Revised Common Lectionary Reflection, Liturgy of the Passion, Year B
March 25, 2018
Lessons: Isaiah 50:4-9a; Psalm 31:9-16; Philippians 2:5-11; Mark 14:1-15:47
Theme: God’s faithful and generous people know that serving God can be both a costly and beautiful experience of pouring oneself out for the sake of the gospel.
Key Scripture: 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 14:9
The woman came into the room at Simon’s house where Jesus was sitting at the table, broke open a jar of expensive ointment made of nard, and poured it over Jesus’ head. It’s a strange and bold act that violates all sorts of social norms. Even the details that Mark highlights are a strange mix. We learn that Simon is a leper, so once again we are aware that Jesus has crossed boundaries and shows solidarity with those who are considered unclean. We can assume that the woman had some means, since Mark gives us the exact amount of the costly ointment. There is nothing in his account to identify her as poor, even though in his response to her Jesus mentions and shows solidarity with those in poverty. What Mark chooses to include in his narrative is well worth pondering.
For example, if we look back to the Old Testament, prophets anointed kings in similar fashion to what this unnamed woman did for Jesus. Might this prophetic woman sense or know that she is anointing the King of Kings—not for his coronation but rather for his death? What seems like a foolish and wasteful act to some is actually stewardship of what really matters. To this woman, Jesus is far more important than a jar of expensive ointment. She makes a powerful statement about attending to what matters when it matters. Her action is both fully present in the moment and completely radical.
We know that the legal experts and religious leaders were spoiling for a reason arrest and do away with Jesus. They have decided it is more politic to wait until after the Passover and Festival of Unleavened bread, hoping to avoid a kerfuffle with the crowds in Jerusalem. From Mark’s story we might assume that this woman’s action and Jesus’ response to her lavish gift provided the tipping point for Judas, because the very next scene opens with Judas meeting with the chief priests to set up a way to hand Jesus over.
The liturgy for Palm/Passion Sunday does not leave much room for a lengthy sermon, so why not consider an exploration of the stewardship of the unnamed woman’s act of lavish love? It could be well worth asking how we, as people of God and as the Body of Christ today, show our love for Jesus. What of boundaries? Will we cross them for the sake of the gospel or take a prophetic stand in the face of opposition? Do we have the will to break with tradition and cultural expectation in order to be fully present for our Lord? What can we learn from this unnamed woman, and how does her act speak to us today?
As we enter into Holy Week, let this prophetic act by an unnamed and voiceless character set the stage and the tone for everything else. Give her story place and space. If done thoughtfully and well, this steward’s story can have an unsettling and heart-provoking effect on those gathered. Perhaps a way to end the meditation is to invite those gathered to consider what treasure they have in their own “alabaster jars” that needs to be broken open for Jesus’ sake. Perhaps, indeed, it is one’s very life poured out in humble and grateful service for the sake of the world.
Blessings on your teaching, preaching, palm waving, and entrance into Holy Week. May the Spirit grant you words, wisdom, and prophetic vision (and a good nap, too).
For more reflections on Palm/Passion Sunday, check out
“Stewardship Lessons from the Passion Story” from 2015 and
“Of One Mind” from 2012
If you are highlighting the unnamed woman’s lavish act of stewardship and devotion, consider having someone dress the part and conduct an “interview” with her in lieu of a sermon. Choose someone who is willing to immerse herself in the story and who will prayerfully place herself into this role. If you as leader choose to take on this role, choose someone to interview you. Talk beforehand and identify questions that you want to ask.
This week’s psalm could make an excellent discussion starter with your youth. How does this psalm work with the other lessons for this Sunday? You might focus on the idea of Jesus heading into Jerusalem knowing that things were not going to end well. You could look at the play of words on “broken vessel”—how might the term apply to Jesus, could it reflect the alabaster jar of ointment broken open, and does it mean something to us today in our own walks of faith and doubt? How does the psalmist resolve the lament that ends in verse 13? How might verses 14-16 be helpful to us today in times of trial and pain?
How do we make our minds like Jesus as we hear in this week’s epistle lesson from Philippians? Do we put on some kind of special helmet that’s connected to the Holy Spirit to have some kind of holy mind-meld? Of course not! Do we dine on pages from the Bible? Of course not! Come up with a few of these crazy suggestions and/or entertain a few from the children. Then, take them to the font and tell them that we got a head start on conforming our mind to that of Christ when we were named and claimed as children of God in baptism. We’re already a part of the family! To build up our “child of God DNA” or “Divine Nature Attitude” adjustment, we come to worship, we pray, we study scripture, we serve others, we develop relationships with others in our congregation, and we give to God. When we do these things faithfully, we will soon find that our minds begin to think and act a whole lot like Jesus. Finish with a simple prayer that all of God’s children will become more like Jesus every day.
Weekly Stewardship Bulletin Insert
What costly gift do you hold that needs to be broken open and poured out for the sake of the gospel in grateful response to Jesus? Read 2 Corinthians 4:7 for a big hint!
Stewardship at Home
This week set an empty mason jar in a visible place in your home where you can have your daily prayer and devotions. Keep some pieces of paper and a pen nearby, along with your Bible. As you read and pray each day, invite Jesus to show you thing that you you can pour out for others for the sake of the gospel. For example, you might forego stopping for that expensive coffee drink this week, and put the money you save in the jar. Or, you might write down ideas for ways you can serve others in Jesus’ name on the slips of paper and put those in the jar. All during Holy Week, keep adding to your jar as the Spirit moves you. On Easter Monday, get ready to being “pouring out” those precious gifts to honor Jesus and share the good news. Continue to pour out these good things and precious resources during the fifty days of Easter as a radical act of worship and stewardship.
Photos: The Bible Museum and public domain, Creative Commons usage license. Thanks!
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