard that came away with the sheet. Why recount it otherwise? Some commentators will make it a more symbolic remembrance: whoever the guilty party is, this is about the shame of fleeing Jesus. That’s possible, but at this point there is a more factual telling, which is Mark’s style in general, than a symbols and images style.

There is, further, an additional consideration in the anonymity Mark records of the woman in the events we looked at. While it is hard to connect, there are many women in the New Testament named Mary. The diversity of the isolated stories about them, though, causes most scholars to assume that nearly every “Mary” story that does not have a clear definition of which Mary it is must be a different Mary.

That is, that Mary of Bethany must be different from Mary Magdalene, who in turn is different from this Mary or that Mary. Logos Bible Software’s Biblical People tool gives us SEVEN women named Mary.

What if, though, the name was not quite so common among the followers of Christ? Certainly His mother, Mary, is distinct. However, are there really six others? There is no definite reason why Mary, the mother of John Mark and a widow with a house in Jerusalem, could not also be sister to Martha and Lazarus. This could explain her willingness to house the early church in persecution in Jerusalem. It would explain her son, Mark, having such a devotion to the Gospel.

Now, I have not yet found any full-time scholar who even thinks this way, but I think it’s possible that the reason Mark does not name Mary in the anointing is the same reason he does not name himself: it is part of the writing style that demands anonymity. It would be appear almost bragging for Mark to name his own mother as the woman that Jesus said, essentially, would always be remembered with the Gospel.

His leaving her name unmentioned is not chauvinism, then, but family humility. Maybe even because his mother told him so, and we all know the second greatest truth not recorded in Scripture is this: “If Momma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.”


  1. I never would have thought about the "Mary" approach that way. I like that.

    1. I'm sure there's a smart person that can explain why it's not right...but I like the idea. :)


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