Mark 14:10

After this, Judas Iscariot, one of the Twelve, went to the chief priests, to betray [hand over] Jesus to them.


you always hurt
the one you love
sings a lonely heart
discounted by the one
they love

they love
a bargained life
measuring every move
against a standard
unexamined unreachable

in a mere moment
lasting until death parts
deeds are done
we won’t undo
no won’t undo


Mark’s self-aware style of self-interruption has occurred again. If we were to return to the first two verses of this chapter we would see how smoothly the story might have flowed from 14:1–2 to 14:10–11.

The inability of the Chief Priests and Scribes to figure out how to do away with Jesus, given the Passover crowds, has now found its way in conjunction with the assistance of one of the inside Twelve—Judas Iscariot.

Mark doesn’t try to find a motivation for Judas’ action, just reports it in his usual rushed fashion.

Sabin2125remarks on the way Judas was going to carry out his decision:

Mark consistently uses the phrase “hand over” to express betrayal. That use carries ironic overtones, because “hand over” can also mean hand on, as of a tradition. By his persistent repetition of the phrase, Mark suggests that Jesus is handing on the tradition of being handed over. It is the same word that Paul uses with the same double meaning when he says that he is “handing on” to the Christian community at Corinth what he knows about Jesus’ institution of the Eucharist “on the night that he was handed over” (1 Cor 11:23).

If we were not so many generations, cultural shifts, language changes, and translational issues away from Mark we might find even more ironies than these that stick their hand up and wave. Sometimes we are willing to acknowledge that irony is a major tool in spiritual awakening and continued growth.

If we were going to look anywhere for a specific cause for the suffering and dying that would precede a rising, it would be in what comes between 14:2 and 14:10—the anointing.

What is it about that event that would trigger Judas? See if you can avoid Matthew’s avarice, Luke’s Satan, and John’s thievery.

Mark 14:9

And I tell you, wherever, in the whole world, the good news is proclaimed, what this woman has done will be told in memory of her.”


though shying away
from learning assurance
be assured
a deed of anticipation
no matter how incomplete
will grow in its own time
to sustain you tomorrow

the memory of your intention
will eventually break
every concrete bunker
you’ve protectively erected
such Dulcinaic memory
can but lead to a song of songs
bursting free of every barrier


On the Sunday before Easter, one of the lectionary options is the Liturgy of the Passion (all of Chapters 14 and 15). Given all that is in those chapters and a “holy week” context, the likelihood of a congregation hearing about the church’s memory of this anonymous woman is slight. It is much more likely messages will be about betrayal in the Garden and the gory details of a bloody atonement.

Since this woman is not referred to again we do have to question the lack of memory of her in the rest of Christian scripture. She is a Lady Wisdom figure for us and is just that discounted in the face of institutional orthodoxy and its overweening unity.

In my reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary [Wrestling Year B: Connecting Sunday Readings with Lived Experience237,] I wrote:

     Preparing ourselves and one another for our burials is holy work as well as hard work. It turns out Works of Mercy are always available to participate in. We don’t spend as much time as we might on the Works of Virtue….
     This is a pretty amazing state of affairs because our very nature or the gift we have been given leads us so consistently to dying.
     Instead of focusing quite so much on a “Jesus died for my sins” approach to Good Friday, this long passage might lead us to ask about what it would take for us to join Jesus and be prepared to so live that others might live and take the consequences every age gives to those who so live. What anointing do you still need to open your eyes to how OK it is to live and die faithful to your nature or gift? This anointing would also allow us to know that it is alright to die before we see the completion of our work.
     May you have your Bethany anointing, and that right soon.

And may your anointing be for good, remembered or not.

Mark 14:8

She has done what she could; she has perfumed my body beforehand for my burial.


our work with one another
deepens in meaning
when done in light
of preparing another’s death

this work extends beyond
seven generations hence
in light of preparing
a world to welcome them

this leaves us working
thankful for ancestors
who laid a ground of hope
we are blessed to pass along


It is a very simple idea that we do best when we do what we can. It is not an easy idea to enflesh for we continuously get messages about what we can’t do. Enough of these and we engage in passive waiting instead of active waiting.

Active waiting includes pushing the boundaries around us just one step further than where we are. If there is no pushing, we stay stuck. If there is too much pushing, we stay stuck because of strong resistance or push-back from the larger culture.

