PASTOR KEITH'S SERMON
Some thoughts towards tomorrow's sermon
(disclaimer - this may or may not be what I preach as the Spirit moves me)
MARK 14 SERMON
WEDNESDAY OF HOLY WEEK ACCORDING TO MARK
PART THREE OF OUR FIVE PART WALK THROUGH HOLY WEEK IN THE GOSPEL OF MARK
A tale of two people and a group: the woman and the man and a whole bunch of men. The man named Judas, the woman, nameless, the group filled with people named Andrew and Simon called Peter and then there’s that Bartholomew and the rest. The woman and Judas each have made a decision that fits into plans much greater than themselves, but they do not realize yet the roles that they will play in the events unfolding that week. Judas and the woman, one is a disciple, the other seemingly a stranger, yet the stranger proves to be the ideal disciple and the disciple called Judas acts worse than a stranger: He betrays Jesus. While the rest of disciples, we just don’t know. Were they among the group that scolded her for wasting the ointment? Scripture does not say. They lamenting over the loss of money to help the poor. The best translation of Jesus’ response that I have heard being you will always be among the poor. That being the disciple’s mission: To be out on the margins with the most vulnerable, the voiceless, the hungry, the thirsty, the naked.
The best disciple is the most unexpected. The one from the margins. A woman. The one without a name. She is the disciple par excellence, the one to be imitated, because she alone of the group of people present that day understands where Jesus is going and what must be done to follow him. Her actions suggest that she at some level understands who Jesus truly is. Jesus is heading for the cross, the way of betrayal, the way of suffering and the way of death. And so she anoints him with perfume, preparing, as Jesus interprets her actions, for his burial. Not his coronation as King. But his burial.
Some argue that the greatest question waiting to be answered in the Gospel of Mark is simply this: Who is Jesus?
The disciples, time and time again, answer this question one of two ways:
First, they admit to have no idea. No notion. Like the time that they are on a boat being battered by strong winds. They ask if Jesus cares that they are perishing and Jesus rebukes the storm then asks: “Have you still no faith?” Their response: Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him? They have no idea who Jesus is.
Second: Sometimes they assume that he is the expected Messiah.
Now some might think: cool, Jesus is the Messiah, so they have that going for them, don’t they? Full credit, for that answer, right? But the truth is they misunderstand this, too. Because in Jesus’ day the typically expected Messiah was a King like David, you know the guy who slew Goliath and united the 12 tribes of Israel and establish the Kingdom of Israel by driving away or defeating all of the enemies its enemies. So when Jesus comes on the stage after the Romans have ruled over much of that world including Israel for nearly 100 years, the expected Messiah’s job was to drive away the Romans and re-establish the Kingdom of Israel, a King just like David. A warrior-King, mighty and holy and righteous. You with me? And the disciples that we meet in Mark’s gospel seem to be taken with the idea that this is the kind of Messiah that Jesus is going to turn out to be.
We see this in Peter’s confession. Who do the people say that I am, asks Jesus, and Peter says, The Messiah. But the question is, which messiah. Well, Jesus tells the disciples not to tell anyone that he is the Messiah – Jesus knows that he is heading to the cross and if the people are stuck on this notion that Jesus is this warrior-King Messiah - it follows that the Romans are going to crash this party way too soon. So Jesus immediately begins to teach the disciples about what kind of Messiah he is by telling them about his impending suffering and death and rising again. And this sets Peter off immediately Peter begins to rebuke Jesus – rebuke him, telling Jesus that surely not – obviously Jesus forgot to read the Manual that comes with being a Messiah, the Messiah. What does Jesus say? Get behind me Satan, “for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” The human idea of a Messiah, not God’s idea. Not who Jesus is.
The disciples are stuck with the wrong notion over what kind of Messiah Jesus is each time that Jesus talks about his coming suffering , death and resurrection. One time right after Jesus talks about it [Second Passion Prediction] – they do not understand and are afraid to ask. And the very next thing - they argue who is the greatest. Jesus response? Teaching the first will be last and last-first.
Then after the Third Passion prediction - the very next thing – James and John ask Jesus “Teacher – we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you” What they want is to sit at his left and right hand side in your glory. This request causes anger to flare up among the disciples. Again Jesus teaches first-last and last-first
Each time that Jesus talks about his impending betrayal, suffering, death and resurrection, the disciples respond in a manner that is consistent with this idea of the Warrior-King Messiah that the people are so looking forward to – the one that they expect. But God, in and through Christ Jesus, has a much bigger plan, a much great and deeper and unexpected understanding of what it means to be the Messiah.
The woman who so extravagantly pours the perfumed oil on Jesus’ noggin’ seems to know who Jesus is – the Messiah who is about to humbly give himself away. And that’s what we are called to do. There’s this idea that when folks come to church they want to be handed a menu of the services offered – this ministry and that and what you will do for me and my family. There’s this idea that people shop around looking for the church that offers the most extensive menu or their favorite thing on the menu every as often as possible.
Rather than inviting people to come in and have a seat and peruse the menu, Jesus invites his followers to give themselves away. This woman, she gives herself away by giving out of her means, giving in love, preparing Jesus for his impending burial. As soon as Jesus honors this, Judas leaves to betray him. One wonders if confronted by a Messiah who calls us all to give ourselves away - if that was just too much for Judas. That wasn’t what he signed up for. Maybe all of those times that Jesus told him that in God’s Kingdom the first shall be last and the last shall be first, that the light finally clicked on and Judas realized that everything that he assumed about Jesus was wrong. We’ll just never know.
But what we do know is that Jesus calls us to deny ourselves and pick our cross and follow him and that to serve him is to become a servant of all, to give ourselves away. That invitation will never leave us, will never let us go, never let us take an easier path, never stop confronting us. And would we really want it to? Would we? Would we prefer a life without the cross, without the call, a life for ourselves, rather than for Jesus?