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Worship Service Message

March 24, 2024
Palm Sunday

She the Unnamed Woman Got It, Not the Disciples

Mark 14:1-11

Rev. Dr. Jaegil Lee

Today marks both Palm Sunday and Passion Sunday.  However, today we will focus on a story that tells us what happened two days before his persecution.  In other words, what happened on the Wednesday of his last week as Jesus died on Friday.

Which story is that?  This story is about an unnamed woman’s anointing Jesus at Bethany.  If churches follow the lectionary, a planned scriptural reading schedule, for Sunday service, this story is not often read or preached on.  This is because it is supposed to be read on Palm/Passion Sunday and there are so many good stories that pastors could focus on, instead of our main story.

While the Gospel of Mark is the story of Jesus of Nazareth, his last week takes almost the half of the entire story.  What does that mean?  This half of the Gospel of Mark should be read and reflected on from today (Palm/Passion Sunday) to next Sunday (Easter).

The story of an anonymous woman of anointing Jesus is framed in an interesting way.  I wonder if, while Mike read it for us, you have noticed that this story is placed between the plot to kill Jesus.  Specifically, right before the story, Mark says, “The chief priests and the scribes were looking for a way to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him.”  And right after the story, we hear that “Judas went to the chief priests in order to betray him…. [and] began to look for an opportunity to betray him.”

The author of the Gospel of Mark appears to intentionally use this literary device to make the contrast crystal-clear between the action of the woman and the action of Judas.  The significance of the story of Jesus’ being anointed by our female heroine becomes far more obvious due to its contrast to the devastating behavior of Judas who participated in plotting to kill Jesus.

Today’s main story of a woman’s anointing Jesus is an important story.  Particularly, the place of the story in the entire Gospel alludes to its significance.  The last week of Jesus has already been ticking.  Things are moving rapidly toward his arrest and death on the cross.

However, the disciples don’t know what is happening.  Jesus has already warned them three times that he would be arrested and killed by the religious and political authorities.  But they have failed to understand it and to believe him.

When Jesus first revealed what kind of death he would face, Peter pulled him aside and rebuked him to stop talking about something like that.  He didn’t want to hear.  When Jesus brought it up again for the second time, they were instead arguing about who is the greatest among them.  At Jesus’ third warning of his death, they completely misunderstood the reason why Jesus was going up to Jerusalem and asked him to give them a better position.  They thought Jesus would sit in a throne of glory and they anticipated participating in his glory.

Simply put, they didn’t get it, and now time is running out.  It is already Wednesday; Jesus has only 2 more days with them.  But they still didn’t get it.  In the Gospel of Mark, the disciples didn’t get it even at the final moment of Jesus’ death.  They are failed disciples.  If you feel your life has failed, there is a hope because Jesus’s own 12 disciples failed over and over again.


You may wonder why Jesus so highly spoke of this woman.  You may think what she did doesn’t seem that significant.  You may ask, “Why did Jesus say, “Wherever the good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her”?

The simple answer to all your possible questions is “because she got it.”  She understood Jesus and what he was undergoing when his own disciples didn’t get it.  Because they had their own agendas and interests, the disciples couldn’t grasp Jesus’ prophecy that he would be arrested and killed.  They were preoccupied with what they would gain when Jesus would finally get his place in Jerusalem.

In the story, Jesus said, “She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for its burial.”   What Jesus is saying here is that “None of you, even though you are my chosen disciples, has a clue to what I am going to face, but this woman not only knows that but also prepares for my death.”

When the disciples falsely expected to participate in Jesus’ glory in Jerusalem, our heroine participated in Jesus’ sacrificial death.   While the disciples’ focus was on what to gain, this no-name woman gave her most precious gift to Jesus, who identified himself with the poor, the lowly, and the marginalized.

This woman was a true disciple, who believed Jesus and understood what would happen to him soon.  Well-known New Testament scholars, Marcus Borg and John Crossan, called her the “first Christian” because she believed and accepted Jesus as Christ without the evidence of resurrection.

The act of her anointing of Jesus carries many symbolic meanings.  Do you know what the literal meaning of Christ is?  “The anointed one!”  So, it is this woman who explicitly reveals the truth that Jesus is the Christ, the anointed one.  By anointing him, she proclaims that Jesus is the true Christ even though he would be soon helplessly arrested and persecuted on the cross by the religious and political authorities.  Even before the resurrection, this unnamed female disciple recognizes who Jesus is and the truth that the life he has lived is already salvific.

It is more surprising to realize that it was an anonymous female who anointed Jesus as Christ.  Why?  In the ancient Israel time, it was always a male prophet who anointed a king or a leader of the tribe.  We could realize how radical Jesus was as he permitted her to anoint him, which had a symbolic meaning of proclaiming him as Christ.  Moreover, one could say that Jesus’ permission implies his recognition of her as a true disciple.

Today’s story challenges us to ask ourselves whether we truly understand the life and teaching of Jesus.  While, like the disciples, we think we are the true disciples of Jesus, it could be that we have not fully understand the essential teaching of Jesus.

What does it mean to you to be a disciple of Christ?  What actions and fruit in your life tells you that you are the follower of Christ?  How would others know you are the disciple of Christ?

This holy week, we are invited to ask these questions to ourselves and answer them.  The holy week is not a gloomy period for us to feel sad about Jesus’ death or dwell on our wrongdoings.  It is a critical time for us to examine whether we are following Jesus’ way of love and equity or failed disciples’ way of dominance and power.    

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