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A few weeks ago, I was preparing a sermon on Mark 14:1-11, where Jesus is anointed by an unnamed woman at Bethany during Holy Week. This Markan text is a rich character study: there is the unnamed woman who so generously and lavishly anoints Jesus, giving to him in his hour of need. There is a group of bystanders who scoff and scorn, insisting that this perfume could have been sold and given to the poor, rather than wasted. There is one disciple lurking in the background, Judas, who sees the woman’s act and is somehow pushed over the edge: now is the time to betray this Jesus to the chief priests.
Putting Ourselves in the Story
There is one more character in this story: us. As we read this account, so appropriate for this season of Lent, how will we react to the anointing of Jesus? NT Wright puts it so well:
“Were you there,” asks the old song, “When they crucified my Lord?” Yes, but the more important question is, What was going on inside of you? Were you part of those who wanted to look the other way, because some people were so exuberant in their devotion? Were you, like Judas, hoping that, if Jesus was determined to die anyway, you at least might make something out of it? Were you glad to be rid of such a trouble-maker? Or were you ready to give everything you had to honour this strange man, this unexpected Messiah, this paradoxical Passover-Maker?”
(NT Wright. Mark for Everyone. Louisville, KY: Westminister John Knox Press, 2004, pg. 191)
I can think of no better question than Wright’s to ask during Holy Week: “What was going on inside of you?” On one level, we ask this of the characters in Mark 14. As the woman saw Jesus in his hour of need, what was going on inside of her? She reacted in promptness, understanding, and service, pouring out what she had to her beloved Jesus. As the bystanders watched this act of worship, how did they react? They reacted with worldly logic and wisdom, planning for the days to come, not comprehending that Jesus would not be there with them. As Judas watched the scene unfold in front of his eyes, how did he react? He reacted decisively; the world has no need for this kind of Messiah, this kind of Jesus, one who would look so foolish and weak.
On another level, I pose the question to us who will gather to remember and celebrate this week: “What is going on inside of you?” As we journey to these sacred and yet familiar places this week, what will be going on inside of us?
As we gaze upon the cross on Good Friday, what will be going on inside of you? Will you be humbled by Jesus’ outstretched and waiting arms? Will you see the lamb who takes on the sins of the world and has asked you to forgive as you have been forgiven? Or will you gloss over the cross, embarrassed by the weakness of it? Will you wish for a stronger king, one who intervenes in ways that are clearly powerful, rather than paradoxically victorious?
When you wait by the tomb on Saturday, what will be going on inside of you? Will you be overcome by reverence, by trust in the goodness of God’s timing? Will you be willing to sit with your grief? Or will you busy yourself on Saturday, striving to get away from the risky day of waiting?
When you see that the tomb really is empty on Sunday, what will be going on inside of you? Will you be ever thankful for God’s decisive victory over sin and death? Will you be filled with expectant hope for the day of resurrection, of New Creation? Or will you grow tired of this old story, faced constantly by the powers of sin and evil that infect our world so thoroughly? Will you shrug your shoulders and say, “So what? Nothing’s changed.”
And when you touch the nail marks in Jesus’ hands, what will be going on inside of you? Will you ask for his presence and help to overcome your doubt that so delicately creeps in? Or will you refuse to look Jesus in the eye, humanly confident that not even he can heal you?
This story, placed in the context of Lent and Holy Week, has helped me to reflect on the importance of keeping a tab on my heart. I can become so used to these stories, these rituals, these parts of myself that I forget to see how I am reacting to Jesus, in this place and in this moment. I believe in Jesus. I follow him, though I often fail. I speak about him. I read about him. I write about him.
But how do I react to him?
This week, when Jesus asks me to forgive again, how will I react? Will I react in obedience, knowing he has forgiven me 70 x 7? Or will I tell him that this time, forgiveness is out of the question, and how could he even ask such a thing?
This week, when Jesus asks me to trust him to give life to the dead places, how will I react? Will I react in faith and trust, though I cannot see the end, though the healing may never come? Or will I laugh at him, saying that nothing good can be found here anymore?
This week, when Jesus asks me to lay down my pride, how will react? Will I react in submission, seeking to follow the One who made himself nothing for our sake? Or will I gather up my pride, and go play with it in my corner of the world, content to drown in self-pity and self-worship?
These are the places where we will be laid bare to be filled up again. Where we will feel broken to be made whole again. Where will be emptied to pour out again.
That is a Holy Week.