If you are interested in a practical example of this you can read, Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, by Irin Carmin and Shana Knizhnik.

Musically, a touchstone is Give Me Roses While I Live, by the Carter Family. Good is to be done while we live for those who live. This is a way of honoring those who have gone before by doing what we imagine they would do today if they had the opportunity. It is also a way of preparing for those who will come later, that goodness become more expected and less surprising. A second song to attend to is Phil Och’s, When I’m Gone, that comes at this same issue the other way around.

If we pause for a moment we might think this woman simply has more resources available to her than the woman with two half-pennies and has invested a year’s worth of money in a perfume. Would Jesus warn against over-committing to him as well as to the Temple? If this is a non-verbal acknowledgement that Jesus is a Messiah who will suffer and die, why is she not a replacement for Peter?

We do not have the woman’s intention, only Jesus’ interpretation of her action. Other Gospels talk about her anointing Jesus’ feet. Either way, what might a current equivalent action be? Probably not marketing a Jesus perfume or building an expensive shrine. But what?

Mark 14:7

You always have the poor with you, and whenever you wish you can do good to them; but you will not always have me.


no wonder
you’ll always have the poor
with you
you need them to cover
your comfort

your ease
depends on their indenturement
to provide
your want at least cost
to you

shift focus
pick any piece of clay
see it
as an image of all
h-m-m-m now

in particular
as you would do for me
this do
do now for any next other
you see


An early reference to reflect on is the interaction between Jesus and the Pharisees about eating with those seen as outside the bounds of faith—the “sinners”, the “incompatibles”—and fasting.

The poor, “sinners”, “incompatibles” you will always have with you, because they are a necessary part to any purity system build on sorting people into a simple duality of “ins” and “outs”. At any time the constraints of the constructed system can be changed and good be done, inclusion can be made for those defined as less-than.

While Jesus is around, the prevailing system based on restriction is challenged to reveal itself or change. Usually it reveals itself by ultimately requiring Jesus to suffer and die and not being ready for a rising.

When Jesus is no longer physically present, it will take intentional wandering in the wilderness, doing unpopular good, to find a perspective from which the current system can change its heart along with the people caught in supporting and perpetuating it.

As we anticipate Jesus’ absence and the attendant anxiety of such an eventuality, it becomes clear that always having a choice to remove the conditions of poverty, “sin”, and other exile producing mechanisms is what we can’t seem to get around. To acknowledge our complicity with the principalities and powers is to confess how much we like our little power perks and to what lengths we will go to keep them. This moral choice reveals our love of G*D and Neighb*r.

Mark 14:6

“Leave her alone,” said Jesus, as they began to find fault with her, “why are you troubling her? This is a beautiful deed that she has done for me.


having been triangled in
the best we can do
is put the brakes on

stop
look
listen

this is about you
not her not him
not them not me

you are
turning a blessing
into a curse


Readers who have attempted to carry the story Mark is telling along with them, will hear anger in Jesus’ response. They need only remember the time when the disciples were scolding children and Jesus clearly and sharply said, “Stop it!”

The question of why we are so prone to making trouble for any who make us uncomfortable is a live question in every age. Why do we so quickly and easily institutionalize personal prejudice in communal discrimination so the two are woven together in such a way as to increase resistance to change. Our prejudice is confirmed in discriminatory practice and increased discrimination is claimed as natural for we feel it so closely.

We also can hear echoes of Jesus’ response to the widow offering her two half-pennies. She contributed all she had. This cousin in anonymity has given all she has to the last drop from a broken-open flask. Both acts of commitment are describable as “beautiful”. It is this Way of Beauty that Mark has been attempting to describe since his opening quote from Isaiah.

It is difficult for males benefiting from the prejudice and discrimination of an institutionalized patriarchy to break free. Those who are most clearly able to break through this constriction are the anonymous women who, one after another, are revealed as active partners in living deep within wildernesses shaping changed hearts.

Passover is a time of liberation and this scene is emblematic of on-going liberation work needed for the honoring of women within a church well-known as patriarchal, for the honoring of those who are still discriminated against because of color, sexual orientation, or migrant/alien/refugee status. The same honor is to be extended to children, seniors, disabled, and untold additional ways humans have protected themselves from being partners, Neighb*rs. And, always we need to be ready to honor those not yet recognized as beautiful.

