Fidelity and Betrayal: The Passion Begins

Mark 14:1-11

Mark-Book of KellsNow the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread were only two days away, and the chief priests and the teachers of the law were looking for some sly way to arrest Jesus and kill him. "But not during the Feast," they said, "or the people may riot."

While he was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of a man known as Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head. Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, "Why this waste of perfume? It could have been sold for more than a year's wages and the money given to the poor." And they rebuked her harshly.

"Leave her alone," said Jesus. "Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial. I tell you the truth, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her."

Then Judas Iscariot, one of the Twelve, went to the chief priests to betray Jesus to them. They were delighted to hear this and promised to give him money. So he watched for an opportunity to hand him over.
Commentary by Donald Senior, C.P.

Mark begins the passion with three stories of brooding, shameful betrayal and tender fidelity. The enemies of Jesus, often the Pharisees and now the Jerusalem based priests and elders, never step out of character in which the evangelist has portrayed them from the beginning of the gospel. They had hounded Jesus during his ministry in Galilee and intensified their opposition to his teaching when he had arrived in Jerusalem. Now their implacable hostility is sealed with a plot to take his life.

A chilling new element is added, however: Judas, one of Jesus' own disciples -- chosen and loved and entrusted with a share in Jesus' mission -- goes to the leaders and offers to betray Jesus to them. They are pleased and pay him for his service.

In between these stories, with a dramatic touch typical of his gospel, Mark inserts a story of exquisite fidelity. While Jesus visits Simon the Leper in Bethany on the eastern slopes of the Mount of Olives, an anonymous woman breaks open her alabaster jar of costly perfumed oil, and anoints Jesus' head. In the Bible, kings and prophets were anointed on the head and Mark plays on that memory here.

As the fragrance of the oil fills the room, those with Jesus are shocked at the woman's extravagant gesture. But Jesus defends her. She had performed an act of true fidelity and love, he tells them, "for she has anticipated anointing my body for burial" (14:8). For this, Jesus promises, she would be remembered wherever the Gospel would be preached, the only one in all of the New Testament to be so greatly honored.

These three sharply contrasting scenes thrust the reader into the heart of Mark's message. Two major themes run through the entire passion story--one focusing on Jesus who with intense determination gives his life for others; the other, on those who surround Jesus, some withering in the crucible of suffering, some exemplifying faith and courage.

The passion exposes the terrible intent of Judas and the leaders, but it also give us a glimpse of authentic discipleship in the anonymous woman of Bethany. She, like Jesus, understands both who he is and what his destiny entails, and without hesitation acts on that intuition. And therefore she anoints him for burial and acclaims his royal dignity. For such love she would never be forgotten.

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