The Last Supper, by Leonardo daVinci, measures 15 feet by 29 feet and covers an end wall of the dining hall at the monastery of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan, Italy.
Mark 14:1-26 (New Living Translation)
Jesus Anointed at Bethany
1 It was now two days before Passover and the Festival of Unleavened Bread. The leading priests and the teachers of religious law were still looking for an opportunity to capture Jesus secretly and kill him. 2 “But not during the Passover celebration,” they agreed, “or the people may riot.”
3 Meanwhile, Jesus was in Bethany at the home of Simon, a man who had previously had leprosy. While he was eating, a woman came in with a beautiful alabaster jar of expensive perfume made from essence of nard. She broke open the jar and poured the perfume over his head.
This hardy herb, a member of the Valerianaceae family, grows in the foothills of the Himalayas. The part of the plant growing underground has the appearance of a fibrous spindle, and is rich in the precious essential oil.
From India, nard traveled, in the form of a dry rhizome or oil phase extract, via Persia, under the name nardin.
Horace offered to send Virgil a whole barrel of his best wine in exchange for a phial of nard. Though nard is now rare on the shelves of the western perfumer, its name stood for centuries as an evocation of the perfume of the lost Garden of Eden, and in literature, nard came to refer to any perfume, as long as it was exquisite.
By relating that it was contained in an alabaster flask, Mark (14:3) and Matthew (26:7) further underline the precious nature of the nard given to Christ.
4 Some of those at the table were indignant. “Why waste such expensive perfume?” they asked. 5 “It could have been sold for a year’s wages and the money given to the poor!” So they scolded her harshly.
6 But Jesus replied, “Leave her alone. Why criticize her for doing such a good thing to me?
from My Utmost for His Highest,
by Oswald Chambers
HAVE YOU EVER BEEN CARRIED AWAY FOR HIM?
“She hath wrought a good work on Me.” — Mark 14:6
If human love does not carry a man beyond himself, it is not love. If love is always discreet, always wise, always sensible and calculating, never carried beyond itself, it is not love at all. It may be affection, it may be warmth of feeling, but it has not the true nature of love in it.
Have I ever been carried away to do something for God not because it was my duty, nor because it was useful, nor because there was anything in it at all beyond the fact that I love Him? Have I ever realized that I can bring to God things which are of value to Him, or am I mooning round the magnitude of His Redemption whilst there are any number of things I might be doing? Not Divine, colossal things which could be recorded as marvellous, but ordinary, simple human things which will give evidence to God that I am abandoned to Him? Have I ever produced in the heart of the Lord Jesus what Mary of Bethany produced?
There are times when it seems as if God watches to see if we will give Him the abandoned tokens of how genuinely we do love Him. Abandon to God is of more value than personal holiness. Personal holiness focuses the eye on our own whiteness; we are greatly concerned about the way we walk and talk and look, fearful lest we offend Him. Perfect love casts out all that when once we are abandoned to God. We have to get rid of this notion – “Am I of any use?” and make up our minds that we are not, and we may be near the truth. It is never a question of being of use, but of being of value to God Himself. When we are abandoned to God, He works through us all the time.
7 You will always have the poor among you, and you can help them whenever you want to. But you will not always have me. 8 She has done what she could and has anointed my body for burial ahead of time. 9 I tell you the truth, wherever the Good News is preached throughout the world, this woman’s deed will be remembered and discussed.”
(Here is an interesting point of the text for telling aloud. For a reader, the verse is clear enough — the woman’s deed will be “remembered and discussed.” But when someone says that phrase aloud, the listener may hear “remembered in disgust.” So I tell that verse as it is found in the Contemporary English Version: “people will remember what she has done. And they will tell others.” No confusion!)
(During Mark, portions of this book will be presented to help us understand our faith more deeply than perhaps we have before. I hope you enjoy learning more about Jesus as a Jewish man — and through these passages, see and appreciate more clearly the Jewish roots of our Christian faith.)
