This blog offers a meditation on the Common Lectionary daily readings along with headline from world news:
UK, USA ready for strikes on Syria
New English Translation (NET)
The Plot Against Jesus
14 Two days before the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the chief priests and the experts in the law were trying to find a way to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him. 2 For they said, “Not during the feast, so there won’t be a riot among the people.”
3 Now while Jesus was in Bethany at the house of Simon the leper, reclining at the table, a woman came with an alabaster jar of costly aromatic oil from pure nard. After breaking open the jar, she poured it on his head. 4 But some who were present indignantly said to one another, “Why this waste of expensive ointment? 5 It could have been sold for more than three hundred silver coins and the money given to the poor!” So they spoke angrily to her. 6 But Jesus said, “Leave her alone. Why are you bothering her? She has done a good service for me. 7 For you will always have the poor with you, and you can do good for them whenever you want. But you will not always have me! 8 She did what she could. She anointed my body beforehand for burial. 9 I tell you the truth, wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.”
10 Then Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve, went to the chief priests to betray Jesus into their hands. 11 When they heard this, they were delighted and promised to give him money. So Judas began looking for an opportunity to betray him.
Today this blog moves from the story of King David to the story of Jesus, plunging into the gospel of Mark near its end. Those who have followed the David story will have come to this passage with ears attentive to any mention of “anointing” as they will know that it is specifically associated with kingship. Jesus is here designated by the woman’s action as the true king, the Mashiach or anointed one of her people. The surroundings are important: it is in the house of a healed leper, someone who had been an outcast, with whom Jesus is having a meal. Jesus’ eating and drinking with outcasts is at the heart of his ministry, as an encouragement to sinners and a scandal to the over-righteous. The woman herself is doubtless one of those “sinners and outcasts” who have recognised the goodness of God in Jesus. She would of course have had no voice in official Judaism; and her action would have been viewed as hysterical and inappropriate.
Jesus interprets her action as “anointing his body for burial”. His words can be understood as referring simply to the rites of burial, but are also a quiet way of pointing to an astonishing claim: Jesus will reveal his messianic (anointed) power in the tomb. In the place of failure, rejection and death, he will be the poured out life that enables its recipients to be, as St Paul puts it, “more than conquerors.” The flesh-and-blood Jesus will not be around forever, as perhaps some of his disciples have mistakenly imagined. The woman understands this and therefore pours out the precious oil while she can. She knows he is going the way frail human beings go and claims him as her Messiah. Jesus defends her action against those who see it as over-the-top religiosity and neglect of the poor.
It is not certain that the disciples understand this event, but Mark, by placing next the story of Judas’ betrayal, hints that he does. He doesn’t value a rejected Messiah but by his treachery makes sure that the world gets one.
Subjects of King Jesus have no right to use violence to protect their own interests or even their lives. They are called to cherish and protect all life, including their own, by all means other than violence. Perhaps, in order to restrain violent wickedness, they may have to use force, provided it is used against the perpetrators only, and has a reasonable chance of success. The police may use this force within a society. In international politics, it should only happen under the authority of the UN. I cannot see that the violence proposed by Britain and the USA against the Syrian regime is likely to meet these requirements and think it should be opposed by Christian believers, unless it can be shown to do so. The conviction that violence can create legitimate rule is at the heart of the Syrian problem and cannot be its solution.