As I mentioned a couple of weeks back, when we were seeing art in galleries one of the most effective things was when the frame and the art worked together But there were other times when the frame was an obvious clash A mis match.
Times when the brilliant colour and vibrancy of the art was surrounded by a stark, solid black frame. That’s what we have in Mark’s gospel on the Wednesday.
After the long section of the gospel dedicated to Tuesday, Wednesday is very brief Just 11 verses.
And in those 11 verses there is the main section of verses 3-9 – the anointing which is surrounded by a frame of vv 1-2 and 10-11 This is a solid black frame, contrasting with the vibrancy of the art in the middle.
Just before we get to the actual events of the crucifixion and resurrection Mark’s gospel has a very simple and striking contrasting summary of what Jesus has been on about throughout the gospel. What does it mean to be a follower, a disciple, of Jesus.
And the contrasting summary comes with the worst and the best.
One of the things about Mark’s gospel is that it treats “the 12” with low respect. In Mark, the 12 disciples simply don’t get it. They are confused, they misunderstand, they squabble and they are power hungry.
And unlike some of the other gospels that focus on Judas as the failed one, Mark spreads the blame pretty broadly. Judas comes out of the Wednesday looking pretty poor, but Mark makes it plain – “Judas was one of the 12 disciples”
So Judas gives us the worst of discipleship, but in failing, he is actually just following the lead of Peter, James, John & the others Remember Peter is the one to whom Jesus has said “Get behind me Satan” James and John are the ones who have squabbled and demanded the places of glory In one real sense, Judas is just “one of the 12” Judas may give us the worst example of discipleship, but in Mark it is the worst example of a whole series of examples of failed discipleship.
But if Mark is painting Judas’ betrayal as the worst example, why is it that he portrays the woman’s anointing of Jesus head as the best.
Why not the generosity of the widow, or the insight of the young scribe? Why not the persistency of the mother seeking healing for her daughter?
Throughout the gospel of Mark, there are hardly ANY actions of other people which are fundamentally important. It is a very Jesus-centred gospel.
And, not surprisingly, we discover that what other people say and do is used by Mark to reinforce the central point of Jesus’s teaching and actions. In the context of Mark’s gospel, people are seen as good illustrations of discipleship if they get what Jesus is on about. And they are portrayed as illustrations of poor discipleship if they don’t.
In that sense Mark is pretty straight forward
And over and over again in Mark when we come back to what Jesus is on about we have his central teaching that he will lose his life and he will rise again. Three times in the gospel there is very clear and detailed narration of this. Three times in the gospel the disciples simply don’t get it Three times in the gospel Jesus responds to the disciples with disbelief and anger.
Sometimes scholars have talked about Jesus in Mark’s gospel having a “Messianic secret”
It is as if when the disciples recognise that Jesus is the glorious Son of God who has come into the world as the one chosen by God to save the world Jesus winks and says “shhhhh”. As if they’ve got it, but they shouldn’t tell.
But that may not actually be the best understanding of what Jesus is doing. Jesus isn’t secretive about who he is. Mark says “he taught these things openly.”
What things? That the Son of Man will be killed And that his followers must take up their cross. What whoever wants to be the first must be the last.
When Jesus is at other times commanding the disciples to be quiet about the “Messiah” maybe the better understanding of Jesus’ teaching is that he is not winking and saying “shhhh” but instead he is frowning and saying “down talk rubbish”
For Mark, Jesus has come with a very clear understanding of his life purpose He is to speak and live out what the now-present Kingdom of God is all about And there is an inevitability that to do that in contrast to the now present Kingdom of Caesar means death.
And to be a follower of Jesus, means that we will accept this death is truly inevitable and that we will be willing to walk the same road.
The disciples don’t want to hear that. But the woman in Mark 14 gets it. She has anointed my body for its burial. But why anoint now and not after the death as is customary?
Because she has believed and truly taken on board what Jesus has been saying: I am going to die and I am going to rise again.
There will not be a body to anoint afterwards. The obvious love of and devotion to Jesus is striking. But it is not the reason that this story is to be told in memory of her. In a gospel that is filled with stories of the followers of Jesus getting it wrong and even so wrong that they conspired with the collaborating powers to betray Jesus in a gospel that was probably written for a community of people who were struggling to work out and live out what it meant to be a follower of Jesus this woman understood and lived it out.
She is the first true disciple for Mark. The first Christian, if you will The first to believe in the death and resurrection of Jesus.