Mount of Olives panorama

Mount of Olives panorama
A panoramic view of the Mount of Olives

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

"Spy" Wednesday

Matthew 26:1–16; Mark 14:1–11; Luke 22:1–6

In some traditions, the Wednesday before Easter is called "Spy Wednesday" because this may have been when Judas agreed with the chief priests to betray the Savior.  But Spy Wednesday is about much more than just the conspiracy against Jesus or Judas' decision to betray him. It is about the loving act of a woman who knew that Jesus had come to die.
  • The Plot to Kill Jesus (Matt 26:1–5; Mark 14:1–2; Luke 22:1–2)
  • Another Anointing at Bethany (Matt 26:6–13; Mark 14:3–9; here his head, Mary having anointed his feet the day before Palm Sunday in John 12:1–9)
  • Judas Agrees to Betray Jesus (Matt 26:14–16; Mark 14:10–11; Luke 22:3–6)

Suggested Music: "O Love That Glorifies the Son" (hymn 295)

For Further Reading: John Nolland, The Gospel of Matthew, NIGTC (Grand Rapids, Mich.): Eerdmans, 2005), 1043–1060.

Frank F. Judd, Jr., "Interpreting Caiaphas’s ‘Prophecy’ of the Savior’s Death," Behold the Lamb of God: An Easter Celebration (Provo: Religious Study Center, 2008), 87–104.

The Plot to Kill Jesus
And it came to pass, when Jesus had finished all these sayings, he said unto his disciples, Ye know that after two days is the feast of the passover, and the Son of man is betrayed to be crucified. Then assembled together the chief priests, and the scribes, and the elders of the people, unto the palace of the high priest, who was called Caiaphas, And consulted that they might take Jesus by subtilty, and kill him. But they said, Not on the feast day, lest there be an uproar among the people. (Matthew 26:1–5)
Temple Mount at Dusk. The Sanhedrin met on the mount
Some harmonies place all three scenes on Tuesday, leaving Wednesday without any recorded events. That is partly the result of how the expression “after two days was the feast of the passover” is interpreted (Mark 14:1; Matthew 26:2). “After two days” can be better rendered “in two days time” or “two days away,” although even these renderings do not make clear whether the expression should be taken exclusively or inclusively. In other words, if the two days exclude the day Mark and Matthew note, and if Passover began at sunset on Thursday, then the conspiracy and the anointing occurred on Tuesday. But if the two days include the day being mentioned, as often happened anciently, then these events happened on Wednesday. This latter interpretation is even more likely in view of Mark’s sequence of other time markers, which seem to mark a new day after the two that followed Palm Sunday.

John’s account, on the other hand, had placed the beginning of this plot before the Passion week, shortly after the raising of Lazarus:
Then gathered the chief priests and the Pharisees a council, and said, "What do we? for this man doeth many miracles. If we let him thus alone, all men will believe on him: and the Romans shall come and take away both our place and nation." And one of them, named Caiaphas, being the high priest that same year, said unto them, "Ye know nothing at all, Nor consider that it is expedient for us, that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not." And this spake he not of himself: but being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus should die for that nation. (John 11:47–51)

The prophecy of Caiaphas in the Johannine addition to the plot story is laden with irony, because it has Jesus’ chief opponent actually teach a true doctrine: Jesus did come to die for the sake not just of the Jewish people but for all people. Oddly, the divine economy can often use the enemies of that which is right and good to accomplish God’s purpose. Jesus’ vicarious death was not just for good men, it was for all and can benefit all, even those who, like the Jerusalem leadership who plotted against him, provided that at some point they repent and turn to him whom they rejected.

Another Anointing at Bethany

After noting the plot to kill Jesus, Matthew and Mark provide another account of Jesus’ anointing:
There came unto him a woman having an alabaster box of very precious ointment, and poured it on his head, as he sat at meat. But when his disciples saw it, they had indignation, saying, "To what purpose is this waste? For this ointment might have been sold for much, and given to the poor." When Jesus understood it, he said unto them, "Why trouble ye the woman? for she hath wrought a good work upon me. For ye have the poor always with you; but me ye have not always. For in that she hath poured this ointment on my body, she did it for my burial. Verily I say unto you, Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached in the whole world, there shall also this, that this woman hath done, be told for a memorial of her." (Matthew 26:8–13)
The Franciscan church at Bethany
Gospel harmonies have conventionally assumed that this anointing is the same as the one mentioned earlier in John 12:1–9. While this may be true, there are specific differences in circumstances that make it possible that there were, in fact, two anointings. Although both took place in Bethany, the Matthean and Marcan anointing take place in the house of one Simon the Leper, whereas the Johannine anointing was in the house of Lazarus and Martha. Their sister Mary anointed Jesus’ feet in John’s account, but here the woman anoints his head and is unnamed. Like Mary, who anointed Jesus’ feet at Lazarus’ house the previous Saturday (John 12:1–9), Jesus explicitly recognizes that this woman had performed the act in part to prepared him for his burial and provides a moving tribute and commendation: wherever the gospel is preached, we should recall her act of love and faith.

