- From Counting the Cost, by Ann Weems
Jesus was at Bethany, a guest of Simon the Leper. While he was eating dinner, a woman came up carrying a bottle of very expensive perfume. Opening the bottle, she poured it on his head. Some of the guests became furious among themselves. “That’s criminal! A sheer waste! This perfume could have been sold for well over a year’s wages and handed out to the poor.” They swelled up in anger, nearly bursting with indignation over her. But Jesus said, “Let her alone. Why are you giving her a hard time? She has just done something wonderfully significant for me. You will have the poor with you every day for the rest of your lives. Whenever you feel like it, you can do something for them. Not so with me. She did what she could when she could—she pre-anointed my body for burial. And you can be sure that wherever in the whole world the Message is preached, what she just did is going to be talked about admiringly.”
- Mark 14.3-9 (The Message)
You may have noticed that for the first time in our Lenten sermon series – The Compassionate Table of Jesus – we have strayed from the gospel of Luke. We have chosen instead Mark’s version of the anointing story. That’s okay, because there are versions of this story in all four gospels (Mark 14.3-9; Matthew 26.6-13; Luke 7.36-50; John 12.1-8). More precisely, we have chosen Mark’s version because of the central meaning around which the story is woven.
The story in Luke is woven around the nature of God’s forgiveness and the love it generates. The woman who is forgiven is a sinner with a greater debt than that of Simon the Pharisee (Pharisees were known for following Torah [a.k.a. Law by Christians] down to the most minute detail). And the greater forgiven debt generates more love.
In Mark, however, the story is woven around a woman who pre-anoints Jesus for his immanent passion. Unlike the disciples who don’t understand the passion even after Jesus tries three times to explain that he will suffer and die (8.31, 9.31, 10.33-34), the woman interrupts the dinner table to anoint Jesus precisely because she understands Jesus’ immanent passion.
Here’s the motivation behind our shift from Luke to Mark. The tables on which we have reflected to this point are tables of feasting that celebrate God’s boundless love, forgiveness, compassion, and grace. We of course love to dine at these tables. But at some point we must reflect on the price they require and the legs on which they stand; the passion of Jesus.
Our Lenten journey to Jerusalem is almost complete. We are rapidly approaching Holy Week. Thus, it is time to recognize that our feasting at the table of compassion must be interrupted by the chilling, agonizing awareness of Passion. We have reached that point.
I hope to see you on Sunday,