Mark 14:5

This perfume could have been sold for more than a year’s wages, and the money given to the poor.”


so eager to defend
what needs no defense
we immediately attack
what is laudable

our power of exaggeration
springs to action
not used to thinking of the poor
we drag them in to sooth our discomfort

what we would do
with the money poured out
is obviously help the poor
not using our money but their’s

no surprise at being in a leper’s house
no surprise at a woman anointing a man
only surprise at our utilitarianism
measuring life economically


There is sufficient inequality of income in the United States of America to make receiving an annual basic income a political possibility. Experiments with basic income in Finland, Canada, and Alaska have shown is that a basic income alleviates the stress of insecurity and actually increases people’s work, not decrease it.

The reasons poll numbers indicating 52% of American are still against a basic income revolve around an idea that charitable giving to the poor comes out of an excess of resources (a year’s wage stored in a small flask would be one example of such an excess) and linking poverty to moral failings rather than economic conditions and other issues beyond one’s control. It should be noted that just 10 years earlier, 88% were against basic income.

Sabin1178, comments on Mark’s telling his story:

Mark creates several ironies here: those who could not imagine selling their own possessions to give money to the poor (ch. 10) are quick to give away the possessions of others; those who have called Jesus “the messiah” or “the anointed one” (i.e., christos) are slow to see the point of actually anointing him.

We see the same ironies in the hyper-capitalist economy of the United States where people are slow to acknowledge the privileges that have allowed their “getting ahead” and use the “poor” as a foil to play against and blame them for their own condition. By any measure, grace does not quantify and simply does what is graceful.

Mark 14:4

Some of those who were present said to one another indignantly, “Why has the perfume been wasted like this?


shown up
in hospitality
we retaliate
inhospitably

complain about imbalance
a washing of feet
would have been ok
anointing is over the top

not wanting to complicate
make more awkward
we only complain
about the cost


The “some” who grew indignant at the expense of this anointing probably includes the Disciples. We can remember their upset about the rich having a hard time getting into “heaven” on the basis of their riches. We also remember them talking to one another about who was the greatest.

Reflecting on this anger response will prepare us for a coming conversation about betrayal and money and a symbol-filled last meal.

To claim that the perfume has been wasted discounts any acknowledgments or affirmations of Jesus being a Messiah, an Anointed One. If there is anything to such a title, anointing would be expected, not labeled a waste. This would again lead us toward the issue being one of simple expense, not how it was used.

Was Peter still trying to wriggle out from under the consequence of Jesus’ way of being a Messiah who would suffer and be anointed in death? If so, Peter will make a good colonialist, using his keys to consolidate power and amass money from large and small colonies.

The issue of waste cuts through different economic theories. They each try to deal with justifying one efficiency or another to grow the wealth of those at the top. This is a pervasive concern whether we are talking about capitalism’s profit motive or a potlatch gifting. Hierarchy can be expressed through either getting or giving.

The song “Greed”, by Sweet Honey in the Rock, can be fruitfully brought to bear on this verse. If you are not familiar with this song composed by Bernice Johnson Reagon, there are a couple of presentations of it on YouTube.com.

It is worth noting that the dynamic of escalating complaint is critical to sustaining anger. Anger needs tending to keep it burning. Mutual indignation is a traditional way to feed anger. All that is needed is to set up one logical fallacy or another, as a basis of a complaint. An economy that monetizes partnership is a common misjudgment.

Mark 14:3

When Jesus was still at Bethany, in the house of Simon the leper, while he was sitting at the table, a woman came with an alabaster jar of choice spikenard perfume of great value. She broke the jar, and poured the perfume on his head.


to see past surfaces
with Superman X-Ray Vision
is the dream of all comic readers
drawn to ads for glasses
providing this power

no glasses no matter
how finely prescribed
will see an inner beautiful woman
resident in an ugly-skinned man
this takes insight beyond power

bringing a blessing
to a leper’s lodging
blesses the bringer
with an aromatic ointment
soothing a wind-dried face

a leper breaks open
an alabastron breaks open
an unnamed woman breaks open
a coming death breaks open
a cosmic egg breaks open


A topsy-turvy verse.

1) In the Common English Bible, Simon “had” a skin disease or Simon “had” a skin disease. Past or present? Suggestions that Simon was cured but still carried the name Leper goes back at least as far as Jerome (347–420 CE). The Jesus story would certainly allow for his disease to still be active.

