“While he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he sat at the table, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very costly ointment of nard, and she broke open the jar and poured the ointment on his head. But some were there who said to one another in anger, ‘Why was the ointment wasted in this way? For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor.’ And they scolded her. But Jesus said, ‘Let her alone; why do you trouble her? She has performed a good service for me. For you always have the poor with you, and you can show kindness to them whenever you wish, but you will not always have me. She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for its burial. Truly I tell you, wherever the good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.’
Then Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve, went to the chief priests in order to betray him to them. When they heard it, they were greatly pleased and promised to give him money. So he began to look for an opportunity to betray him” (Mark 14:3-11 NRSV).
My Precious and the Forming of the Fellowship of the Rings
“My precious” Gollum coos as he gently strokes the ring that sits upon his palm. This is no ordinary ring, but the ring of power created by Sauron in order exert power and influence over others. For those unfamiliar with the story of The Lord of the Rings it is a tale of the battle between good and evil. Sauron, who definitely falls into the evil camp, created several rings, some for the kings of men, some for the leaders of the dwarves, and some for the wisest of elves, but unbeknownst to them, he also created another ring—the ring of power. It was created to rule them all, and it was through this ring that Sauron’s destructive power was released.
Sauron had been defeated and the ring fell into the hands of Isildur, a king. Lord Elrond, of the elves had pleaded with Isildur to take the ring of power and throw it into the fires of Mount Doom, the only way to destroy the ring since that is where Sauron had forged it. Yet, Isildur decided to keep the ring for himself because he desired to wield its powers and he said it was precious to him. He is soon killed, and the ring is lost at the bottom of lake, only years later to be found by a Hobbit named Smeagol. The ring gives long life to Smeagol, and in the process of consuming him, he is turned into something more creature like, and leaves any type of civilization to dwell in caves completely focused on the ring. In this transformation the ring turns Smeagol into Gollum—he has become like a walking dead man.
Much to Gollum’s dismay, he misplaces the ring in a cave, and it is found by Bilbo Baggins, who takes the ring back home with him. It is in Bilbo’s old age that he passes the ring to his nephew Frodo. It is at this time that Sauron is regaining much power and sends out the Nazgul, those nine kings from hundreds of years ago who accepted rings from Sauron, to get the ring and return it him. These once kings of men are enslaved to Sauron and do his bidding as they are dead but cannot die, they are now merely animated corpses who have destroyed who they once were in their clinging to the power of the precious ring.
While escaping the Nazgul, Frodo and his friends journey to the land of the elves to seek help from Lord Elrond. It is here that a Fellowship of the Ring is formed—a group of 9 composed of men, dwarves, elves, wizards, and hobbits—all bound to take the ring to the fires of Mount Doom to destroy it once and for all. This fellowship is formed by understanding that they each much repress any desire they might personally have to obtain the ring and use its power. They must realize that they cannot wield the ring of power, the ring has only one master—Sauron. While most remain true to the end, all do not. The fellowship is broken when one sees the ring as more precious than the fellowship to which he belongs. He believes that he can overcome the ring’s consuming and destructive power to all who wear it. He failed to see what was truly precious—a community of righteousness, and instead set his heart on obtaining ‘my precious’, and the power and influence he wanted for himself.
Enjoying Precious Fellowship
Our scripture passage begins with a fellowship as well. There is something special about sharing a meal with people. It is not only a time to enjoy tasty food, but it is a place where relationships are forged and deepened. This is true of those who have gathered at Simon the leper’s house as well.
Jesus is among friends and disciples, particularly the twelve that have been constant companions with Jesus for the past three years. They had spent weeks of time together walking from place to place all over Galilee and Judea as they travelled with Jesus. They have listened to him teach, watched him heal the sick, and perform many miracles. None of them would ever forget Jesus calming the storm the night they thought they would all die at sea, not to mention they were still dumbfounded on how the five loaves and two fishes had feed so may thousands of people. Then of course there was the wide-spread acceptance of Jesus as Messiah when they visited Sychar, and Jesus had a conversation with an outcast Samaritan woman. They knew everything about each other—the good and the bad—as they had lived together, worked together, and fellowshipped over meals together for so long.
Tonight, like so many nights before, they were all reclined around a table, talking about recent events, relaxing from the long day, and enjoying time together while sharing a meal. The twelve were more like brothers than just friends. They shared their burdens and celebrated their victories—together. They also enjoyed each other’s company. Peter was the one they most liked to tease—they all knew where his goat was tied, all anyone had to do was imitate Jesus’ voice and look at him and say, ‘get thee behind me Satan’ and Peter would go from calm to madder than a hornet in a second flat. He would be fuming and sputtering while the rest of the group would start laughing at how easily they could get him riled. They liked to tease Peter, but they each respected him as well. He was the one who would stand up for anyone in the group that was being bullied or confronted by anyone else. Yes, meals together were a special time for them.
Breaking My Precious to Honor Jesus
While in the middle of their meal a woman cautiously walked in. This was not an unusual occurrence as people were often coming to them during this time together to seek out Jesus and ask for his help. However, this woman’s appearance did turn out to be unusual for she did not ask for anything, instead she approached Jesus with a vial of perfumed oil. Most people at the dinner party continued eating and their conversations but all of a sudden there was a sound of something being shattered. All conversation stopped and people looked around to see if a platter had been dropped and broken, but no, the woman had broken an expensive alabaster jar and was pouring its entire contents over Jesus’ head to anoint him. Everyone eye around the table was on her while she gently massaged the oil through Jesus’ head. The heady scent of the nard was wafting through the air and powerful enough to mask all the smells of the spices from the food right in front of them. It smelled wonderful and many who watched recalled how this resembled the anointing of kings and priests that they had been taught about by the rabbis.
