April 1, 2012 Mark 14:1-9
I cannot imagine a week more filled with ominous dread than this one coming up. We call it Holy Week but it surely doesn’t feel holy. Jesus’ enemies are trying to figure out a time that they can arrest him and kill him. The opportunity will come later in the week when one of Jesus’ own disciples, Judas, will come forward to betray him. In the midst of this dreadful plotting against Jesus, the gospel writer Mark brings us a radical story of kindness and mercy, the story of the woman who anoints Jesus two days before his death.
he woman is not given a name. She is not given any identification of kinship or friendship with Jesus. She simply comes into the room where Jesus is having dinner with his friends at the home of Simon the leper in Bethany, breaks open an alabaster jar of expensive, aromatic ointment, and pours it over Jesus’ head. It’s an action of extravagant regard for Jesus. Jesus expresses his appreciation for the good thing she has done for him.
But some who were there at the dinner table were indignant. I wonder about their indignance. They said it was because the money used to buy the ointment could have been used for the poor who are always in desperate need. But that seems disingenuous. Jesus even says that they can always give to the poor. Giving to the poor is an ongoing requirement of doing good. He tells them he will not always be with them to be cared for. Jesus notes that this woman has done something beautiful for him.
So why were some at the table so indignant? In Jesus’ day women were not usually invited to the table. It was reserved for the men. The women were in the background. Of course we know Jesus was about turning these customs upside down. After all, he was eating in the home of a leper, a man considered unclean. Jesus included everyone, and now here is this woman including Jesus in an act of compassion. To give comfort to someone right beside you, to care for the one in need is just as important, Jesus is saying, as giving money to the poor.
And why would Jesus be needing comfort? Because this woman is anointing him in preparation for his crucifixion and death. Jesus knows what is to come. So her action is particularly poignant. She is treating his living body to the ministrations and compassionate care his dead corpse will never receive. What is normally done before burial, anointing the body with aromatic oils, is being done while he is alive. It is a bold move. She is in essence saying, “I know that you are going to die.” She is showing honor to Jesus. And he is grateful.
The disciples and other friends remain indignant. Jesus tells them to leave her alone. Perhaps they are indignant because they don’t want to believe Jesus is going to die. And here is this woman pushing this fact in their face.
Jesus lifts up this lowly woman to a place of high regard by saying, “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.”
That Jesus actually says this is what makes this poignant story radical. The action of this woman is not trivial. This story is included by the gospel writer Mark for a community that believed that women are to be treated as equals. When the good news is shared, the good news of God’s kingdom, this woman who anointed Jesus, who recognized what Jesus needed in that moment, who saw the truth about Jesus’ impending death, this woman’s deed will be remembered.
Jesus is calling all people to live and act in truth. Jesus is calling all people to be in solidarity with those who are in need, who are outcast or impoverished, in both spirit and body. Would we be willing to do that? Would you anoint the body of a family member or close friend who is approaching death? Would you care for someone in need, putting aside your agenda and your plans for the one who is considered an outcast?
Jesus knew how threatening this call to truth and love was to the status quo, a truth that would lead to his death. That Jesus calls us forth to be in solidarity enables us to take courage, to have faith, to not to turn back. It empowers us to walk forward and participate together in God’s kingdom.
Jesus loves each one of us as a brother or sister. Jesus understands our times of desolation because of his desolation. He wants us to love one another. Mercy is available, even in the barren times. The mercy that this unknown woman showed to Jesus. The mercy that Simon who carried Jesus’ cross showed on Good Friday. The women who bore witness at the foot of the cross and then at the tomb. The disciple who cared for Jesus’ mother. If such mercy was present in that barren time, then surely God is present now.
When life gets barren and hard, we can become more aware of small kindnesses. We can offer these small kindnesses to help someone bear the grief, bear the sorrow. We can offer comfort to the one in need, even if that person is sitting right beside you. Be aware of the one person next to you or near you. You can honor the person who is right here. That is the expression of your truth, of your compassion. God is here. Christ is here. Giving us courage. Amen.