It was two days before the Passover and the festival of Unleavened Bread. The chief priests and the scribes were looking for a way to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him; for they said, “Not during the festival, or there may be a riot among the people.”
While he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he sat at the table, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very costly ointment of nard, and she broke open the jar and poured the ointment on his head. But some were there who said to one another in anger, “Why was the ointment wasted in this way? For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii, and the money given to the poor.” And they scolded her. But Jesus said, “Let her alone; why do you trouble her? She has performed a good service for me. For you always have the poor with you, and you can show kindness to them whenever you wish; but you will not always have me. She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for its burial. Truly I tell you, wherever the good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.”
Then Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve, went to the chief priests in order to betray him to them. When they heard it, they were greatly pleased, and promised to give him money. So he began to look for an opportunity to betray him.
Possibly the worst feeling in the world is getting bad news. When we hear that someone is sick, or suffering, or struggling with employment, housing, or more, it can be tempting to minimize the revelation, to rush past reflection and move on to a future joy or hope. Certainly, when someone is ill, or worse, someone dies, it is almost guaranteed that the mourning will be inundated with platitudes reminding them that “it will all be okay” or that “God wanted another angel.” We may hate hearing these words, but many of us will admit that we have been tempted to say the same, or similar.
Turns out that, on the road to the cross, the disciples want to rush right past Jesus’ reminders that he will suffer and be killed. They would rather focus on his glory. And so, instead of reflecting on what it would mean for their Teacher to die, they fight over who will be the first when his Kingdom comes. Instead of preparing their hearts and minds for the trials of the Triduum (the three holy days leading up to Easter), they debate which disciples Jesus will choose to sit on his right and his left.
Only this unnamed woman seems to get it. While the disciples are scuffling over future glory and titles, she bends before Jesus and pours nard on his feet. Because while the rest of the disciples grasped for the future, she was reflecting on the present, where Jesus told his disciples again and again, if you want to follow me, you must take up your cross. If you want to become great, you must become a servant. If you wish to be my disciple, you must be willing to die.
No wonder Jesus rebukes the disciples who would scold her. She is the only one who seems truly to have “heard” Jesus. And no wonder we remember her; on the cusp of Maundy Thursday, as Judas would betray Christ and the forces that would kill him gather their strength, she alone pauses to reflect upon what this means.
We who journey towards the Cross with Jesus this week are invited to bow with the woman. We are called to set aside our striving, and instead pick up our cross. To resist the temptation to run to Easter, and instead prepare for Christ’s death. There is much to be done before the tomb is empty, and we who would follow Jesus cannot simply skip over the parts that make us uncomfortable. If we are to embrace Christ, we must take all of him, and we cannot have the cross without everything that comes before it.
A Prayer for Wednesday:
We who would follow you,
We who would serve you,
We who would worship you–
Today we pause and remember the woman who alone acknowledged your Sacrifice.
For on the way to Jerusalem, Your disciples ignored Your warnings, and instead focused on your future glory.
She alone bent down, and, pouring ointment on your feet, prepared your body for death.
She alone listened, heard your call to servant-leadership and served You.
She paused and worshipped while Judas ran and betrayed.
She showed us what it means to be your Disciple when your disciples could not, would not, hear You.
Help us, O God, to kneel with the woman, to pause and acknowledge your sacrifice, and to serve one another as you have served us, so that we too might be called disciples of our Lord.