A Beautiful Thing
When I look at Mark 11-15, the events of what we call “Holy Week”, I am amazed at all that is packed into this one week. Jesus took in every situation and was “in the moment” with each person and each circumstance. But it must have been head-spinning and bewildering for the disciples, and the days described in Mark 14 capture for us the roller coaster of emotions. The conspiracies and threats accelerate. Yet, in these short days that spiral into Jesus’ arrest and sentence of death, there are moments of beauty.
The first is at a meal in Bethany. This little town outside of Jerusalem has been a frequent stopover for Jesus. Bethany is the home of his friends Lazarus, Mary, and Martha, so I imagine that this is a time of respite for him. This particular time, he has a meal with Simon, a man he has healed of leprosy. Most scholars assume that the woman who approaches Jesus in the verses below is Mary, Lazarus’ sister.
3 While he was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head.
4 Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, “Why this waste of perfume? 5 It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages[a] and the money given to the poor.” And they rebuked her harshly.
6 “Leave her alone,” said Jesus. “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. 7 The poor you will always have with you,[b] and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. 8 She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial. 9 Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”
There are many emotions displayed here, including reproach and indignance, but Mary sacrificially, unabashedly pours her devotion and worship on Jesus. Did she understand that she had anointed his body for burial? Maybe not, but Jesus saw it as beautiful because she took no thought of herself and what people would think, nor of the expense of this precious jar of perfume, but quietly displayed this act of worship. I want to be like Mary.
Although I want to be like Mary, I honestly find more parts of myself in Peter, who is centered in much of the rest of the chapter. Jesus must have seen a thing of beauty in Peter. He is passionate and eager to jump in and follow. Jesus acknowledges his faith and leadership when Peter proclaims, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God!” (Mt.16:16) I imagine that there is a little boy inside Peter who just wants Jesus’ approval. I certainly identify with that. In Mark 14, Peter wants to protect Jesus and wants to be faithful to him. However, Peter’s emotions often get the best of him, largely because his assumptions are misguided.
At the Passover meal, he hears from Jesus that someone will betray Him. And Jesus follows up in verse 27 with, “all of you will desert me”. And then Peter’s vehement retort, 31 “No!” Peter declared emphatically. ‘Even if I have to die with you, I will never deny you!’ And all the others vowed the same.” That was the admirable passionate Peter, who so wanted to be faithful and devoted; the Peter who kept his eyes on Jesus and walked on the water with Him! But notice that Peter didn’t really listen or examine his own heart. It was a knee jerk reaction. As a result, Jesus replies that Peter will deny him three times, and we all know the outcome. I feel for Peter; the ups and downs of those packed days. He kept close to Jesus, even after he was arrested. But watching Jesus beaten and condemned to death, he must have caved in to fear and disillusionment from realizing that his false assumptions of a conquering Messiah were lost. Those moments are full of heart-stomping, oxygen-depriving ugliness.
In spite of this failure on Peter’s part, Jesus knew the beautiful thing that would take place in Peter when he was forgiven and restored. In Luke 22:31 he states, “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. 32 But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” While being told you are going to commit a sin is frightful in itself, the fact that Jesus knew and had a plan that revealed his purpose for Peter must have given some comfort later. Jesus looked beyond Peter’s sin. (I’m glad he looks beyond mine.) This painful incident would result in the transformation of Peter as the leader of the early church. He would “Feed my sheep” (Jn 21:17).
Finally, the most extraordinary thing of all happens in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus is experiencing agonizing emotions. The terms used in vs 33 and 34 are “deeply troubled, distressed, grieved to the point of death.” Jesus has always had resolute purpose toward the cross, but the anticipation of that suffering is very real. The sober and glorious outcome of his prayer in the garden is that devotion to the Father’s will and love for you and me determines him to say, 36 “Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” Jesus empties himself, to be extravagantly broken and poured out for us. And that is the most beautiful thing.
Jesus, you are beautiful. The depth of your sacrifice compels us to want to worship you unreservedly, like Mary, and to receive the transforming power that changed Peter from deserter to fisher of men and shepherd of sheep. Would you draw us in, Lord? May we be resolute to serve you, love you, wherever our emotions lie today. In Jesus name, Amen.