Without understanding the cultural background in which this anointing took place, it’s easy to miss the full significance of the dramatic gesture of this woman (John says it was Mary, John 12:3). What exactly was she trying to communicate? Jesus himself clarified one aspect of the story by commenting that she was preparing him for the day of his burial. We understand that her act of devotion pointed toward Christ’s death at the end of the week. But we miss something else that the disciples would have immediately realized, something so obvious that Jesus didn’t even need to mention it. By anointing him with expensive fragrances, Mary may well have been making a statement about who she believed Jesus was, proclaiming him as Messiah. In fact, the Hebrew word for Messiah is Mashiach, which literally means “the Anointed One.” Christos, or “Christ,” is the Greek equivalent.
But why “the Anointed One”? The word “Messiah” alludes to the ceremony used to set apart someone chosen by God, like a king or a priest. Instead of being crowned during a coronation, Hebrew kings were anointed with sacred oil perfumed with extremely expensive spices. Only used for consecrating objects in the temple and for anointing priests and kings, the sacred anointing oil would have been more valuable than diamonds. The marvelous scent that it left behind acted like an invisible “crown,” conferring an aura of holiness on its recipients. Everything and everyone with that unique fragrance was recognized as belonging to God in a special way.
In the ancient Middle East, the majesty of a king was expressed not only by what he wore—his jewelry and robes—but by his royal “aroma.” Even after a king was first anointed, he would perfume his robes with precious oils for special occasions. Listen to a line from King David’s wedding song:
You love righteousness and hated wickedness;
therefore God, your God,
has set you above your companions
by anointing you with the oil of joy.
All your robes are fragrant with myrrh and aloes and cassia.
Judas Agrees to Betray Jesus
10 Then Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve disciples, went to the leading priests to arrange to betray Jesus to them. 11 They were delighted when they heard why he had come, and they promised to give him money. So he began looking for an opportunity to betray Jesus.
The Last Supper
12 On the first day of the Festival of Unleavened Bread, when the Passover lamb is sacrificed, Jesus’ disciples asked him, “Where do you want us to go to prepare the Passover meal for you?”
13 So Jesus sent two of them into Jerusalem with these instructions: “As you go into the city, a man carrying a pitcher of water will meet you. Follow him.
A man carrying a pitcher was an unusual sight. Women usually carried liquids in pitchers and men normally carried liquids in animal skin containers. Therefore, a man carrying a pitcher would be a distinctive sign to the disciples.
14 At the house he enters, say to the owner, ‘The Teacher asks: Where is the guest room where I can eat the Passover meal with my disciples?’ 15 He will take you upstairs to a large room that is already set up. That is where you should prepare our meal.” 16 So the two disciples went into the city and found everything just as Jesus had said, and they prepared the Passover meal there.
17 In the evening Jesus arrived with the twelve disciples. 18 As they were at the table eating, Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, one of you eating with me here will betray me.”
19 Greatly distressed, each one asked in turn, “Am I the one?”
20 He replied, “It is one of you twelve who is eating from this bowl with me. 21 For the Son of Man must die, as the Scriptures declared long ago. But how terrible it will be for the one who betrays him. It would be far better for that man if he had never been born!”
22 As they were eating, Jesus took some bread and blessed it. Then he broke it in pieces and gave it to the disciples, saying, “Take it, for this is my body.”
23 And he took a cup of wine and gave thanks to God for it. He gave it to them, and they all drank from it. 24 And he said to them, “This is my blood, which confirms the covenant between God and his people. It is poured out as a sacrifice for many. 25 I tell you the truth, I will not drink wine again until the day I drink it new in the Kingdom of God.”
Revelation 19:9 (English Standard Version)
And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.”
26 Then they sang a hymn and went out to the Mount of Olives.
“In Communion we look in at ourselves and confess the things that have gone wrong. We look back to Calvary and praise Jesus for his death for us. We look up to his risen presence, longing to nourish us through the bread and the cup which he said were his body and blood. We look around in love and fellowship with other guests at God’s table. We look forward to his return at the end of all history, the marriage supper of the Lamb, of which every Communion service is a foretaste. And then we look out to a needy world; Communion is battle rations for Christian soldiers.”
–from the Manuel for the Free Methodist Church in Canada
From the 4th century Liturgy of St. James, a lovely Eucharistic hymn: “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence.” My favorite lines: He will give to all the faithful His own self for heavenly food.
Fernando Ortega is a peaceful soul and his music reflects that. As we come to the final chapters of Mark, we will have three songs sung by Fernando Ortega. HERE is the one for today.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.