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Holy Week: “Follow”

Date: 24/03/2024/Speaker: Rev Miak Siew

Holy Week – Palm Sunday “Follow” 
Miak Siew (FCC) 
24 March 2024 

Synopsis: The woman with the alabaster jar who anointed Jesus at Bethany represents a contrast to the male disciples in the Gospel of Mark. Jesus said 3 times how he would be arrested and killed. What were the male disciples concerned about? Who is the greatest amongst them. Who gets to sit next to Jesus in glory. In contrast, this woman heard and believed, and took action. She brought an alabaster jar of expensive perfume to anoint Jesus for burial. 
 
This Holy Week, we journey through the events of Holy Week through the eyes of this woman.  

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Here at FCC, we have always emphasized the importance of looking at Holy Week more holistically – from Palm Sunday, to Maundy Thursday, to Good Friday, to Easter Sunday. 

We have said before, we cannot talk about resurrection (Easter Sunday) without talking about death (Good Friday). And we cannot talk about death without love (Maundy Thursday). And we cannot talk about love, without talking about resistance (Palm Sunday) 

I have preached during Holy Week at least 12 times. This time, I learned that the word triumph actually describes a ceremony held to publicly celebrate and sanctify the military achievement of an army commander. And Jesus entered triumphantly into Jerusalem not on a warhorse, but a donkey…. Revealing a different kind of victory. 

So this time, I wondered how to revisit Holy Week with fresh eyes. So as I re-read Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan’s book “The Last Week.”  

Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan traced Holy Week in the Gospel according to Mark because it is in this gospel that went of the way to chronicle Jesus’ last week on a day-by-day basis. 

  Sunday: “When they were approaching Jerusalem” (11:1)  
Jesus’s Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem 
  Monday: “On the following day” (11:12) Jesus Curses the Fig Tree / Jesus Cleanses the Temple /  
  Tuesday: “In the morning” (11:20)  
The Lesson from the Withered Fig Tree / Jesus’s Authority Is Questioned / The Parable of the Wicked Tenants / The Question about Paying Taxes (give to Caesar) / The Question about the Resurrection / The First Commandment / The Question about David’s Son / Jesus Denounces the Scribes / The Widow’s Offering / The Destruction of the Temple Foretold / Persecution Foretold / The Desolating Sacrilege / The Coming of the Son of Man / The Lesson of the Fig Tree / The Necessity for Watchfulness /  
  Wednesday: “It was two days before the Passover” (14:1) The Plot to Kill Jesus / The Anointing at Bethany / Judas Agrees to Betray Jesus /  
  Thursday: “On the first day of Unleavened Bread” (14:12) The Passover with the Disciples / The Institution of the Lord’s Supper / Peter’s Denial Foretold / Jesus Prays in Gethsemane / The Betrayal and Arrest of Jesus / Jesus before the Council / Peter Denies Jesus 
  Friday: “As soon as it was morning” (15:1) Jesus before Pilate / Pilate Hands Jesus Over to Be Crucified / The Soldiers Mock Jesus / The Crucifixion of Jesus / The Death of Jesus / The Burial of Jesus 
  Saturday: “The Sabbath” (15:42; 16:1)  
  Sunday: “Very early on the first day of the week” (16:2) The Resurrection of Jesus 

Originally, I wanted to use the person with the water jar as the character we view these events through. This person appears in Mark 14. I wanted to invite you to enter in this person’s shoes, and witness the events through their perspective.  

But as Pauline and I discussed with the worship team, one song emerged as the anchoring song through the 4 services – Alabaster Jar.  

And so instead of the person with the water jar, I am narrating the events of Holy Week through the eyes of the woman who anointed Jesus with perfume from an alabaster jar at Bethany. 

She represents different / model follower compared to the male disciples. She listened and got what Jesus said. Jesus said 3 times how he would be arrested and killed. What were the male disciples concerned about? Who is the greatest amongst them. Who gets to sit next to Jesus in glory. She, like many other women disciples, listened, and got it. 

Jesus said “truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she was done will be told, in memory of her.” 
 
Yet we don’t know her name.  
 
How do we remember her then? Why do we remember her? 
 