However, some began voicing complaints about the waste of such a precious resource, the perfume could have been sold for an entire year’s wages and fed about 3500 poor people. Passover was approaching and it was custom to provide as many meals for the poor as possible. This woman’s perfume could have greatly benefitted Jesus’ ministry. Jesus interrupts the discussion because once again some of the disciples had missed the greater point of this beautiful act. Yes, the poor are very important, and we are to care for them, but this woman has expressed an act of lavish love, of pure devotion, and has honored Jesus. With the means that she had she broke her precious jar of perfume and sacrificed it all as a gift to Jesus. She reserved none for herself, she didn’t hold back a small amount to take back home with her so that she could enjoy applying some of the fragrant scent upon her own person.
It would have been a nice gesture even if she had poured out only some of the scented oil, but she gave it all. Many of us are not so sacrificially generous. We give some, but not all that we could. How many of you snack on your French fries in the car on the way home? Mitchel and I do. Mitchel and I have a system. We don’t eat from the same bag of fries, each time we reach our hand in, we take from a different box of fries so that all fry orders are equally diminished before we get home. This is the exact opposite of the true devotion of this woman. Instead of being concerned about what she can keep for herself, her faith and love compelled her to break away from what was precious in the eyes of many and give it to Jesus. Why? Because in her eyes Jesus was the most precious of all.
Oh, if only the story ended here, but it does not. The scent of the perfumed oil permeates the air with its sweet smell, the disciples are gathered together with Jesus in sweet fellowship, and a broken alabaster vial lays shattered on the floor signifying the honor and love this woman has for Jesus, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. However, that precious vial is not the only precious thing that was broken.
Breaking Fellowship and Betraying Jesus to Cling to My Precious
The text makes a dramatic turn from an unnamed woman who comes to the table having given up something precious to honor Jesus, to a man standing up and leaving the table to give up Jesus to cling to his precious. We read and we are stunned with disbelief. What just happened? How could this happen? Are you kidding me? Who would do such a thing?
Who is this man? Judas, one of the twelve. Did you catch that? One. Of. The. Twelve. My friends, this is the point of the lesson, it was not some outsider who betrayed Jesus, it was one of the Twelve. One of the brotherhood who had known Jesus the best, one of the twelve who had lived daily with Jesus and the other disciples for three years, one of the twelve who Jesus had bestowed his power upon to cast out demons and heal the sick, one of the Twelve who had been entrusted by Jesus to spread the good news of the Gospel. One of the Twelve who had personally received instruction from Jesus on the meaning of the parables, that the larger crowds did not. One of the twelve who had seen everything that Jesus had done. One of the Twelve that Jesus’ mother had cared for on many occasions. One of the twelve who had shared hundreds of meals at the same table with Jesus. One of the twelve that had a close personal relationship with Jesus.
Do you understand? This is a cautionary tale to warn us that it is those of us that are part of the church that have enjoyed fellowship for years that have the capacity to get up from the table and give up Jesus for our own wants, desires, dreams, aspirations, and plans. We might be in the presence of Jesus and not truly see who he is. It was the unnamed woman who truly recognized Jesus and honored him properly, while one closest to him betrayed him and just like that alabaster jar laying shattered on the floor, Judas broke the fellowship and shattered his relationship with Jesus and other disciples because he looked at that ring of power in his hands, and like Gollum, muttered ‘my precious’ and was unwilling to let it go.
While Judas may not have had a literal ring of power, he reached a breaking point at this meal. Jesus was not doing what he thought he would be doing or heading in the direction where Judas thought he would head. Perhaps Judas had been clinging to the hope that he would have power and authority in a new reign of power that Jesus would establish by ridding the Israelites of Roman rule. Perhaps Jesus mentioning his death again made Judas realize that Jesus had no intention of being an earthly king and ruler and Judas was seeing that power and authority that he so desired slipping through his fingers. While Judas had once committed himself to Jesus and his ministry along with the rest of the disciples, he perhaps realized he was not willing to sacrifice and break away from those things that were precious to him. This woman who was praised by Jesus had demonstrated a giving that Judas knew he could not duplicate. Perhaps Jesus’ talk of dying soon caused Judas to think that his life too might be required as an act of sacrifice to Jesus, and he was not willing to give so much. Whatever the motivation, which is not shared with us, Judas decided that Jesus was not more precious than his own desires, plans, and hopes. Judas deciding to cling to his own precious things meant the breaking of fellowship with Jesus, the breaking of hearts of those who had seen him as a brother; Judas had broken a truly precious thing in clinging to his own treasure.
The breaking of precious things is necessary. What do we call ‘my precious’? Are we willing to give it up and destroy it, or will we allow our love and devotion to it to destroy us and the fellowship to which we belong? Will we allow our own precious things to consume us and drive us from an abundant life in Christ? We must make a decision: will we come to the table and break what is precious to us and give it as a gift to honor Jesus recognizing him as King of Kings and Lord of Lords, or will we walk away from the table and give away Jesus, breaking fellowship with him, to cling to our own precious desires, aspirations, and illusions of power? Something precious must be broken—what we consider to be ‘my precious’ or what is truly precious—fellowship with Jesus and other believers. What will we give up? There must be a breaking of precious things.