Luke omits the anointing of Jesus’ head in Bethany at the house of Simon the Leper, presumably because the episode is so similar to an unrelated washing and anointing of Jesus’ feet earlier in the Galilean ministry which are described in Luke 7:36–50 as an act of love by a woman "who was a sinner."
The anointing of Jesus' head
Once again, some harmonies and studies of the gospel have associated all of these anointing stories with the same woman and the same incident. While this may be the case, there is no indication that the unnamed woman here was a sinner, and the timing and setting of Luke’s account is much different.


As noted in the discussion of the anointing as recorded in John, the woman's act of preparing Jesus for his burial presupposes that she understood, at some level at least, that he had come to Jerusalem to die.  This stands in contrast to the perceived understanding of the male disciples in the gospel of Mark, generally followed by Matthew and Luke.  In those gospels the Twelve, starting with Peter at Caesarea Philippi, had received powerful testimonies of who Jesus was, the Christ and son of God (Mark 8:27–30; par Matt 16:13–20, Luke 9:18–20).  Notwithstanding this revelation, when Jesus tried to explain to them three different times on the road to Jerusalem that he would be taken by the chief priests and elders when he arrived in Jerusalem, delivered to the Gentiles, and finally killed, they either resisted this sad reality or failed to understand (see the so-called "Passion Predictions" in Mark 8:31–9:1, 9:30–3, and 10:32–45, as well as the parallels in Matthew and Luke). At least in the literary record, the male disciples knew who he was but did not yet fully understand what he had come to do, still thinking perhaps in terms of an earthly king and messiah.

In this light, the unnamed woman's act, like that of Mary earlier in John, was one of deep love and faith, one that resonates strongly with anyone, man or woman, who has lost or faces the prospect of losing a loved one.  In such instances, letting go is in itself an act of love when one recognizes that the loss is God's will.  The glorious message of Easter, of course, is that such loss is never permanent:
O love that glorifies the Son, O love that says, "Thy will be done!" 
Pure love whose spirit makes us one, come fill my soul today. 
O love that overcomes defeat, O love that turns the bitter sweet,
Pure love that makes our lives complete, come fill my soul today. (hymn 295)
Landscape of Bethany today
While the anointing of Jesus explicitly deals with Jesus' coming death, remembering that one who was anointed was a mašiach in Hebrew or a christos in Greek suggests a possible, additional symbol in this act. While Jesus was the chosen Messiah from the foundation of the world, perhaps these acts symbolize that Jesus was at this point fully prepared now to complete his mission as the Savior of the world.  Regardless of how many anointing there may have actually been, the evangelists may have used this motif in different settings for different literary purposes. Thus the anointing by Mary on Saturday could thus represent the anointing of Jesus as king prior to the Triumphal Entry the next day, and the anointing by the unnamed woman in the middle of the week could represent his anointing as priest, preparing him to return to Jerusalem for a final time to complete the priestly act of atonement.

Remembering Other Women of Christ in Our Lives

In God So Loved the World, 45, I wrote:
I am stirred by the faith of [the woman who anointed Jesus], and it calls to my memory many influential women in my own life—both of my grandmothers, my mother, my wife, friends, and teachers—who have similarly been stalwart and believing women of Christ. Their testimonies have planted the seed of faith in my heart and nurtured it, just as the faith of Lois and Eunice did for Timothy (see 2 Timothy 1:5). Jesus has asked us to remember the faith of this woman, saying, “Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached in the whole world, there shall also this, that this woman hath done, be told for a memorial of her” (Matthew 26:13). Each year as we read this account, we can fulfill Jesus’ injunction and hopefully be moved to remember the faith of other women and men who believed in Christ and his sacrifice and passed that faith on to us.
"Nana," Maude Macfarlane Halversen, my maternal grandmother

Grandma, Mamie Grant Huntsman, my paternal grandmother
Marilyn Huntsman, my mother

Elaine Scott Huntsman, my wife
Lori Huntsman Despain, my sister
My daughter, Rachel Olivia Huntsman, with me on Palm Sunday in Jerusalem
Judas Agrees to Betray Jesus

One of the disciples who may have been the most bothered by the woman’s supposed waste could have been Judas, since Matthew and Mark both place his decision to betray Jesus immediately following their account of the anointing at Bethany.

Then one of the twelve, called Judas Iscariot, went unto the chief priests, And said unto them, "What will ye give me, and I will deliver him unto you?" And they covenanted with him for thirty pieces of silver. (Matthew 26:14–16)

No comments:

Post a Comment