Formations 03.08.2015: “The LORD Has Anointed Me”

Isaiah 61:1-3a; Mark 14:1-9

David Anointed King by Samuel, Dura Europos synagogue

David Anointed King by Samuel, Dura Europos synagogue

“Messiah” comes from a Hebrew word meaning, “anointed one.” We get the word “Christ” from a Greek word with the same meaning. To say that Jesus is the Christ or the Messiah is therefore to say that he is the Anointed One.

The Old Testament is full of anointed people and things. Kings were anointed with oil as a sign that God had chosen them to lead the people of Israel. The same is true of Israel’s priests and especially the high priest. Furthermore, the various furnishings of the temple were periodically anointed.

To be anointed is to be set apart for a special, sacred use.

Isaiah 61 describes one anointed by God to bring divine transformation to the world. Centuries later, Jesus read and expounded upon this text in his sermon in Nazareth. In Mark 14, there is another episode of anointing: a woman anoints Jesus for burial during the week before his crucifixion.

Both of these anointings—the one foretold in Isaiah and the one enacted in Bethany—reveal something about Jesus and the mission he received from God. Both speak of Jesus’ commitment to fulfilling God’s will regardless of the cost.

Discussion

• For what purpose was Jesus set apart?
• How does the anointing in Bethany make clear the meaning of the anointing Isaiah describes?
• The people were angry with the woman for her act. How do Jesus and his mission provoke discomfort or even anger today?
• As the Messiah’s people, what part do Christians today play in furthering Jesus’ mission?

Reference Shelf

Anointing

[To anoint is t]o pour or smear a sacred oil on a person’s body, usually the head, or on sacred objects associated with worship rituals. The practice of anointing for secular and religious purposes appears frequently in the biblical narratives as well as in ancient Near East cultures.

Cultures outside Israel performed anointing to symbolize the elevation in legal status of an individual. For example, one was anointed on the occasion of the transfer of property or on the betrothal of a bride.

The cultic significance of anointing is the major focus of the biblical accounts. In the OT, anointing was performed on those who had a special function in Israel’s religion. The kings of Israel (1 Sam 10:1), prophets (1 Kgs 19:16), High Priests (Lev 21:10),and priests (Exod 28:41) were anointed. Likewise the Tabernacle, the altar, and sacred objects used in worship (Exod 40:9) were anointed.

The ceremony of anointing was viewed as symbolic of the coming of God’s spirit on a person or an object. Oil poured on the head of a king represented God’s leadership in the life of the monarch chosen by God. Sacred oil used in the ceremony was made by mixing aromatic spices with olive oil (Exod 30:22-24).

The word Messiah comes from the Hebrew term “anointed one.” The Greek equivalent of this word is “christos” from which the word “Christ” is derived. In the NT, Jesus is anointed by God with the Holy Spirit and power (Luke 4:18; Acts 10:38).

Steven Simpler, “Anoint ,” Mercer Dictionary of the Bible, ed. Watson E. Mills et al. (Macon GA: Mercer University Press, 1990), 32.

The Anointing of Jesus

Mark weaves the irony of the situation. While the people celebrate God’s deliverance of their forebears, the religious leaders plot to kill God’s deliverer. While they make their preparations, however, an anonymous woman, equally unaware of what she is doing, anoints Jesus’ body for burial beforehand. There is also the further irony that when the Messiah comes to Jerusalem, he is not anointed by the chief priests (who plot to kill him) but by an unnamed woman. Finally, the placement of the anointing of Jesus at the beginning of the Passion Narrative forms a bracket with the failure to anoint Jesus for burial at the end of the narrative (cf. 14:8 and 16:1). As noted above, the unnamed woman’s anointing of Jesus is the inside of the sandwich formed by the authorities’ plot to kill Jesus and Judas’s compact with them (14:1-2 and 14:10-11…). John Painter has suggested a further bracketing based on the similarity of this woman’s selfless generosity in breaking the flask and pouring the pure nard over Jesus and the widow’s giving of her last two coins (12:41-44). These two exemplary acts by devout women bracket Jesus’ judgment on the temple in Mark 13.

The parallel traditions of the anointing of Jesus in the four Gospels have challenged interpreters. The account in Matthew 26 is so close to Mark 14 that one must be dependent on the other. In Luke 7 we find a very different account in which a woman of the city weeps on Jesus’ feet, wipes them with her hair, and then anoints them almost as an afterthought. In John 12 Mary anoints Jesus’ feet, and then wipes off the expensive ointment. The chart in highlights other places where the accounts agree and differ. Although interpretations vary, it appears that the accounts report two separate events. Luke reports an incident during Jesus’ Galilean ministry in which a woman wept on Jesus’ feet and wiped them with her hair. The other Gospels report the anointing of Jesus (probably on his head) at Bethany during the days before Passover. Because of the similarity of the two events, details of each tradition influenced the other.

The story of the anointing of Jesus is similar in some respects to the healing of the paralytic in Mark 2:1-12. Each features a provocative act (healing, anointing), a controversy, and Jesus’ response. In each case the function is didactic; the story is used to teach something about Jesus and/or about discipleship. Typically the focus of a pronouncement story is on Jesus’ words, but here Jesus’ words share the spotlight and indeed point to the woman’s exemplary act of devotion.

R. Alan Culpepper, Mark, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2007) 482–83.

Darrell Pursiful is the editor of Formations. He is an adjunct professor at Mercer University and an active member of the First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia.

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