Blogging through Holy Week [3] – The anointing

It might seem like a strange thing to do to skip the best part of 5 chapters of teaching (Matthew 22 to 25), but this series of blog posts are really about the events of Holy Week. In any case, there is no necessity to believe that the block of teaching Matthew 22 to 25 actually took place between the entry into Jerusalem and the Anointing at Bethany. Why should there be?! (Of more interest is that Matthew organises Jesus’ teachings into five main blocks. I hope I don’t need to spell out too clearly why teaching organised into five blocks would have had particular significance to Matthew’s 1st Century Jewish readers.)

So, on to the Anointing at Bethany (Matthew 26 6-13). In this story, Jesus’ disciples chastise a woman who anoints Jesus’ head with costly ointment or perfume, which could have been sold and the money used to care for the poor. In John’s account of the same story the woman is identified as Lazarus’s sister Mary (also of Mary and Martha fame).

You almost feel sorry for the disciples here as they did seem to have a good idea, didn’t they? After all, they’d heard Jesus teaching the rich young ruler to give away all his possessions to the poor. Why shouldn’t this woman be encouraged to do likewise to benefit the greater good?

Well, Jesus replies with that often-quoted line “For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me” This is certainly not an excuse, as some have considered it to be, to avoid caring for the world’s poor. After all, if Jesus said the poor would always be with us why should we act to bring them out of their poverty? Whoops – kind of misses the point…

I think firstly Jesus is using this opportunity to remind his disciples that He will not be with them for much longer: they fail to grasp hold of this properly at almost every turn. So Jesus goes on to say that his body is now prepared for burial, i.e. wake up my disciples, I really am going to die! Had the woman grasped this, just as the disciples had failed to?

There are also the obvious allusions to Jesus’ Messiahship in this act of anointing. Messiah literally means “anointed one”. So this is yet another pointer to Jesus’ true status and identity even in those last few days before his death. Perhaps we can even say that this anointing in the final few days points to the fact that it is in His death that Christ’s true identity, purpose and Love for the world was most perfectly revealed. Anointing for death…anointing for Messianic kingship – the same thing here.

Finally, there is the act of giving by this woman. We are told in some of the other Gospel accounts that this perfume cost more than a year’s wages for a labourer. That is a huge sum of money! Even for someone earning minimum wage in the UK, that would be many thousands of pounds! And of course most of this priceless perfume would simply have flowed from Jesus’ head onto the dust of the floor. Wasted.

Wasted? Well, no. This was a gift of great value, given without care for the giver’s own welfare – could this have bankrupted the woman or got her into serious trouble with her family? It was given with no expectation of reciprocation, given purely out of love. Of course this is the sort of giving that Jesus is going to commend, because it is exactly this sort of giving that He extends to us.

Giving of Himself at great price. Giving though it is totally undeserved. Giving with no expectation of reciprocation. Giving purely out of Love.

Not perfume, but Life itself.

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