My professor Mary Tolbert, an expert on the Gospel of Mark, suggests that every time there is a character that is not named in the Bible, it is an invitation for us to step into the shoes of that character. 
 
So today, I want to do things a little differently – and today we have quite a few newcomers to FCC – so I want to ask that you can join us for a different kind of sermon – as I take on the character of the woman who anointed Jesus with an alabaster jar of perfume.  

Today’s sermon is written like journal entries of this woman, so as the gospel is preached, what she was done will be told, in memory of her. 

Sunday 

I heard that rabboni would be coming to Jerusalem the beginning of the week of Passover. I joined the crowds to welcome him. 

Rabboni rode a donkey down the Mount of Olives, just like the prophet Zechariah said –  
 
Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! 
    Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! 
See, your king comes to you; 
    triumphant and victorious is he, 
humble and riding on a donkey, 
    on a colt, the foal of a donkey. 
10 He[c] will cut off the chariot from Ephraim 
    and the war horse from Jerusalem; 
and the battle bow shall be cut off, 
    and he shall command peace to the nations; 

his dominion shall be from sea to sea 
    and from the River to the ends of the earth. 

In the beginning, I must say, we were a little frightened. Well, more than a little. Because the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, was also entering Jerusalem in a military procession – with centurions, soldiers and calvary. Some of us were worried they may come after us.   

We suffered in the past under the Egyptians – and we remember how God led us to liberation. This is why we celebrate the Passover – and yet, today, we are now suffering under the Romans. 

I joined the crowds because many people said he is the Messiah – he will liberate us, he will free us.  

Some of us half believed it. Some of us have no choice but hope – and we shouted “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!” 

I never felt that way before. I really felt that things will change – things will finally change. 

Monday 

There was some drama at the Temple today.  

Rabboni went into the temple and began to drive out those who were selling and those who were buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves, and he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple.  

Rabboni said ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? 

But you have made it a den of robbers.” 

He was teaching from the Prophets. The Prophets taught that God insisted not just on justice and worship, but on justice over worship. God had repeatedly said, “I reject your worship because of your lack of justice,” but never, ever, ever, “I reject your justice because of your lack of worship.”  

The Rabboni was very worked up – just like the Prophets 

I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals I will not look upon. Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. (Amos 5:21–24) 

I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings. (Hos. 6:6) 

With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (Mic. 6:6–8) 

What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the Lord; I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats. When you come to appear before me, who asked this from your hand? Trample my courts no more; bringing offerings is futile; incense is an abomination to me. New moon and sabbath and calling of convocation—I cannot endure solemn assemblies with iniquity. Your new moons and your appointed festivals my soul hates; they have become a burden to me, I am weary of bearing them. When you stretch out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood. Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow. (Isa. 1:11–17) 

These teachings of the prophets I cling onto – justice, mercy, righteousness. Yet, so often it is not how things are with the chief priests and the scribes.  

The Rabboni taught from the prophet Jeremiah when he said “den of robbers”: 

Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Amend your ways and your doings, and let me dwell with you[a] in this place. 4 Do not trust in these deceptive words: “This is[b] the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord.” 

5 For if you truly amend your ways and your doings, if you truly act justly one with another, 6 if you do not oppress the alien, the orphan, and the widow or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own hurt, 7 then I will dwell with you[c] in this place, in the land that I gave to your ancestors forever and ever. 

8 Here you are, trusting in deceptive words to no avail. 9 Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, make offerings to Baal, and go after other gods that you have not known 10 and then come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, “We are safe!”—only to go on doing all these abominations? 11 Has this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your sight? 

Go now to my place that was in Shiloh, where I made my name dwell at first, and see what I did to it for the wickedness of my people Israel. And now, because you have done all these things, says the Lord, and when I spoke to you persistently, you did not listen, and when I called you, you did not answer, therefore I will do to the house that is called by my name, in which you trust, and to the place that I gave to you and to your ancestors, just what I did to Shiloh. (7:12–14) 

The Rabboni was saying “if God’s temple is used as a place where worship is substituted for justice, God will destroy that temple, since it has become a haven for perpetrators of injustice and a den for robbers.” Because Shiloh, where the ark of the covenant was enshrined before it was moved to this temple, which was later destroyed by the Philistines. 

When the men shared with me what rabboni said, I was afraid for him. 

