Mark 14, 1-16 no. 41 Dec. 3

Over a century ago someone described Mark’s Gospel as ’the death of Jesus preceded by a long introduction’, and in a certain sense he was right. We were told that the Gospel would be about the Messiah and Son of God. All through the Gospel we have seen signs that these two titles, already professed by Mark and by his readers, are deserved; especially in his wisdom, power and holiness does Jesus show that he merits being professed as Messiah and Son of God. Mark introduces us to this final moment in Jesus’ life by giving us the notation of time: the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread were to be celebrated in two days’ time. The Passover is highlighted by the ritualized meal in Jewish homes which celebrates the Angel of Death’s sparing (or passing over) the Israelite first-born males when the rest of the people in Egypt had their first born male, human and animal, killed; certain features of the meal recall other symbols of Israel’s freedom from Egypt and journey to the Promised Land. Unleavened Bread is an agricultural feast, to be celebrated for eight days, the first eight days of the spring harvest. In this celebration, the first grains of harvested wheat are offered in thanksgiving to the Lord; no yeast or leaven is added to this wheat, for they were considered agents which would take away from, or corrupt the pristine quality of the wheat given to the Israelites by Yahweh. The feast recognizes the Source of all human food, and that we use on earth what really belongs to the Lord. Chief priests (about 8 people) and scribes have no respect for Jesus and want him dead, but they must find a way to do this without riling the many crowds of Jews coming to celebrate Passover. (The Law obliged all adult males everywhere and every year to participate in Jerusalem in the Feasts of Passover, Pentecost and Tents.) The crowds of Jews were still on Jesus’ side. Jesus, when in the Jerusalem area, regularly spent his nights in Bethany on the Mount of Olives; here, at dinner, a woman anointed him with costly oil and in abundance. Such a gesture went beyond the ordinary anointing of a guest so that he be cleansed at the table. But this amount of perfumed oil is excessive, and thus represents a waste of money which could better be used to help the poor. Jesus interprets the woman’s action as an anointing, not for a meal, but for his death. That "the poor you have always with you" is often misinterpreted; it suggests a pessimism. What Jesus intends by his reference to the poor is to underline that "you will not have me here always"; thus, only now will money serve for Jesus’ death, whereas it will always serve the needs of the needy. That this woman will be remembered always for her gesture is a sure and memorable sign that she has done a most meritorious work for the Messiah and Son of God, indeed, a gesture in stark contrast to the harsh treatment Jesus will receive from the Sanhedrin. As Mark presents these final two chapters, particularly Chapter 14, we note the interplay between goodness and evil that characterizes the story; this interplay is intentional on Mark’s part, as the reader is asked to contemplate both the good and bad that take place in Jesus’ last hours. The Feasts of Passover and Unleavened Bread (two feasts distinct in meaning) by chance coincided this year, so that Passover fell on the first of the eight days of Unleavened Bread. They are feasts of freedom and divine benefits respectively, both involving unyeasted bread and various cups of wine in their celebration. Jesus, now like a prophet or even a king, sends his disciples, his servants, to prepare the Feast of Passover. The story is told in such a way as to show the reader the majesty of Jesus, his control of events, his knowledge that exceeds that of his disciples. This is in stark contrast indeed with the Jesus to hang very soon on the cross. John Kilgallen, S
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