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 9:24

[Note: I just noted that this posting is marked as having missed its scheduled posting last January 2nd. Apparently, Jan 1st was too wild. Too bad there are no memories of it (though, given the prevalence of false memories in current national leadership it may be just as well). In theory its posting 8 months late will be just the right time for someone to read it. ~Wesley]


The boy’s father immediately cried out, “I have faith; help my want of faith!”


as per usual
it’s all about me

a bargained for affirmation
has questionable efficacy

where does taking faith upon ourself
fit with borrowing faith from another

a key element in a new good news
is the sharing of faith

to trust where another doesn’t
is prelude to direct action

disrupting our usual establishment
hierarchies claiming power

with no intersectional partnered trust
division after division brings nothing


In the first part of Mark, miracles of healing take place, BANG, now. We are now looking at slower healing with a process involving and almost requiring special faith and prayer.

In light of the context of healing, we might be aided by a translation into Marathi that would mean, “cast out my unbelief”, (Bratcher288).

Galston147 is evocative of appreciative unbelief:

The existence of God… requires belief because God is absent. What about people…who say they experience God? This makes the point: we experience God in the yearning for God, which is the presence of the absence of God clinging to our hearts. In such conditions I must say “I believe, help my unbelief (Mark 9:24). My act of believing is against unbelief, against the consequence of the absence of God. So, believing is willfully taking a leap over the abyss of absence without knowing where one might land. Such is religion: it exists because God does not exist; it is the willfulness of being human. It is the act of leaping across unbelief. Like Søren Kierkegaard (1813–1855), the great founder of Existentialism, said, belief is the condition of uncertainty. Belief is about lying “constantly out upon the deep and with seventy thousand fathoms of water” underneath. Such oceanic depth is Kierkegaard’s metaphor for bottomlessness, for emptiness. God is not about certainty, and religion is not about God’s existence. Religion is about creating God while it awaits God. Religion is the “almost” of God; that is, religion is the record of beliefs that arise while waiting for the arrival of nothing. Religion is the trace of a God, culturally conditioned, who almost is.

Today “wisdom in religion involves the act of creating value out of nothing”; consumerism and technology substitute for G*D.

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.

Mark 13:37

And what I say to you I say to all – Watch!”


a consistent message
has its value
is grounding

no matter how consistent
its ground of being
does matter

keeping a lert
in a golden cage
is still kidnapping


“Say” is used here to speak to a particular person or community as well as to teach something that can be broadly applied.

 The Temple has been a key image in chapters 11, 12, and 13. If there is a sign to be given, this is a good candidate. In some sense it is too large to be a sign. It is the very water in which people swam and is just that usual, unexamined, and all too expected.

A part of our alertness is a continuing in a Wisdom tradition or Socratic examination of our lives. In a modern democracy this is translated from Temple to such touchstones as Liberty, General Welfare, and Common Defense. These are corruptible and all too easily become their opposite. The “abomination of desolation” comes to mean the assent of religious liberty over welcoming strangers, general welfare is rejected because of a fear of “welfare queens” getting something for nothing, and common defense becomes privileged by requisitioning all other resources away from education and infrastructure that would provide a more expansive tomorrow.

Watchfulness and alertness have increased their importance since the trinity of suffering, death, and rising made their appearance. How do we keep our eye on a restorative rising or a rising restoration without paying attention? It will be this rising that will bring any meaning of suffering and death to the fore.

“Watch!” has become the word (13:31) that will not pass away.

Every liturgical season needs this First Sunday in Advent emphasis. As the Western Church cycles through its telling of Jesus’ story, year after year, we keep coming to the final Sunday—The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe [Note: instituted in 1925 by Pope Pius XI, moved to its current location in 1969 by Pope Paul VI]. This Sunday points to Jesus returned when Love of G*D and Love of Neighb*r are in accord. Yet we are immediately struck by how far we are from such a realized eschatology. And so we Watch! knowing that Watching is an activizing word. Watch and Love.

Mark 13:36

otherwise he might come suddenly and find you asleep.


at all cost
reorganize today
in light of tomorrow

no future surprise
lives without hope
that today is its day

every perchance dream
creeps in its petty pace
to spring full blown

startled to attention
beyond our expectation
doesn’t change our welcome

not what we looked for
is still what we have
hello when did you get in


Early on we ran into Mark’s telling his story at break-neck speed by the repeated use of εὐθύς (euthys, “at once”, “immediately”). This can be contrasted here with Mark’s only use of the word ἐξαίφνης (exaiphnēs, “suddenly”, “unexpectedly”).

The difference highlights Mark’s storytelling having an intention different from any happenstance that might startle us from our adjustment to a settled everydayness. When someone has been away long enough they pass on from growing our heart’s fondness for them to doing what is necessary without them.

 In an apocalyptic story we are taken unaware of the end, even if expecting it—remember any horror story picking off all the bit players so there can be a show-down with the disaster or escape by the hero/heroine.

Here the call to “Watch!” is not a too-late warning for an individual, but a call to a whole community. It becomes a way for them to watch over one another with encouragement and correction in the midst of every moment’s entropic tendency toward decline and disorder.

To “Watch!” goes beyond rules, to love of Neighb*r. This is to be a way of living together that includes an extension of present Neighb*r’s into generations to come.

Sabin159 notes that the “church fathers appear to be silent about this parable.” She goes on to say,

“the final thrust of the parable is the importance of keeping watch because the lord will return….the Temple will be once more inhabited by the divine presence. Thus the parable about the returning householder provides a merciful response not only to the disciples’ question about the Temple’s destruction but to their clear reverence for its ancient beauty and meaning….its destruction and its restoration.