Wednesday: Matthew 26:1-16; Mark 14:1-11; Luke 22:1-6; John 11:47-53 (NRSV)
Yesterday's reflections and meditation may have felt rushed and somewhat undeveloped. To be honest, and transparent… I was rushed! My intent was to have the reflections ready for uploading to our website by 5pm, but I couldn’t get it completed. To my surprise, I ended up writing in the style of the Gospel of Mark! Mark writes a fast-paced Gospel. In fact, Mark uses the word immediately 42 times in the text to hurry the narrative along. Thus, his story is absent of essential details such as where Jesus is from, why was he born, didactic moments to explain a miracle, and in-depth conversations with those he encountered.
Mark was not interested in illuminating the proof of Jesus's identity, unlike Matthew's emphasis on Jesus's fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies. Mark does not focus on making a subtle, yet meaningful sociological social justice statement or condemnation of the powerful like Luke. Mark was not interested in revealing to the world Jesus's true relationship and connectivity to the Father like John. For Mark, Jesus is a mystery who is only known by faith and personal experience. It is believed Mark wrote with a specific target audience in mind: those who were being persecuted as a result of their faith in Jesus. Thus, Mark's Gospel was not written to evangelize or persuade potential converts to follow Jesus. Quite the contrary, his intended audience already KNEW Jesus, and they were, in fact, believers. Mark's purpose in writing this Gospel was to encourage, and assure believers of their faith with a cautionary caveat: are you sure you know him? For your assurance is based on 1) your personal encounter with him, and 2) your stamina to endure until the end. Mark simply wanted to emphasize the active, public ministry of Jesus as a reminder to the persecuted this is the same Jesus who met and saved their souls. Perhaps they can find someone in his narrative who reminds them of themselves. Mark is not interested in proving anything; it's the task of the reader to check ourselves to see if Jesus is genuine in our lives and hearts. So, who is the audience Mark had in mind? YOU, the reader!
Following Mark 14, and Matthew 26, the Gospel writers are clear; these events took place on Wednesday, two days before the festival of Unleavened Bread, or Passover. Mark and Matthew place emphasis on the chief priests and scribes who were looking for a way to arrest Jesus before Friday night. If Jesus, who has become a crowd-pleasing revolutionary who doesn’t mind stirring up trouble, is taken into custody while the Jews were celebrating their release from Egypt, Passover, Jewish authorities feared an uprising among the general population which would be difficult to quell. After all, Passover is a celebration of their deliverance from and liberation out of bondage. Jesus, the revolutionary, was on the move; he had the favor of the crowd to begin an uprising against Roman authority, and the overly demanding Pharisees, Sadducees, chief priests, and scribes who were also complicit. The general population did not feel represented by this pompous brood of leaders. They thought the Jewish leadership assisted the Romans with oppressing the people. Thus, the general population always had an eye and an ear towards anyone they felt could lead them out from under the authority of Roman and Jewish leadership. They were looking for another revolutionary to rise up as in the days of the Book of Judges, and as seen in the days of Judas Maccabeus; see I, II, III, IV Maccabees in the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Texts found in some study Bibles, and used in Orthodox and Roman Catholic traditions.
On Wednesday, Jesus is in Bethany, in the house of a leper named Simon. He is where? He is in the home of a leper? Jesus was doing something absolutely forbidden of any pious Jew, let alone a religious figure. How dare he? Didn't he realize being in the house with the leper he too would be ceremonially unclean according to Jewish law?
Reflection: As recorded in this episode, Jesus can show up in places deemed to be un-redeemable. Have you ever experienced anything in your life's journey where you once thought you were not redeemable? What changed your mind and your heart? Jesus shows up in places where you would not believe he would go. Be careful how you try and set Jesus's travel itinerary and appointments…
While he was there, an unnamed woman crashed the party. She brought a jar of nard, a costly perfume produced by steam distillation of the roots of Nardostachys jatamansi a flowering botanical indigenous to the Himalayas, India, and the far east. This oil was scarce and very difficult to make. She took it and poured the entire jar onto Jesus's head. The disciples, suggesting all of them, reacted by describing her actions as a waste. Then, Mark and Matthew connected this to preparing Jesus for his burial.
