Mark likes to write with a bookend type literary device. Two similar stories or thoughts on both sides of a central idea (drawing the reader’s attention with contrasts on each side).
In chapter 14 (verses 1-11) might be one of the most clear instances.
The opening verses of the chapter set the tone. Two days before the Passover. The plan to silence Jesus has reached an urgent pitch. Hatred is reaching its peak. The religious are not acting very religious.
The other bookend (verses 10-11) reveal another peak moment. Judas can’t take it anymore. The decision to betray Jesus has been made. The deal has been struck. There is no turning back now.
Could it be that the account that these bookends surround is what drove Judas over the edge? Is the audacity of pure worship the trigger for the betrayal of Judas?
It is quite intriguing that Jesus brings recognition to an unnamed woman (of course John’s account tells us that this is Mary). He doesn’t do this anywhere else in the gospels, he includes an act of worship that was so pure, to be told whenever the gospel is proclaimed. And it’s to be told in memory of her. This is no small act of worship.
Contrasted with those seeking to arrest and betray Jesus, stands a woman who came seeking to anoint him, to worship him.
In verses 3-9, we are simply told that a nameless woman has broken an expensive alabaster jar filled with nard and poured the perfume over Jesus’ head. It is an over-the-top, extravagant gesture. The perfume, a rare extract from a plant that grows in far-off India, is worth tens of thousands of dollars.
In Mark’s Gospel some unnamed guests object. Matthew tells us it is the disciples (Mt 26:8). John tells us specifically that it is Judas who objects (Jn 12:4-5).
“She has anointed My body in advance for burial” (Mk 14:8)
I wonder if even she gasped at this statement. The others in earshot probably did.
Did she come with that in mind (preparing him for burial)? Probably not. She either came looking to anoint the king with oil or worship the messiah with this act of worship as she recognized Jesus for who he was.
It seems, either way, that she did much more than she intended. Much more than she realized.
She did a good and beautiful thing according to Jesus.
Others saw her act as a waste.
What would I have said? How would I have reacted? Whose side would I have taken?
Maybe I would have tallied the worth and considered the needs of the poor. The needs of ministry. All for the kingdom of course. All to further the work.
Or maybe I would have regretfully thought, “Why didn’t I do what she is doing?”
There is no waste is over-the-top extravagant worship for Jesus. He is worth beyond what we could ever give.
For me, this story also reminds me Mary and Martha. What was best was listening at Jesus’ feet, not preparing the meal.
Like Jesus told his disciples (who saw the waste of the expensive perfume poured on Jesus), there is always ministry, but what about our worship of Jesus? Worshipping Jesus has to be first, has to be prominent, has to come before what we do “for” God.
Pilgrims can get carried away with “doing”, focusing on the task, or even just surviving. Pilgrims can forgot to stop and simply worship.
Here I am
The needs are great,
Who else will go?
There is so much to do,
My hands are ready.
Fill my days,
with toil and work.
I’ll serve you,
I’ll fill the gap.
But let me not forget,
That first and always,
You want my heart.
The needs are great,
But your hand is the source.
The work seems endless,
But you are the sovereign One.
You alone change people.
You alone give strength.
You are life.
You are hope.
Who am I but a needy pilgrim?
Who am I but a broken vessel?
Here I am to worship you.
Here I am to be with you.
Here I am to walk with you.
Extravagant and over the top worship.
That’s what is fitting for you.
The work remains,
The undone tasks are there.
But draw my heart to you first,
May my broken worship be pleasing to you.