2) Even more troublesome than leprosy is another anonymous woman. She enters while a meal was in progress.

3) That’s bad enough, but to proceed to an anointing puts her in the category of a prophet. Maybe once-upon-a-time there were prophetesses—in Megillah 14a the Rabbis note seven: Sarah, Miriam, Deborah, Hannah, Abigail, Huldah and Esther. But now?

4) But, wait, this is not an anointing of a king, but an anointing for burial. This is not a once and future king, but a never and won’t ever be king. This is a colt rider. This is a messenger of good news. This is a partner. So this is an anti-anointing?

5) And we end up back with the rich man looking for eternal life? We’re still hung up with monetizing belovedness. The one most blessed, most beloved, must also be the one with the most benefits. Jesus must have the most expensive funeral as well as a high-class tomb with the biggest stone instead of being left to rot and picked apart by the birds and dogs.

Mark 14:2

for they said, “Not during the Festival, or the people may riot.”


we do so want
unfettered autonomy
doing what we want
when and how we want

to be soft and cuddled
when we want
with whom we want
as long as we want

to always be right
no questions
no challenges
no doubts expressed

to remove embarrassments
before the surface
under polite cover
quietly

when unfairly constrained
go to stealth mode
stretch your morality
just do it


Note the shift in Mark’s language from “crowd” to “people”. The crowds have been helpful revealers of how astounding the quality of belovedness is in Jesus’ life, and the life of others who have joined a long line of conscious avatars—G*D and Neighb*or partners.

LaVerdiere2226 identifies the trap within which the Chief Priests and the Temple structure have found themselves:

On the one hand, they could not arrest Jesus during the feast, for fear the people (ho laos) might riot on his behalf. On the other, they absolutely had to arrest him during the feast, for fear the people (ho laos) might rally to Jesus and riot against them. The only way out of the dilemma was to arrest Jesus by treachery (en dolo).

The Chief Priests were not yet able to discern just what diabolical mechanism would work to get them out of their pharaonic dilemma of self-protective leadership in a time of transition. This leads Readers to anticipate a concluding parenthesis and to begin paying attention to what lies between the raising of this problem and its resolution—this plotting and a convenient betrayal.

From here to the end of Mark, Readers do well to reflect on how “Holy Week” activities suppress the terrible realism of an intensely political drama still being played out in the crowds of injured and vulnerable persons. Myers183 notes raw themes of “back-room deals and covert action, judicial manipulation and prisoner exchanges, torture and summary execution” are “persistent in our own world” and act to deny any hope of rising to fuller partnership with one another.

Mark 14:1

It was now two days before the Festival of the Passover and the unleavened bread. The chief priests and the teachers of the Law were looking for an opportunity to arrest Jesus by stealth, and to put him to death;


the countdown is on
searching beyond boundaries
brought a gift beyond
tribal rescue
occupational resistance
a change of heart

the countdown continues
being beloved enough
to hazard a wilderness
plumb its depths
probe its strength
poke its edges

the countdown resumes
each new night next day
with riddles of trust
shifting frames
opening eyes and ears
partnering generously


Two days or two plagues before what became known as Passover there were locusts which ate all that was green in Egypt-land. The accusation against Moses was that of plotting an evil scheme and it turned out the trickster was Pharaoh who asked for forgiveness to stop the locusts and then would not give-in and let the Hebrews go.

Two days or two plagues before what became known as the Release, Exodus, or Rising of the Hebrew people from Egypt—there was darkness. Pharaoh’s stubbornness to not let the Hebrew people rise led him to say to Moses, “…the next time you see my face you will die.”

Adding the Feast of Unrising Bread into the mix has led to numerous attempts to make sense of Mark’s chronology. It may be necessary to broaden our understanding of the eight days of Passover and how that term can stand for the preparation for the whole of the celebration, the days themselves, and the carrying of the whole event forward as a perspective of release throughout the whole year.

When seen in light of the Passover story, we have the irony of the Chief Priests and Scribes shifting from a continued journey of rising up against injustice and unmercy, to playing the role of oppressor working in the background to play an okey-doke of sounding positive while setting in motion any and all necessary, last-minute reversals that turn an immanent release into harder captivity. Every institutional trick of the trade is fair in a zero-sum game of power.

Finally, the curtain is pulled back when the fire-hoses and dogs come out of hiding and arrest and death become the bottom-line of passed and past laws against a watched-for future grace-filled rising.