Posted on November 19, 2014
#80: The Beautiful and the Beastly
Skilled writers know how to develop stories using plot sequences. A very simple sequence might have a beginning setting, followed by a series of chronological scenes that lead to a final setting. (Some of us like plots with happy endings best. Others of us love a good tear-jerker!) A more complex plot might have scenes occurring in jumbled order, leaving us to fit the pieces together into a sensible story.
Then there are plot sequences that begin and end in the same time/location, with a related but separate series of events—almost a story of its own—sandwiched in between. The Wizard of Oz, for example, begins and ends with Dorothy on Auntie Em’s Kansas farm, while a whole fantastic Oz adventure occupies the middle of the plot.
Today we’ll look at a passage with the same type of A-B-A feel—one that begins beastly and ends beastly, with a beautiful account in the middle! Thanks for joining me for Knowing Jesus, as we continue our study of Mark’s gospel in chapter 14.
Open your Bible and read Mark 14:1-11, noticing the three “scenes” of this story. See Matthew 26:2-16 and John 12:1-11 for parallel accounts.
Scene One: The Beastly (vs. 1-2)
The Jewish leaders’ growing hatred of Jesus had come to a head; they were openly scheming together, making concrete plans. Mark says they “were looking for some crafty way to arrest Jesus and kill him.”
However, they were painfully aware of the resistance likely to meet an attempt to harm Jesus; they’d seen the adoring crowds waving palm branches and shouting joyful hallelujahs, welcoming Jesus to Jerusalem just a few days earlier (Mk. 11:1-10). So they agreed to wait until after the eight-day Passover festival, when most of the people who had come to Jerusalem for the feast would’ve left for home. (At this point, they didn’t know that they would soon receive help from an unexpected source—one of Jesus’ own disciples, Judas Iscariot.)
Scene Two: The Beautiful (vs. 3-9)
Meanwhile, Jesus reclined at a dinner table in Bethany, the honored guest of a man called Simon the Leper. (If Simon had been a leper, he certainly wasn’t by this time or he wouldn’t have been hosting a banquet. Perhaps Jesus had healed him of leprosy, and this was Simon’s way of saying thank-you.) Other guests included the twelve disciples and Lazarus, whom Jesus had recently raised from the grave—all men at this formal table. Lazarus’ sister Mary was helping to serve the meal (Jn. 12:2).
The dinner conversation suddenly dwindled to silence as a woman approached the table, carrying not a serving platter but an ornate alabaster jar. This was Mary—another sister of Lazarus—one whose gratitude to Jesus overflowed; He had redeemed her from a sinful life and restored her beloved brother Lazarus from death. The guests heard the neck of Mary’s delicate vial shatter as she struck it against the table’s edge. They smelled a distinct fragrance spreading through the room—nard, a costly perfume kept by some as a status symbol. They watched as Mary poured some of the valuable oil on Jesus’ head, then the rest on His feet, kneeling and wiping His feet with her hair. For a moment the only sound in the room was Mary softly weeping, lost in adoration and worship.
Then the whispers began, led by Judas. “Do you know what that stuff is worth? What a waste. Why, that could’ve been sold for a small fortune—at least a year’s wages! A lot of poor people could have been fed on the profits. What in the world was she thinking?” (John 12:4-6 tells us Judas wasn’t really concerned with the poor; he was only regretting a lost opportunity to embezzle a sweet sum from the disciples’ purse.)
Jesus was quick to silence Mary’s critics. “Leave her alone!” He commanded. “What she’s just done is beautiful. You can help the poor always, but Me you will have for only a little while longer. She has anointed Me in advance for burial [not Mary’s intent, but this would be the only anointing He would receive]. Throughout the world, wherever the gospel message is carried, this act will be told in her memory.”
Many ears stung at His rebuke, many faces turned red—especially Judas’.
Scene Three: The Beastly, Reprised (vs. 10-11)
Judas slipped away from Simon’s house, his anger and embarrassment burning. When he knocked at the palace door of the chief priest stating his intent to betray Jesus to them, he was warmly welcomed—and, better yet, promised silver. The delighted leaders knew this was the break they needed to put their plans back in motion.
What a contrast, between the beauty of Mary’s lavish grateful generosity and the beastliness of Judas’ selfish hateful betrayal. Only one who grasped the privilege of knowing Him and the worth of His salvation could bring such an offering—spilling it out, holding nothing back.
This week, as you pray and think about what it means to you to know Christ and to be saved by Him, pour over Him your own beautiful offering of praise and thanksgiving. He hasn’t allowed Mary’s praise to be forgotten; He will treasure yours also.
© Diane McLoud 2014