This is my written text for my sermon on March 20, Palm Sunday. The lessons are Mark 11:1-11 (the entry into Jerusalem) and Mark 14:3-9 (the woman anointing Jesus.) This is my manuscript, but I only referred to it for quotations.
One of the passions I have in studying the Gospels is comparing how they tell the same story in different ways. Both of the readings we have today appear in all four Gospel. Each of them has features that are completely unique.
Our first reading is traditionally known as the “Triumphal Entry.” But look at the lesson, does there seem to be much triumph in Jesus coming into Jerusalem? Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
John calls it a “great crowd.” Luke describes “a whole multitude,” Matthew records that “The whole city was stirred.” But here in Mark, “many people.” Matthew and Luke have Jesus going directly to the Temple to thrown out the money changers. John has Jesus and the disciples being asked questions by the throngs who have come to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover.
Mark writes, Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.
It was late, so they went back to Bethany. It would be a big day, the next day, for according to Mark, that is when Jesus would go to the Temple and chase out the money changers.
When we read the Gospels, because we are familiar with the stories, we need to be very patient and cautious as we read them or we may miss some of the unique details.
I want to focus on the anointing of Jesus by the woman. Again, this is a story told in all four Gospels. (Story of the woman anointing Jesus is in Matthew 26:6-13; Mark 13:3-9; Luke 7:38-50; and John 12:1-8) All but Luke put this in Bethany in the last week of Jesus’ life; Luke records it happening earlier in Jesus’ ministry at the home of a Pharisee. Mark writes that the home belongs to Simon the leper, as does Matthew, while John says it is the home of Lazarus, whom Jesus raised from the dead, and his sister Mary does the anointing.
The three who write that this occurred in Bethany all agree that this pure nard was very expensive. Three hundred denarii is a year’s wages. As with most perfumes and colognes, a little bit goes a long way. But the woman pours all of it on Jesus, and the odor fills the house.
Someone, Mark doesn’t tell us who; Matthew says the disciples, John writes it was Judas Iscariot, complains about the waste: This ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii, and the money given to the poor.
Each time, Jesus responds: For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me. He is not saying that because there will always be poor people, don’t bother doing anything to help them. But he says there will always be poor people. He knows this because he knows that we will always have people who won’t have enough. Some people will have more than they need and won’t be willing to give or share it, and so, you always have the poor with you.
But you will not always have me. Her anointing does two things. Pouring oil on someone, in this time, was what you would do for a king. This is how David was named king; he was anointed. The word Messiah means anointed one. She is honoring Jesus as a king, just as the sign that will be placed over his head on the cross, “The King of the Jews.”
Secondly, She has anointed my body beforehand for its burial. To prepare a body, you put oil, spices and herbs on the body. Jesus knows what awaits him. Mark writes this happens on Wednesday. The next evening he will be arrested, and the following afternoon, he will be crucified.
This gets me to one of the little details about this text I’d never noticed before. In explaining the woman’s actions, he says, She has done what she could.
When we are faced with all of what life puts before us, taking care of our families, our selves, helping others, saving for the future, resting and recharging, sometimes we can feel overwhelmed. There is just too much to do, and not enough to do what we want, let alone do and help everyone and everything. She has done what she could.
A jar of perfumed ointment worth a year’s wages. What good could three hundred denarii done for the poor of Jerusalem? Could it take care of the widow who put all of her money into the treasury? Could it have helped the blind and crippled who lined the streets of Jerusalem?
One of the ironies of this passage is while Jesus says, wherever the good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her, we don’t know who she is. John says it is Mary, Lazarus’ sister, but Mark doesn’t give her a name. It is often portrayed that this is Mary Magdalene, and she does it in response to Jesus healing her from the demons that tormented her. It could be a relative of Simon the leper, whom we assume Jesus healed. Who ever she is, her action was probably in response to what Jesus had done for her or her family.
How have we responded to what Jesus has done for us? In response to his teachings, what have we done? In response to his dying on the cross, what have we done? In response to his being raised, what have we done?
It is true, we can’t do everything. You always have the poor with you.
But when faced with all there is to do, this unnamed woman made a choice. She has done what she could. She chose to show Jesus her appreciation and love.
Have you done what you could?
Pastor Brian's Page
Pastor Brian Robert Campbell has served at Our Savior's and Emmanuel since August 1, 2011, and began serving Nazareth on December 1, 2015.
Pastor Brian is originally from Saginaw, Michigan. He graduated from Alma College with a B.A. in Business Administration, and worked for the Saginaw Public Schools' Community Education Department for 17 years before answering the call to ministry. He graduated with a M. Div. from the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg in 2011. ONE in Christ Lutheran Parish is his first call.
He is the only child of Robert and Charlotte Campbell, both who have entered the Church Eternal.
He is accompanied in ministry by his faithful bulldogge Ananias, who regularly writes for our newsletter. His articles are archived here.
He is a fan of sports teams from his native Michigan, especially the Tigers and the Lions. But we tolerate him despite that.
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