While he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he sat at the table, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very costly ointment of nard, and she broke open the jar and poured the ointment on his head. But some were there who said to one another in anger, “Why was the ointment wasted in this way? For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii, and the money given to the poor.” And they scolded her.
The die is cast for Jesus because the religious authorities have decided to seize him and have him put to death. They are aware of his popularity and so they have to get him away from public gaze. All they need is the opportunity. This dinner at Simon the Leper’s home was just before the beginning of Passover on Thursday evening.
This unnamed woman appears out of nowhere into the company that Jesus was keeping. He is in the home of one who is called Leper, an outcast in society either in his present condition or in past history. As the Passover festival draws near, tensions are high in Jerusalem. And here she comes, bringing this beautiful jar of expensive ointment into this gathering. Alabaster is a mineral stone that became translucent in the right light. Nard was an expensive scent used for calming and for preparing bodies for burial. She performs an act of graceful and loving touch as she pours the scented compound on Jesus’ head.
The disciples and others say, “What a waste! This money could have been spent on the needy.” It seemed to make them angry. But to Jesus, the One who will be walking this lonesome journey, physically beaten and bleeding, to the cross, the beauty and love is not a waste, it is an act of devotion and selfless love. Jesus says “She has done a beautiful thing to me,” and it means something to him as he faces death.
The disciples seemed to ignore the gathering storm against Jesus, but somehow she understood that Jesus was about to die the death of a common criminal where anointing for burial is not an option. Her anointing of Jesus was an act of selfless love toward him and his life’s ministry, an act of faith, generosity, acceptance, and recognition of who he is. Jesus defended her action, calling it a “good work”, a righteous act. Jesus says that it will be retold throughout time. It is true, when one thinks about the cost of the alabaster jar and the expensive nard, her loving kindness toward Jesus could have been redirected toward the poor, but she seized the moment to give to him her devotion. In the midst of deception and disloyalty we find an act of dedication to Christ and his cross.
While Judas looked for an opportunity to betray Jesus, she made an opportunity to honor him.. She honors Jesus with an extravagant outpouring of herself that fills a room with sweet fragrance. In a place and time of plotting and brutality her action is an oasis of honor . Despite all the hostile power arrayed against Jesus, she manages to find a way to anoint him with a soothing, fragrant ointment. She doesn’t ask for fame, just for you and me to do the same.
- Ask yourself, what can I do to honor Jesus every day?
- Ask yourself, what can I do to honor Jesus in the context of society’s movement away from God and religion in my life’s work, in my leisure, in my home?
- Ask yourself, what risks am I willing to take to honor Jesus in the midst of a hostile environment?
Sue is NLS Spiritual Director, since 2019 and is a retired Lutheran Pastor (ELCA). Active in VdC since 1995, she has served two terms on the Board of the Texas VdC Secretariat, and also on the Texas Gulf Coast VdC Board as Spiritual Director since its start-up in 2017.