Matthew 26 v 6-13
This is an extraordinary story of a woman who enters a male-only gathering and touches Jesus. It was the custom to pour a few drops of perfume on a guest when they arrived at a house or sat down to a meal, but this use of ointment seems extravagant. What the woman is doing by anointing Jesus is taking on the position of a religious leader, for in the Old Testament only a priest or prophet would do anointing. We are reminded of Psalm 23 ‘you anoint my head with oil, my cup overflows’.
The disciples don’t mention the anointing but are critical of the waste and expense, and feel that the money could have been used for the poor. Jesus, however, accepts this gift from this unnamed woman and says to the disciples ‘why must you make this woman feel uncomfortable’. She must already be feeling uncomfortable in this all male environment, and by not knowing what Jesus’ reaction would be to her impulsive act of devotion. Jesus affirms the woman: ‘she has done a beautiful thing for me’.
Why are we not told her name? We have names for many of the people in the gospel stories, the name of a blind man healed by Jesus, the names of people who asked questions of Jesus, the name of the man who carried Jesus’ cross, but the women are unimportant; they are not allowed to be in positions of leadership. However, her act of devotion is included in the scriptures and ‘what she has done will be told, in memory of her’.
Malcolm Guite’s poem ‘The anointing at Bethany’ reminds us that ‘the whole room richly fills to feast the senses’, and how smells can bring back memories from the past in a vivid way. But what strikes me most about this story is how true love is uncalculating, and how love ‘isn’t love till you give it away’. This is put very well by Maya Angelou in her poem ‘Touched by an angel’
…We are weaned from our timidity
in the flush of love’s light
we dare be brave
and suddenly we see
that love costs all we are
and will ever be
yet it is only love
which sets us free.
Jesus said ‘when she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for
burial’. As we go through Lent let us remember this story of Christian devotion for our Lord,
shown in a simple costly act of love, as we follow the one who loved the world so much that
he ‘humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross’, and may it
empower and inspire us to become instruments of that love.