Thursday- A Difficult but Important Meal

I can’t help but wonder if the Passover meal that Jesus shares with his disciples seems odd to them. In Mark’s Gospel, it is the twelve disciples who seem to be the last to understand what is going on around them. Jesus has been trying to teach them about his upcoming death, but they don’t seem to get it. They are simply relaxing and enjoying a fulfilling meal when Jesus starts to give a speech, telling them that one of them will betray him and that this is his body and sharing a cup that is supposedly a new covenant. I don’r know about you, but after a big meal my attention span is pretty short.

When it was evening, he came with the twelve. And when they had taken their places and were eating, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me.” They began to be distressed and to say to him one after another, “Surely, not I?” He said to them, “It is one of the twelve, one who is dipping bread into the bowl[with me.  For the Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that one by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that one not to have been born.”

While they were eating, he took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, and all of them drank from it. 

Mark 14:17-23

Jesus is teaching a lesson about spiritual fullness and what keeps us from being the person God has created us to be. Each of us is held captive by some view of self, neighbor, or the world that cuts us off from the grace of God.

Each of the disciples, like each one of us, are held captive to something that kept them from true discipleship. Jesus knows they will not be at the foot of the cross the next day. They are held captive by their own fears, their own doubts, their own concern for self.

But Jesus invites them to be set free, to be a part of this meal, of this moment. Even Judas is invited, because all are welcome.

Today’s work is to be open to Jesus’ generous invitation to share in the bread and the cup. Partake so that you may be set free.

 

 

Wednesday-Unconditional Grace

We come to Wednesday of Jesus’ Last Week. Tuesday had been a long day, filled with a lot of teaching and a lot of tension. Wednesday begins with Jesus and his disciples at a house in Bethany, the home of Simon the Leper. Bethany was not far from Jerusalem, about two miles or so. We don’t know if Jesus is staying there or simply sharing a meal, but he is there with his disciples and with some other people who have gathered in this home. The focus of the story becomes a woman who is not named.

It was two days before the Passover and the festival of Unleavened Bread. The chief priests and the scribes were looking for a way to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him; for they said, “Not during the festival, or there may be a riot among the people.”

While he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he sat at the table, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very costly ointment of nard, and she broke open the jar and poured the ointment on his head. But some were there who said to one another in anger, “Why was the ointment wasted in this way? For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii, and the money given to the poor.” And they scolded her. But Jesus said, “Let her alone; why do you trouble her? She has performed a good service for me. For you always have the poor with you, and you can show kindness to them whenever you wish; but you will not always have me. She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for its burial. Truly I tell you, wherever the good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.”

Mark 14:1-9

The storm clouds are gathering over Jesus. The authorities have managed to convince on of his own followers to hand him over on a trumped-up charge. He is eating in the home of Simon, a leper. By the way, eating at the house of a leper probably would not have cast Jesus in the best light, be he is there. Where else would he be?

An unnamed woman brings an expensive jar of ointment of nard and she breaks it open. Nard had a very pungent smell, somewhere between mint and ginseng. Imagine this scent filling the room as she proceeds to anoint Jesus’ head with the ointment.

A group at the table begins talking, probably loudly asking why in the world is she wasting this ointment. It’s worth about 300 denari, which would be the equivalent of almost a year’s income for the typical laborer. It’s worth a lot of money. Some at the table perceive her to be wasting it. But that is the last thing that she is doing.

Typically, you wouldn’t use this type of nard but she does. Jesus defends her for using it. She gets it, she understands where this week is heading. He says, “let her alone she is anointing my body before its burial. Whereas the disciples don’t understand this unnamed woman does understand. She understands that Jesus will lose his life for his cause, for God’s cause. She acts out of the fullness of her own heart. She was willing to give up everything she had to honor this man. This is why so many refer to this woman as the first Christian. She believes who Jesus is before anyone will discover any empty tomb.

