I was reading a reflection on the Mark 14 passage where Jesus was anointed by an unnamed woman. Do you remember the story?
While he was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of Simon, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head.
Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, “Why this waste of perfume? It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor.” And they rebuked her harshly.
“Leave her alone,” said Jesus. “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial. Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”
The reflection I was reading pointed out something I probably should have known before, but seeing it this time transformed my understanding of what's going on in this passage.
The reflection read:
Given how unexpected the crucifixion appeared to be for the followers of Jesus, despite his repeated warning, it is very likely that this woman did not truly appreciate the significance of her actions when she approached Jesus.
Jesus declares that she has anointed him in preparation for his burial, perhaps as an extra hint for the clueless disciples, but that's not what she's doing, and it's not why what she does is important and why it is something we should be seeking to replicate in our lives and offerings to Jesus. She's responding to something completely different to what I've often been told I need to respond to when it comes to the person of Jesus.
It’s NOT the Cross…
The most irresponsible, reckless, undignified and indiscriminate adoration and anointing of Jesus in the Gospels comes not as a response to his death or knowledge of his upcoming death, but from a woman who understands neither.
What she understands is the impact of the Kingdom message inherent in the life and ministry of Jesus on lives such as hers. Her response is to shatter a jar of perfume so she has no choice but to pour it all out as an offering to Jesus. She has nothing left to hold anything back. She is a previously unrecognised and seemingly insignificant individual who becomes someone we know and tell stories of more than the majority of the named disciples.
Her actions are in response to the radically redefined notion of grace and inclusion that Jesus lays out in his ministry… Irresponsible, reckless, undignified and indiscriminate grace that welcomes, heals, holds and honours, embraces, encourages and empowers not only the presence and the persons of the problematic in society, and subsequently empowers them to bless and anoint him too. It is their new calling, no longer the calling of the religious elite, to identify those who bear the image of God, to anoint them as priests and prophets. She does this with equally Irresponsible, reckless, undignified and indiscriminate outpourings of that which she held in her hands that was most valuable to her. And as she recognises him, he recognises her, and it is through that mutual recognition that we find our place and our calling, and find a model of how we should respond to the Kingdom of God: with the same Irresponsible, reckless, undignified and indiscriminate outpouring of what we have and who we are.
There were, of course, other women who tried to anoint Jesus. Post-death Mary and Mary try to anoint the body of Jesus. They try to preserve the body, to prepare it for eternity. But it’s not there. It’s not the dead Jesus that is recognised as the prophet and priest, nor is it the resurrected Jesus… It’s the pre-death, living, moving and active Jesus in all his human divinity.
But I think the problem is we’re still trying to anoint the dying or dead Jesus… Ok, perhaps not… But definitely the resurrected Jesus. And yet people didn’t respond to the dying, dead or even the resurrected Jesus in isolation from his Kingdom message and God-representation. “Preaching Christ crucified” isn’t about telling the story of one weekend, but the message of the revolution, the cause of the rebel, the Kingdom of God.
The thing that changed lives wasn’t the cross, but the message that took him to the cross. The message he was so committed to it drove nails through his hands. The message he could have changed and then lived a happy, quiet life.
And it wasn’t the miracle of miracles in the resurrection that suddenly turned people to follow him and worship God in the model he presented… Jesus was always clear that if it was a miracle that people needed they still wouldn’t believe. If it was only magic they were after they would be disappointed even more by what he had to offer.
How many people in the end of the Gospels or in the post-Gospels scriptures turn to Jesus because of the Cross?
How many are swayed by this magical weekend alone?
Maybe Paul has his vision of the resurrected Jesus, but the message he hears is not “Look, I’m alive” but rather “What are you finding so offensive about what I’ve commissioned people to do?”
On the Road to Emmaus it’s not the person of Jesus that they feel in their heart, but the story of himself that he tells from the scriptures and how it all fits together.
Maybe others in those un-named 500 saw Jesus post-resurrection, but we’re not told it’s the first time they meet him… Meeting the risen Jesus isn’t the turning point in isolation, but rather that revelatory penny-drop moment that they put one and one together and get God… in preparation for the third person filling them in the not too distant future.
I'm not saying the cross is unimportant, but it's not the only thing we need to look at.
We need to stop pointing to the cross as the point where things changed. We need to stop pointing to the cross as the place Jesus was worth adoring. We need to look back further to see what that woman saw, to respond to his life and his teaching.
Remarcable is one man blogging about Youth Work, Theology, Family, Life and those other random things that come to mind.