Thursday, 4 April 2019
Lent 5: Jesus anointed: Ian Green
An uncomfortable juxtaposition between abundance and poverty dominates the gospel reading for this fifth Sunday of Lent.
Jesus is anointed with an ointment which probably cost up to a year's wages. It was a devotion of extravagance. Such anointings were deemed appropriate either at a coronation or funeral; so the deed rightly points us to Good Friday and the King upon the cross.
Yet, straight away it's criticised. Would it not have been more Christ-like to spend that money on the poor? Well, apparently not.
Most translations have Jesus responding to his critics by saying 'The poor are always with you.' Implying that as he was only here for a limited time, such focused devotion was O.K.
One biblical linguist I read this week has another take on that verse. She says although it's normally translated in the indicative it's just as correct to use the imperative. Confused? Well, if we did put Jesus' words in the imperative they would read something like this (as a command) 'Keep the poor always alongside you'.
I've found that such a helpful interpretation as there are surely times when we want our worship and devotion to have a sense of extravagance about it. It's the rationale behind the building of great cathedrals.
Yet, at the same time, at one and the same moment, we need always to remember to 'keep the poor alongside us'. To be open-hearted, kind and generous in the living out of our faith.
This Sunday's reading doesn't sideline the poor but places human compassion and the awareness of the needs of others constantly at the centre of all our worship and praise of God.