This unnamed woman understands the nature of God, understands what Jesus’ life has been about even when those who have followed him closely do not. She knows that God’s grace is priceless and it is not meant to be stored up. It is meant to be freely poured out, freely shared because it is so abundant. There is enough to go around, there is no need to limit it, no need to place to conditions upon it.  Those at the table think that the woman has wasted what is valuable This moment is valuable for the value comes not from what it in the jar, but what happens in this moment between the woman and Jesus is a moment of extravagant and unconditional grace.

There is enough. Where God’s grace is concerned there is always enough.  As we travel with Jesus on the road to the cross, we are reminded that what is really important is to see the mystery of grace reveled to It is revealed to us every way,  in moments large and small. that it is abundant and unconditional. Thanks be to God.

Tuesday-Jesus’ Final Exam

 

We come to Tuesday of Jesus’ Final Week. Much of Tuesday will be spent teaching in the courtyard of the temple. Mark’s Narrative of Tuesday covers almost 3 chapters, a total of 115 verses. It is by far the longest of the days in scripture. Almost two-thirds of the time is spent in conflict between Jesus and temple authorities, with the authorities questioning his authority and his knowledge of Jewish Law, on things like resurrection, marriage, and taxes. In many ways, Tuesday is Jesus’ Final Exam before both those who follow him and those who fear him. As things become really heated, a scribe steps up and asks Jesus a question. Here is where we pick up our scripture for today

One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, “Which commandment is the first of all?” Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” Then the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that ‘he is one, and besides him there is no other’; and ‘to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength,’ and ‘to love one’s neighbor as oneself,’ —this is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” After that no one dared to ask him any question.

Mark 12:28-34

The truth is that we the most important commandment. Many non-religious people can tell you the most important commandment. We struggle to live this commandment. Let’s be honest, it’s a tough commandment to live up to. Knowing it and living it are two entirely different things. Jesus could not have given a more difficult answer to live up to

I love this interaction between Jesus and the scribe. The scribe is different, he is taken by Jesus and really wants to know what Jesus thinks. I suspect if he has paid close attention that he knows what the answer will be. In some ways, the answer to love God and love our neighbor is so familiar to us that it has become cliché. Jesus is answering this question in the most challenging, yet life-giving way possible.

“You are not far from the kingdom of God” is Jesus’ response to the scribes’ answer. That is his to answer to me and you during this Holy Week, ‘You are not far from the kingdom of the God.” Our challenge is to draw ever closer to living into God’s way each day.

Monday- Turning the Tables

As we begin the second day of Jesus’s Last Week, he has entered into Jerusalem and drawn a big crowd for his parade which proclaims that the kingdom of God, God’s way of life is here. He concluded that day by going into the Temple in Jerusalem and looking around. The temple was the holiest place, it was the place that people believed God on earth. It was the center of both religious and community life.

 

On the following day, when they came from Bethany, he was hungry. Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to see whether perhaps he would find anything on it. When he came to it, he found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. He said to it, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard it. Then they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling and those who were buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves; and he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. He was teaching and saying, “Is it not written,

‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’?
But you have made it a den of robbers.”

And when the chief priests and the scribes heard it, they kept looking for a way to kill him; for they were afraid of him, because the whole crowd was spellbound by his teaching. And when evening came, Jesus and his disciples went out of the city.

Mark 11:12-19

What lengths would you go to get people to pay attention? Jesus desired to gain the attention of temple authorities and religious people. So he shuts the temple down. He drives out the buyers and the sellers, overturns the tables of the money changers, overturns the seats of the dove sellers and does not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. All of these are regular daily activities in the temple. If he wanted to get people’s attention, shutting the temple down is a pretty good way to do it.

The temple was intended to be” a place of prayer for all nations.”  Instead, only the few were allowed to come in and do business in the temple. Religious leaders of the day had turned it into a place of commerce for the select few. It hardly resembled what God intended for it to be.A place of justice had been turned into an unjust place. Jesus moves his demonstration and the arrival of the kingdom of God  from the streets of Jerusalem to the temple.

The assumed reality is  the Roman imperial power and the corrupt religious officials have created a power that cannot be broken. The truth is something much greater. The kingdom of God is here. Jesus has spent his first two days in Jerusalem making this truth evident.