When he was in Bethany reclining at table
in the house of Simon the leper,
a woman came with an alabaster jar of perfumed oil,
costly genuine spikenard.
She broke the alabaster jar and poured it on his head.
There were some who were indignant.
“Why has there been this waste of perfumed oil?
It could have been sold for more than three hundred days’ wages
and the money given to the poor.”
They were infuriated with her.
Jesus said, “Let her alone.
Why do you make trouble for her?
She has done a good thing for me.
The poor you will always have with you,
and whenever you wish you can do good to them,
but you will not always have me.
She has done what she could.
She has anticipated anointing my body for burial.
Amen, I say to you,
wherever the gospel is proclaimed to the whole world,
what she has done will be told in memory of her.” Mk 14: 3-9
One cannot but be awed by such an act. Crossan and Borg have suggested that this unnamed woman was the “first Christian”. And she might well be, although I might suggest that the Samaritan woman at the well has a claim on that title as well.
But at least we can agree, that in Jesus’ mind, she exemplified what is best and perfect in discipleship. She gave all she had in offering to her Lord. She recognized, as none of the others did, that they were in the final days of the Master’s earthly life.
One of the things that is most ironic in this passage, is that Jesus proclaims that her actions will never be forgotten. And that turned out to be true, but alas no one remembered her name. Unless we conflate it with John 12: 1-11. In that case, we would realize that it is our wonderful “friend” Mary of Martha and Mary, longtime friends of Jesus, and brother to Lazarus.
Since Mark is by far the older of the two texts, it’s unlikely that John suddenly discovered the name of the woman. I have not investigated the history of the passages however, and so it might be possible.
In any case, we are confronted with the stark differences between the perfect disciple and those who are caught up in the technicalities. The technocrats worry about how much money has been wasted that could have been spent on the poor. She worries about nothing, not her even her own livelihood. She simply honors Jesus, and presages the burial process to come.
We too, can get lost in the weeds. Much is done in the name of religion and faith that would no doubt offend and shock Jesus. People cut corners and tell untruths in the name of greater good that they have so defined. They tell themselves that this lie or that turning away from righteousness is okay, because we must keep our “eye on the prize.”
But Jesus surely did not teach us that.
No matter what it takes.
No matter how much it is unnoticed.
No matter how much it is ridiculed.
Just do the right and good thing. At every juncture. Not for some “greater good.
I have heard many a police officer justify lying under oath because “given the protections afforded the criminal, it’s the only way to convict the guilty.” Guilty in their minds. Perhaps guilty in reality.
But what do we do when we offer to those we wish to “redeem”, lies and cut corners? We do not offer truth. We offer nothing more than a new way to scam the system. We are the authors of every televangelist who promises prosperity if only we will send in our “love” in the form of a check.
She, in her utter faith and simplicity offers nothing but the purity of her faith and love for her Redeemer. She offers no manipulation. She willingly accepts, without defense, the harsh words of her “betters” and the company men. She simply loves.
She is the true disciple. The one who has perfectly understood and answered the call.
Let us all reflect on Her.
- John 12:1-11 – The Anointing at Bethany (readingacts.wordpress.com)
- Moment Three: Anointing (contemplativechristians.com)
- Mary Anoints Jesus and Shows Her Love for Him (brakeman1.com)