Anointing at Bethany
6Now while Jesus was at Bethany… 7a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very costly ointment, and she poured it on his head as he sat at the table. 8But when the disciples saw it, they were angry and said, “Why this waste? 9For this ointment could have been sold for a large sum, and the money given to the poor.” 10But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you trouble the woman? She has performed a good service for me. 11For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me. 12By pouring this ointment on my body she has prepared me for burial. 13Truly I tell you, wherever this good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.”
This unnamed woman understood, in a way the disciples didn’t. She has been called “the first believer,” “the perfect disciple.” Somehow, she sensed who Jesus was and what he was facing. Instead of anointing him for kingship, which is what most of his followers would have wanted, she anointed him for burial. And it wasn’t just a few drops of oil—“Well, I guess that ought to be enough” —it was a whole jar of “very costly ointment,” an extravagant gift, estimated to be worth anywhere between $250 and $500. She was lifted clear out of her careful calculations into the realm of unbridled love and devotion, self-denial and self-forgetfulness, which is a true mark of the kingdom of God.
Meanwhile, the disciples just didn’t get it. They had what might be called a “market mentality”—“Why this waste?” when there were so many worthy things it could have been spent on. They didn’t understand the spontaneity of love, or its extravagance—what Paul captured so beautifully in that passage in Corinthians: Love “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.” “Love is a spendthrift,” writes Paul Scherer, which leaves all of its calculations and arithmetic at home. And then, the “kicker”—God is love. What this woman did gives us is a hint of what God is always about—loving us extravagantly.
Restore in us the image of your love, O God, that the longings of our hearts may be extravagant. Restore in us the image of your love, that our passion for life may be full. Amen.