Some weeks are busier than others. Some weeks are so packed with intensity it feels impossible to focus on anything more than the next scheduled event. In many ways this has been that kind of a week for me. I keep checking my calendar to make sure I don’t miss any meetings, appointments, or conference calls and to be sure that I’ve scheduled in enough time for worship and Bible Study preparation. It’s hard to shake the feeling that I am missing something.
It’s likely the disciples were feeling this way by the time they landed at Mary’s, Martha’s, and Lazarus’ home (or, as other accounts have it at Simon the Leper’s house or the home of a Pharisee). These are busy, tired people by the time they get to this meal where a woman anoints Jesus. They’ve been following Jesus, listening to him. They feel the increasing political tensions. Perhaps they feel the urgency in Jesus’ message. It’s time for them to hear and understand. There’s no more room for their denial, their inability, their confusion. The end really is near. And, still, they’re missing something vital.
I believe the Fourth Evangelist put this story of anointing in a familiar, trusted setting for a reason. In the other accounts, Jesus is anointed by a woman who is a sinner, one who is ritually unclean. History has determined that the nameless “sinful woman” was a prostitute. For the writer of John, he removed this distraction. We know Mary. She is respectable. She is a disciple. She knows Jesus and Jesus knows her. In addition to making the woman a member of society, John’s account also removes the temptation to focus on why Jesus is eating with lepers or Pharisees. Here, he is among friends with a friend anointing him. Yet, the point is still missed by the disciples and those of us who have heard the story since.
The anointing of Jesus by Mary (or a sinner or a prostitute) was an act of such extravagant love that it was overlooked, dismissed, or denied by the first witnesses. Jesus understood the courage and the love it took for a woman, even Mary, to step into a room full of men and pour this costly oil over him. The woman knew who Jesus was. She also knew who she was and could bravely come to him and offer not only the oil of nard but also her true self.
It’s this offering that we often miss today. We forget that Jesus invites us to bring our authentic selves, nothing held back, in offering to him. We are invited to anoint him with our love poured out as freely as he poured out his love for us. How many opportunities have we missed? How many times have we missed it when someone offers their true selves? We get so focused on the details, the audience and the oil, that we fail to see the person and all they have risked as they kneel at Jesus feet.
Lent is passing quickly. Have we spent enough time in the wilderness, in the barren place, in the desert, to rediscover the Holy? Have we emptied ourselves of pretenses and desires to the extent that we can share Mary’s boldness and offer Jesus our truth and our most valuable possession? Are we ready to pour our our love extravagantly in the presence of the Christ, no matter whose face he wears?
Jesus welcomed the extravagance of the gift and saw the beauty and value in the giver. That was true then and remains true today. When is the last time any of us loved Jesus with any extravagance? For me, it’s been a while. Perhaps this is why I feel as if I am missing something…
Those who go out weeping,
bearing the seed for sowing,
shall come home with shouts of joy,
carrying their sheaves.
For a more poetic take on the story of the woman who anointed Jesus, try here: Opening Prayer.
RCL – Year C – Fifth Sunday in Lent – March 13, 2016