Reflection: This woman was not recognized by her name, but by her actions. Are you willing to do something for the Lord without name recognition? Are you willing to get it done without being identified? Search your heart and the motivations behind your actions, asking yourself, "Would I do this ________, if no one ever knew my name?" Your honest answer will tell you who you are trying to glorify.
Luke does not provide exacting detail in Ch. 22. His agenda was on something else - Judas's betrayal. Judas’s falling in line with the desire of the chief priests and scribes to find a way to arrest Jesus. John seems to be in another world working on a different timeline and surrounding events all together. John says six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany to the home of Lazarus, whom he raised from the dead. While there, Lazarus’s sisters, Mary and Martha had a dinner prepared for Jesus to celebrate what Jesus had done for their brother. According to John, Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, and anointed Jesus's feet, not his head. She cleaned them with her hair, a very intimate act., causing Judas, rather than all the disciples, to react out of personal greed. John readily paints Judas Iscariot as the main villain in the plot. Why? He was one of the disciples of Jesus. John wants to make the precise point even now, Judas had already turned away from Jesus for selfish intentions.
Reflection: Judas was never uninvited or in Facebook terms, un-friended, by Jesus, despite Jesus knowing what Judas would do. Jesus kept Judas in his circle of disciples, we see, but why? As Jesus is teaching him, Jesus is teaching us, though evil will always be close by, redemption is still possible, but it is up to the heart of the individual. Jesus does not throw away the sinner, and neither should we. After all, Judas could have been you or me… We’ll delve more deeply into this from the sermon topic, It Could Have Been Me, on Thursday, April 9th via Zoom at 7pm during our Maundy-Thursday service.
On this day, according to Matthew, in verses 14-16, we see the leaders put their plans into action when Judas solicits an unholy alliance with the enemies of Jesus. They did not seek him out, he sought them out, and went to them. Judas somehow knows what is being plotted and where they were meeting. How did Judas know they were conspiring to get rid of Jesus? How did he know where to find them? Matthew tells us in verse 14 Judas went to them and asked, "What will you give me if I betray him?" The chief priests did not ask what he wanted or if he would be willing to do it... the point being, Judas is the one who initiated the conversation and the terms of the contract. Matthew is the only Gospel which says they gave him the money upfront when they hired their hitman. Mark does not indicate Judas received the money upfront; rather, he says Judas will be paid after the deed is done.
Luke says the Jewish leadership sought a way to put Jesus to death because they were afraid of the people. They feared loss of the people’s reverence for them, feeling it would turn to contempt with Jesus as their de facto leader of the rebellion. From Luke's perspective, Satan entered into Judas. He found the Jewish leadership, helped them make their plans by setting Jesus up when there wouldn’t be a large crowd around to protect him.
Reflection: Does it ever seem you to those who are plotting evil know how to find one another? Perhaps, Luke is onto something- darkness is always present even amongst those who draw near to Jesus. As we sing, "My soul be on thy guard, ten-thousand foes arise. A host of sins are pressing hard, to draw Thee from the skies." We must always be on our guard against evil, influencing our own motivations and intentions even as we draw nearer to God. The devil has always been in the church…
John 12:9-11 says the Jewish leaders planned to kill Jesus and Lazarus due to the spread of his fame; Lazarus was raised four days earlier. John's timeline becomes difficult to ascertain in Ch. 12 as he does not use any markers to indicate what day the Greeks, who were aware of his appeal to the Gentiles, sought to have an audience with Jesus. Jesus speaks of his death, retreats from the crowds, and then comes out and yells, "Whosoever believes in me believes not in me but in him who sent me. And whoever sees me sees him who sent me. I have come as light into the world, so that everyone who believes in me should not remain in darkness. I do not judge anyone who hears my words and does not keep them, for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world. The one who rejects me and does not receive my word has a judge; on the last day the word that I have spoken will serve as judge, for I have not spoken on my own, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment about what to say and what to speak. And I know that his commandment is eternal life. What I speak, therefore, I speak as the Father told me." Whew, what a Wednesday!