7 March 2016
Jesus anointed by Mary
All four gospels tell a version of this story, so it is a fascinating opportunity to study it in parallel with Matthew 26:6-13, Mark 14:3-9 and Luke 7:36-50. Matthew and Mark have almost identical versions involving an anonymous woman anointing Jesus’ head with oil. Luke on the other hand places it very early in Jesus’ ministry causing us to ask whether it is in fact the same event. The Luke setting is probably in Galilee portraying the unknown woman, most likely as a prostitute.
The John account has its own unique elements. First of all, the event occurs at the house of Lazarus, sometime after he was raised from the dead. It also is clearly cast just days before the dramatic holy week scenes. Note that only John mentions Lazarus and only John includes detail about Judas, including some interesting insights into his character. The John account is all the more interesting because of the Lazarus connection and we therefore need to read it in conjunction with chapter 11 to appreciate the context. Remember also that only John’s Gospel records the Lazarus resurrection.
If we try to place ourselves in the picture, we realize that it is quite a bizarre setting. We get the impression that these people are special friends of Jesus. What would the conversation be like at the dinner table … a man who has just been physically given a second chance at life in the presence of Jesus, the one who gave that chance to him? All of this, while Jesus is still trying to get his closest followers to understand what lies ahead once he gets to Jerusalem.
A common thread of each Gospel account is the objection of the on-lookers, even though in Luke it is a different objection. Three of the Gospels record complaints that this as an obscene waste of money. Superficially it appears that Jesus allows himself to be indulged in the lavish display of anointing. It is important however that we look to the imagery behind the incident. Perhaps it’s not about earthly value but an indicator of the extreme, total and maximum value that this woman places on her God. She has given her all. Her love, trust and acceptance of Jesus demonstrated to the max.
As we journey with Jesus in making our approach to this 2016 Easter, do we sit alongside Mary, pouring ourselves out unreservedly to God, or are we more like Judas, who by “counting the cost” is symbolic of us, holding back from total commitment?
May the extreme action of Mary remind us that we are being challenged in our Lutheran schools to show more than superficial commitment to Jesus – we are called to give our max!