Thursday, March 15, 2012

Pay Attention!

Our texts for this fourth Sunday in Lent, on which we journey with Jesus to the events that took place on Wednesday of Holy Week, are Ephesians 2:1-10 and Mark 14:1-11, which can be read here.

Two things to which I encourage you to pay attention in our readings for this week:

1) Note that this is another instance of Mark beginning one story, cutting to another, and returning to the original plot line--what we have called elsewhere (in our blog two weeks ago) a Markan Sandwich or Markan Frame. What does this mean? That the stories of the religious leaders, the unnamed woman, and Judas are meant to be read together, to interpret one another. It is the actions of the leaders and Judas that help us understand what Jesus commended about the woman who anointed him; it is the actions of the woman that help reveal the ramifications of the choices of the leaders and Judas. Read these 11 verses as one story--the story of one day, with all of its instances connected. How do these characters relate to one another?

2) The stories of Jesus being anointed and Judas betraying Jesus are familiar ones to us--and so this means we need to pay special attention to exactly how Mark narrates them. Much of what we "think we know" about these stories comes from other Gospels. Take the story of the woman who anointed Jesus. The anointing of the feet and wiping with hair? That is Luke and John, not Mark. That they were at the home of a Pharisee? That is Luke, not Mark. That the anointer was Mary sister of Martha and Lazarus? That's John, not Mark. That the woman was of a questionable reputation? Again, that's Luke, not Mark. That it was Judas who offered the critique of the gift? That's John, not Mark. It's the same with Judas' decision to betray Jesus: it is Matthew who tells us it was for "thirty pieces of silver." It is Luke and John who say that Judas was under the influence of Satan. It is only John who implies that Judas was himself of questionable morals--greedy, a thief. None of this is in Mark's narrative.

So what IS in Mark's narrative? That's what I challenge you to pay attention to this week: without reading the details we know from other gospels into the story, what does Mark actually say? What does he emphasize? What sort of picture does he paint? Do your best to read these familiar stories as if for the first time and hear only the details Mark offers...what can these stories tell us in this gospel, which is believed to be the earliest account of Jesus' passion?

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