I grew up in church and was very aware of Easter celebrations of Christ’s resurrection. But the days leading up to this (except for Jesus dying on the cross on Good Friday) were more of an unsorted blur.
Last year The Journey published a series of daily devotions they asked me to write on the Gospel of Mark. From the experience of reading slowly and meditating on the text, I began to get a much clearer and fuller sense of what went on during the days of Holy Week, the week between his entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday. There is the cursing of the barren fig tree, the cleansing of the Temple, a series of confrontations and arguments with various power groups who opposed Jesus. There is the episode of seeing the widow put in her last two pennies to the Temple offering box. There is the mind-boggling conversation about the Last Days with Peter, James, John, and Andrew as they looked out over the city from the heights of the Mount of Olives.
There is, of course, the Last Supper with the disciples, including the foot-washing scene reported by John. There is the New Commandment given by Jesus. Then the difficult hours of prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane where Judas finds Jesus and betrays him. The frantic scrambling through the night where his enemies try to make a case to justify his execution.
Friday brings six hours of mockery, hanging on a cross between two thieves, followed by a quiet Saturday with the tomb under guard.
Then there’s the confusion caused by the discovery of the empty tomb early Sunday morning.
The Christian practice of Holy Communion comes, of course, from that Last Supper with the disciples. But do you recall what happened at the last supper before the Last Supper?
The moment is recorded in Matthew 26 and Mark 14, both of whom place the supper following Jesus’ conversation about Last Days, 24 hours before the Last Supper in the upper room. John (chapter 12) places this supper the night before the Palm Sunday entrance to Jerusalem. Luke places the incident much earlier (chapter 7) and identifies the host, Simon the Leper, as a Pharisee. Presumably, Simon was one of those who had been healed by Jesus since it would otherwise be unthinkable for people to gather in his house. If Jesus had healed him, this would also explain why a Pharisee, not usually fans of Jesus, would have invited Jesus over for dinner.
It was at this meal that a woman anointed Jesus with expensive perfume. John, writing years after the destruction of Jerusalem, when it would be safe to name names, says the woman was Mary, sister of Lazarus and Martha, who had also come to the dinner.
What has come to interest me about this episode is the way Jesus deals with Judas. As early as John 6:70, Jesus knows Judas for what he is. At this dinner in Bethany, Jesus rebukes Judas for complaining about the “waste” of the expensive perfume Mary has poured on him. Jesus says the story of what she has done will be told everywhere. And further, she has accomplished what women going to his tomb that weekend will be too late to do. Judas is ready to sell out Jesus for what amounts to four months’ wages, barely enough to buy a burial field. Mary has been willing to pour out ointment worth a year’s wages, and then wipe Jesus’ feet with her hair.
According to Luke, there followed a conversation with Simon and a parable question about those who are forgiven little and those who are forgiven much. It makes a difference in how each person goes on to show how much they love their benefactor. I can imagine Jesus finishing this conversation with Simon and then turning to look silently at Judas, as if to ask, Are you listening? I can see Jesus inviting Judas one more time to change his mind before it is too late.
The following night, Jesus himself washes Judas’ own feet. Matthew records a final warning that Jesus speaks before the assembled followers (Matthew 26:24 “Woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born.”). Then, honoring the free will granted by God to all mankind at the Creation, Jesus releases Judas to carry out his plan.
Later that night, in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus asks his Father to remove the cup he faces. Still, Jesus once again yields to the will of Another.
And shortly, Judas arrives to display one last deceit about how much he loved his master.