Because when prophet Jeremiah “had finished speaking all that the Lord had commanded him to speak to all the people, then the priests and the prophets and all the people laid hold of him, saying, “You shall die! 9 Why have you prophesied in the name of the Lord, saying, ‘This house shall be like Shiloh, and this city shall be desolate, without inhabitant’?” And all the people gathered around Jeremiah in the house of the Lord. 

I am afraid that the chief priests and the scribes and those in power will kill him. But I remember Rabboni saying 3 times!  The Son of Man must undergo great suffering and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes and be killed and after three days rise again.  

Tuesday 

Rabboni continued to teach in the temple – he taught of a different kingdom. And some of the Pharisees and Herodians tried to trap him but failed.  

And everyone was amazed at his teachings. 

He taught that the greatest commandment is to love God and love our neighbor. 

“To love God above all else means giving to God what belongs to God: our heart, soul, mind, and strength. These belong to God, and (to refer to a previous episode) not to Caesar. This is radical monotheism: if God is Lord, then the lords of this world—Caesar and his incarnations throughout history—are not. And to love one’s neighbor as one’s self means to refuse to accept the divisions rendered by the normalcy of civilization, those divisions between the respected and the marginalized, righteous and sinners, rich and poor, friends and enemies, Jews and Gentiles.” 

Jesus’s radical combination of these two commands from Jewish scripture elicits a positive response from the scribe: “You are right, Teacher.” Then the scribe repeats what he has just heard from Jesus, with a striking addition: “This is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices. 

Taken together, and they must be taken together, those action-word combinations proclaim the already present kingdom of God against both the already present Roman imperial power and the already present Jewish high-priestly collaboration. Jerusalem had to be retaken by a nonviolent messiah rather than by a violent revolution, and the temple ritual had to empower justice rather than excuse one from it. What is involved for Jesus is an absolute criticism not only of violent domination, but of any religious collaboration with it. In that criticism, of course, he stands with the prophets of Israel such as Zechariah for the anti-imperial entry against violence and Jeremiah for the anti-temple action against injustice, but he also stands against those forms of Christianity that were used throughout the centuries to support imperial violence and injustice. 

Wednesday 

I kept thinking about what happened at the temple two days ago, and what he taught in the Temple yesterday. Rabboni has said this before three times – 

Mark 8:31 / 9:31 / 10:  

The chief priests and scribes were definitely worried about Rabboni’s radical teachings – and how influential he was on the crowd. The more I think about it, the more I think they will really condemn him to death so he won’t create trouble.  

His disciples didn’t seem to think the same way – they were more concerned about who amongst them were the greatest, and who gets to sit at Rabboni’s side in glory. 

But I really believe that he is the Messiah. That he will change things. That his way is God’s way, and will bring about God’s kin-dom. But his way is fraught with danger and difficulty, and death. 

So today I brought to the house of Simon the leper an alabaster jar of nard to anoint Rabboni before his burial – 

This alabaster jar 
is all I have of worth 
I break it at Your feet, Lord 
It’s less than You deserve 

You’re far more beautiful 
More precious than the oil 
The sum of my desires 
and the fullness of my joy 

You are the sum of my desires 
For a different world – a world where all are beloved, all are cared for, all are respected, all are free. 
A world where nobody is in need, nobody is abandoned, nobody lives in fear. 

A world where justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. 

I know you ask of me, not only of the material things I have,  
but also follow you on your way – 

To love even though who oppress me 
To resist without resorting to violence 
To envision a world where there is no longer them and us, no more divisions –  
Just like how You ate with the respected, and the marginalised, the righteous and the sinners, the rich and the poor, Jews and Gentiles – that this good news that he proclaims that sets all of us free, this kin-dom of God You announce– where all of us are sisters, brothers, siblings. 

I know things are going to get really really bad really really soon. But I know I will follow him – even if it costs me everything – even my life. I will follow you. 

Here I am, take me 

As an offering 

Here I am, giving 

Every heartbeat for Your glory 

Take me 

“If any wish to come[i] after me, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel,[j] will save it. 

So today, there is only 1 menti question – 

What is that alabaster jar you are willing to break 
to follow Christ? What is that thing of worth that you are struggling to give up?