Reading for Monday of Holy Week
Peace be with you!
The characters in today’s Gospel reading all have a role in setting up Jesus’s betrayal, arrest, and ultimately his crucifixion, death, and resurrection. But their roles may seem odd: a woman pouring ointment on his head, the chief priests plotting against Jesus, and Judas making a deal to betray Jesus. To us, these events seem odd to us. There is really no reason for any of this to take place. What is the significance of the woman pouring ointment on Jesus’ head? What do the chief priests have against Jesus? Who betrays their faithful leader? Why does this all have to take place?
Jesus visits Simon the leper in Bethany two days before the Passover and the Festival of Unleavened Bread (Mark 14:1, 3). When a woman pours ointment on Jesus’s head, the disciples object because such an expensive item could have been sold and the money given to the poor (Mark 14:4-5). To the disciples, the woman is wasting money that could have been used to help those in need. The ointment of nard could have paid for a family’s expenses for a year. It seems a ridiculous waste. However, Jesus stops the disciples in their tracks and explains the importance behind the woman pouring ointment on his head. Jesus states that the poor will always be with his followers, but he would not (Mark 14:7). For us today, this makes sense: we have never physically seen Jesus. We do see the poor all the time. Since Simon is a leper and not able to work, the household Jesus and his disciples are visiting is, yet the woman anoints Jesus with expense ointment.
The woman was actually anointing his body for burial beforehand (Mark 14:8). The woman gives Jesus the honor and dignity that he deserves before he suffers crucifixion and death. The woman gives up money to give honor to Jesus. Anointing before burial was often reserved for important individuals, such as kings.
Then we come to Judas Iscariot and the chief priests who set devastating events into action. Chief priests were already plotting to arrest and kill Jesus (Mark 14:1), though it could not be during the Passover, because it would cause a riot (Mark 14:2) unless a disciple came forward to help them (Perkins 1995). When Judas comes forward willing to betray Jesus (Mark 14:10), the chief priests are able to carry out their plans.
Now, Judas does not care why the chief priests want to arrest Jesus. Judas’s only concern is himself, and the chief priests are willing to pay him money for giving them Jesus (Mark 14:11). Because of his greed and desire for personal gain, Judas is willing to hand Jesus over.
Readers cannot help but compare the woman who poured ointment on Jesus’s head with Judas. While Judas plans to betray Jesus for money, the woman who poured ointment on Jesus’ head sacrifice expensive nard to show him respect and dignity. The woman gives up money for Jesus, whereas Judas takes money as he betrays Jesus. When the woman prepares Jesus for his burial by anointing him, Judas puts into motion the events leading up to the crucifixion.
It would be easy to mark the woman who poured ointment on Jesus’s head as a saint and Judas Iscariot and the chief priests as sinners, but we are not called to do that. Each of these characters play an important role in the Passion story. As I stated above, the woman who poured ointment on Jesus’s head gives him the honor and dignity he deserves before fulfilling the scriptures. In the same way, Judas and the chief priests play an important role in allowing Jesus to fulfill the scriptures, even though that is not their goal. Ultimately, Jesus has to die on cross for our sins and rise again to overcome death. The woman who poured ointment on his head, Judas Iscariot, and the chief priests help Jesus to carry out God’s plan, even without their knowledge.
Dear Heavenly Father, Thank you for the woman, Judas, and chief priests who played important roles in carrying out your plan. Help us to recognize the way in which you use us Christians—and even those who do not believe—to further your plan, even unknowingly. Thank you for using us as you continue to unfold your plan. Amen.
Perkins, Pheme. “The Gospel of Mark: Introductions, Commentary, and Reflections.” In The New Interpreter’s Bible, by Leander E Kirk. Nashville: Abringdon Press, 1995.
Please answer the following reflective questions in the comments below. Please agree to disagree and be respectful to each other. (If you have not already done so, please also take a moment, to sign the behavior covenant by commenting on it.) You can answer as many questions as you would like.
- How has God used you in a tough situation to continue to unfold his plan?
- Where do you find yourself in the story?