Sunday’s sermon: Misplaced Treasure

misplaced treasure

Texts used – Psalm 36:5-11; Mark 14:1-16

  • Okay, so you may be saying to yourself this morning, “What is she doing? Doesn’t she realize she picked the wrong passage? Today is Palm Sunday. We’ve got our palm branches. Our bulletin cover is all about palms. We’ve sung our palm hymns. … So where is the Palm Sunday story – the adoring crowds, the preordained donkey colt, the shouted ‘Hosanna’s, the cloaks tossed on the road? What gives?” Well, friends, you would be right … in part. Yes, today is Palm Sunday. Today is the beginning of Holy Week – the beginning of our intentional march toward the cross with Jesus with the light of resurrection at the end of the tunnel.
    • Confession: Holy Week is my favorite time of the church year
      • Busiest time of the church year? For sure.
      • Also a time of deep contemplation
      • Time of wide variety of tactile, sensory-related experiences inextricably linked to our faith
        • Feel of the palm branches in your hands this morning
        • Smell and taste of the meal and the bread and juice on Maundy Thurs.
        • Visual impact of the progressive darkness as well as stark sounds during Good Fri. Tenebrae service
        • Sights and sounds of Easter morning – white paraments, color and brightness of the memorial garden, hymns of joy and praise
    • And yes, this is in part a shameless plug to try to get you to come to these various services this week. I know it’s a lot of church in one week … but each service, each story, each experience is so different. They all make up a piece of the Holy Week puzzle … which is exactly why we read the story that we did instead of the typical “Palm Sunday story” this morning – it’s a piece of the Holy Week puzzle.
      • Jesus had lots of different experiences between entering Jerusalem on a donkey that morning and being arrested by Pilate later in the week – very often, these other experiences get pushed aside to make way for the Holy Week stories we already know → But each of these different experiences sheds a different light on the week that Jesus was having – how he got to the cross, what he may have been thinking or feeling or praying in those days and hours leading up to that most horrible inevitable moment of death. So today, as we enter into this Holy Week journey together – the last leg of our Lenten journey – we’re going to take a look at a different piece of that Holy Week puzzle: the story most commonly known as “The Woman with the Alabaster Jar.”
  • Scripture sets the scene pretty well for us
    • First, gives us the climate in Jerusalem – text: It was two days before Passover and the Festival of Unleavened Bread. The chief priests and legal experts through cunning tricks were searching for a way to arrest Jesus and kill him. But they agreed that it shouldn’t happen during the festival; otherwise, there would be an uproar among the people.[1]
      • Sets the timeline – 2 days before Passover = 2 days before Jesus celebrates the Last Supper in the upper room with his disciples (Maundy Thurs. for us)
      • Gives us some insight into the tone of the city
        • Joy and celebration of the Passover and the festival
        • Dark, ominous undertone of the chief priests and legal experts discussing and plotting how to best get rid of this Jesus rabble rouser once and for all → I imagine that, if this were a movie scene, the camera would be panning the crowd with light, fast-paced, happy music playing in the background, but when the camera focused in on the faces of the chief priests, that music would suddenly switch to a minor key, discordant and menacing – the kind that makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up.
    • Briefly sets scene in terms of Jesus’ particular experience, too – text: Jesus was at Bethany visiting the house of Simon, who had a skin disease.[2]  → Now, this may be one quick sentence in the midst of this long story, but it tells us quite a lot.
      • Tells us that Jesus is once again eating with those whom he isn’t supposed to – namely, those who are unclean → Remember that at the time, many (if not all) diseases were considered some sort of punishment from God, either for something that you yourself had done or even some sin that you parents had committed. Those with diseases like Simon’s (other translations call him “Simon the Leper”) were considered unclean by the chief priests. The disease was outer evidence of their own inner sin, so they must remain apart from “good, honest, healthy folk.” And yet here Jesus is, not just having a simple conversation with this unclean man but sitting down and sharing his table – food, drink, ritual footwashing and other signs of peace. In the eyes of the Jewish leaders, this would have made Jesus unclean. He knew it. Simon knew it. The disciples knew it. But here he was anyway.
  • Story ramps up
    • Enter the woman with the alabaster jar → Now, this is one of those interesting times when, if we compare Mark’s version to the other versions of this story in both Matthew and Luke, their stories are quite different. Mark actually treats this woman much better than Matthew, Luke, or John in his retelling.
      • Other gospels – woman is cast in a sinful light (“woman of the city” → traditionally has been translated as a prostitute)
      • Other gospels – woman is obviously sinful because she is weeping as she anoints Jesus → washes his feet with her tears and dries them with her hair (truly scandalous actions in that time and that religious tradition)
      • But Mark tells us none of those things. Mark simply tells us that she came in, broke open the jar, and began anointing Jesus. Perhaps Mark, in all his quick storytelling and immediacy, is just trying to save words and time. Perhaps the details of exactly who she was weren’t as important to him. Or perhaps Mark was just a little less judgmental than his later gospel counterparts. We don’t know. But it’s an interesting element to the story.
