Numbers 10:1-11:23; Mark 14:1-21; Psalm 51:1-19; Proverbs 10:31-32
What a dramatic day of reading! We have Moses' desperate cry before the Lord, begging for death rather than continue to shoulder the weight of Israel's grumbling alone. I could write about my experience of parenting, and how I, too, have sometimes felt "the burden is too heavy for me" (Num. 11:14). We have the betrayal of Judas, who then "watch[es] for an opportunity to hand [Jesus] over" (Mk. 14:11). I could muse on the great treachery of this man after his years of discipleship with Jesus. And we have the complete exposure of David's heart in Psalm 51, his prayer to the Lord after the prophet Nathan rebukes him over Bathsheba. The words of this psalm have practically written books about themselves!
Tucked in there, too, is the story of the woman who anoints Jesus' head, and it's here I want to land for today. So much interests me:
- Jesus is in Bethany, the town where Mary, Martha and Lazarus live, but he's not at their home.
- He's at the home of Simon the Leper. Ummmm...Leper? That's not exactly how one wants to be known, and how did he get such a moniker? Clearly, he's no longer a leper, since he's hosting a dinner party, but - just as clearly - there's a story here.
- A year's salary on perfume? Such extravagance!
- Jesus defends her fiercely. "Leave her alone....Why are you bothering her?" (Mk. 14:6). If it was anyone else, I'd read those statements with more than a hint of belligerence!
- And, as an aside, nothing in this text indicates this woman is a flagrant or sexual sinner. She is merely described as a woman. Her name and her history are not of great significance.
It is her actions that matter. Jesus himself declares it so. He recognizes, though no one else does, that this anointing will be all the burial preparation his body will receive. When his death finally comes, late on a Friday, there will be no time for the women who love him to wrap him. They must be home and away before the Sabbath begins at sundown. And they will be ritually prohibited from tending to his body on the Sabbath itself. By the time the women can go to his grave to care for his crucified body in the proper manner, Jesus will no longer require such anointing.
So this perfume is it. This is all. And yet this unnamed woman has met a deep need of Jesus', though unbeknownst to her. His humanity is cared for. How beautiful. How profoundly, intimately, terribly beautiful. And I love-love-love that Jesus' words prove prophetic over and over and over again: "Wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her" (14:9). We remember her this day, as we read her story. And we will continue to remember her each time we read about her actions.
- Sarah Marsh
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