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Lent - Day 8

Linda Richardson. Anointing at Bethany. 21st c.



In the first days of Passion Week, Jesus openly taught and acted in Jerusalem. It was the week of the year’s biggest feast, Passover. So the city was swollen with visitors from around the nation and world.  
Jesus did not play it safe. Quite the opposite. He cleared the Temple of money changers. He convicted the religious leaders of rejecting the LORD’s own Son. Jesus not only expected their rejection, he seemed to invite it.  
Opposition grew. Yet so also devotion. So from the business, political and religious sectors, opposition grew intensely. In these responses, we see our own hearts revealed. For we know ourselves to be both resistant and receptive to Jesus, to welcome him and fear him, to desire him and scorn him. 
The week began with Mary of Bethany anointing Jesus’ head and feet. The expensive nard was fit for royalty. Jesus declared her service “a beautiful thing,” preparing him for his burial. The oil and aroma of a king would be upon him through the events of this epic week.  
British artist Linda Richardson writes of her painting, “I love this moment in Holy Week, knowing that Jesus had friends who loved him, touched and honoured his body, shared his life, his food, his laughter and his love. Touch the painting, touch Jesus face and imagine what you would say to him and as you smell the beautiful fragrance. What do you think he would say to you?”

Day 8 Sunday


That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ (1 John 1: 3).


Matthew 26: 6-13
Now when Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, a woman came up to him with an alabaster flask of very expensive ointment, and she poured it on his head as he reclined at table. And when the disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, “Why this waste? For this could have been sold for a large sum and given to the poor.” But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a beautiful thing to me. For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me. In pouring this ointment on my body, she has done it to prepare me for burial. Truly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.”
John 12: 1-8
Six days before the Passover, Jesus therefore came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. So they gave a dinner for him there. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those reclining with him at table. Mary therefore took a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it. Jesus said, “Leave her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of my burial. For the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me.”


Matthew and John give us two perspectives on the same story. We learn from John that the woman who anointed Jesus was Mary, the sister of Martha who had served Jesus a great dinner (Luke 10: 38-42) and the sister of Lazarus, whom Jesus had raised from the dead (John 11). These three seem to have had a unique relationship with Jesus, taking the role of steady friends. When Lazarus was ill, the sisters sent a message saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill” (John 11: 3). The word used is the love of friendship, of brotherly affection. Mary had earlier been praised by Jesus for understanding that “but one thing is necessary” (Luke 10: 42) as she sat at Jesus’ feet listening to his teaching.
This Mary of Bethany is not the same Mary who is the mother of Jesus or Mary Magdalene whom we will engage on Days 36 and 37. This dinner at Bethany seems to be in honor of Jesus for his raising of Lazarus, though it was held at the house of Simon, who had once been a leper. While they were still at table, Mary made her extravagant gesture.  
The ointment could well have been worth a year’s wages. It was a once-in-a-lifetime gift. Once the alabaster flask was broken open, the nard had to be used. This was the kind of anointing a king would receive; the ointment smelled like royalty. The aroma would linger powerfully on the skin for days: through the hours of fear, stress and bleeding. Mary gave Jesus a king’s anointing before he died a criminal’s death. 
The intimacy of touching his head and wiping his feet with her hair provoked the disciples with jealousy, which Judas expressed in a hypocritical concern for the poor. But Jesus called her gift “a beautiful thing.” It was a final, grand gesture of love. Seemingly futile but expressive of the heart.  
So we wonder, “If I knew he would suffer and die within a few days, what would I give Jesus to show him my love and offer him comfort?”


You speak the words of life.
You fill my heart.
You wept at my tears.
You wept for my brother’s death.
You spoke the words that raised him to life.
You are the Lord of life who gives life,
And you are on your way to die.
Though the others do not want to admit it.
I see the strain on your face.
I know the wind rises stronger against you.
I know that you go to meet those who will kill you.
Oh, receive this!
You know you have my heart. Now have this gift.
It is fit for a king. It brings the aroma of royalty.
Its odor will linger through these days.
Breathe it in. Let the pungency rise amidst
The smells of tears, strain and fear, of sweat and blood.
I touch your hair, your head, with this oil.
You do not flinch as I dare to come so close.
I wash your feet with the oil of kings, and 
Give you all glory as I wipe your tired feet with my hair. 
Oh receive this and remember love as you stride into hate.
These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20: 31).