    • In Mk’s version, it’s not the woman’s presence that is so problematic to the disciples but her actions – her wastefulness! – text: During dinner, a woman came in with a vase made of alabaster and containing very expensive perfume of pure nard. She broke open the vase and poured the perfume on [Jesus’] head. Some grew angry. They said to each other, “Why waste the perfume? This perfume could have been sold for almost a year’s pay and the money given to the poor.” And they scolded her.[3]  → This is hard, because we cannot truly fault the disciples in this reaction. After all, they’ve spent the past 3 years traveling around with Jesus helping those who could not help themselves – healing people, casting out demons, spending time with those who had been cast out of “decent society” for one reason or another. They had heard Jesus’ teachings about how those who are poor and meek and humble will be blessed while those in power and wealth are in for a rough go of it. And yet here comes this woman with her insanely expensive jar filled with insanely expensive perfume, and she just dumps the whole darn thing over Jesus’ head! Truth, y’all, I might have been grumbling, too.
    • Jesus calls them out … not for their complaining and grumbling (like we might expect), but for their attitude … for their misinterpretation – text: Jesus said, “Leave her alone. Why do you make trouble for her? She has done a good thing for me. You always have the poor with you, and whenever you want, you can do something good for them. But you won’t always have me. She has done what she could. She has anointed my body ahead of time for burial. I tell you the truth that, wherever in the whole world the good news is announced, what she’s done will also be told in memory of her.”[4]  → Once again, as throughout most of Mark’s gospel, the disciples have utterly and completely missed the point.
      • Not the first time that Jesus mentions his death in this gospel → Jesus makes three separate announcements of his death earlier one (chs. 8-10) but the disciples failed to hear and understand
    • Goes on to set up the rest of the Holy Week story
      • Dissatisfaction with this interaction = last straw for Judas → goes to the chief priests to “give Jesus up to them” for money
      • Takes us to the day of Passover → Jesus’ instructions to the disciples for finding the upper room: “Go into the city. A man carrying a water jar will meet you. Follow him. Wherever he enters, say to the owner of the house, ‘The teacher asks, Where is my guest room where I can eat the Passover meal with my disciples?’ He will show you a large room upstairs already furnished. Prepare for us there.”[5]
      • Final line that will get us into Maundy Thurs.: The disciples left, came into the city, found everything just as he had told them, and they prepared the Passover meal.[6]
  • But let’s back up a minute. In our story for today, Jesus is once again trying to drive the point home that he has very little time left with this group of followers. He’s trying to point out to them that they have placed the highest value on the wrong thing, on the material objects – the jar and the expensive perfume – as opposed to on the One in their presence, the Son of God, the Savior.
    • Scholar: The temptation [Jesus] cautions against is not the moralistic one of “neglecting the poor,” so much as it is the theological one of considering ourselves so rich as not to think we are in great need. Only the very rich can be so full of themselves as to afford the luxury of worrying about the stewardship of “costly ointment” when the abundance of God’s love is placed right before them.[7]  → The disciples are so concerned with the extravagance of the oil that they completely miss the extravagance of the love of God sitting right across the table from them. They have misplaced their treasure – putting stock in the physical, in the here-and-now, instead of in the holy.
      • Ps this morning reiterated for us just how truly precious the love of God is – text: But your loyal love, LORD, extends to the skies; your faithfulness reaches the clouds. Your righteousness is like the strongest mountains; your justice is like the deepest sea. LORD, you save both humans and animals. Your faithful love is priceless, God! Humanity finds refuge in the shadow of your wings. They feast on the bounty of your house; you let them drink from your river of pure joy. Within you is the spring of life. In your light, we see light.[8]  → “Your faithful love is priceless, God!” That is what this coming week – this Holy Week – is all about: God’s faithful love poured out for us through Jesus Christ: through the Last Supper, through his arrest and torture and death, through the power of his resurrection.
        • Heb. for “faithful love” = powerful word in the Hebrew language, rich with meaning[9]
          • Love that always involves interpersonal relationships – must involve more than one person (cannot have “faithful love” for your new car, for example)
          • Love that always entails practical action on behalf of another → dynamic love that moves and does
          • Love that endures → another translation “steadfast love” – love of covenant and lasting relationships, love that does not tarnish or fade away
          • This is the kind of love that Jesus is encouraging the disciples to recognize and treasure. This is the kind of love that Jesus is preparing himself to literally pour out for them … for you … for me … for all as he walks through his own Holy Week trials. This is the kind of love that God has for each and every one of us.
  • So as we approach this Holy Week this year, let us do so thinking about the treasures in our lives. What do they say about us? What do they reveal about our intentions, our priorities, our triumphs and our hidden sins? What “treasures” have we placed above God in our lives? What is Jesus calling us to examine or re-examine during our Holy Week journeys this year? [PAUSE] Amen.

[1] Mk 14:1-2.

[2] Mk 14:3a.

[3] Mk 14:3b-5.

[4] Mk 14: 6-9.

[5] Mk 14:13-15.

[6] Mk 14:16.

[7] Thomas W. Currie. “Mark 14:3-9 – Theological Perspective” in Feasting on the Gospel: Mark. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2014), 444.

[8] Ps 36:5-9.

[9] Will Kynes. “God’s Grace in the Old Testament: Considering the Hesed of the Lord” from Knowing & Doing: The C.S. Lewis Institute, summer 2010 edition. Accessed via http://www.cslewisinstitute.org/webfm_send/430 on Mar. 25, 2018.

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