Posted by occwebsite
05th Apr 2023

On Wednesday evening of Holy Week Jesus is again in Bethany at the home of Lazarus, Martha, and Mary, where a dinner is given in his honor. During this dinner, Mary brings an alabaster jar filled with rare ointment of pure spikenard worth a year’s wages and anoints Jesus’ head with the entire contents. This is Mary’s extravagant way of acknowledging that Jesus is the Messiah—the anointed King of Israel. Mary seems to be saying it’s time for Jesus to be publicly acknowledged as Messiah—an event that will launch the revolution of God’s kingdom.
But some of the disciples angrily scold Mary for her extravagance, saying, “Why was the ointment wasted in this way? It could have been sold for three hundred denarii, and the money given to the poor.” And let’s be honest, if we weren’t already familiar with this story, we would expect Jesus to agree with the disciples in their rebuke of Mary. We would expect Jesus to say that perfume worth tens of thousands of dollars would be better spent on feeding and clothing the poor than by wasting it on a single moment of outrageous worship. We would be inclined to agree that this kind of worship is a misspent endeavor. But we would be wrong. Jesus defends Mary by calling what she did a beautiful thing. This leaves us with much to ponder.
Is it not true that there is no higher priority than doing good works of justice? Be careful, a devil lies down that road of reasoning. Jesus indeed teaches us to provide for the poor—this is part of the second commandment to love your neighbor as yourself. But the first command is to love God with all of your heart. And I am deeply skeptical that we can in the long-term fulfill the second commandment to love your neighbor as yourself if we are not formed by the first commandment to love God with all of your heart. Justice that is not rooted in the worship of God has no coherent foundation. As Fyodor Dostoevsky warned through his character Ivan Karamazov, “Without God all things are permitted.”
So Jesus endorsed the extravagant anointing that Mary bestowed upon him. He even said that “wherever the gospel is preached in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.” This emphasizes the truth that the gospel is not a salvation formula but the entire story of Jesus. Jesus also mysteriously says that Mary has anointed him for burial, which is certainly not what Mary was intending. Mary thought she was anointing Jesus for coronation, but Jesus says she anointed him for burial. Both are true. Jesus is the anointed King, and his coronation did launch the revolution of God’s kingdom, but it also involved the burial of Jesus, because his coronation came by crucifixion and the revolution came by the cross. This is the gospel that is to be proclaimed in all the world.
Lord Jesus, may we follow the example of Mary of Bethany by wasting our lives on you. And when we are misunderstood and criticized for our extravagant worship, may we remember that you call it a beautiful thing. Amen.
(From “The Unvarnished Jesus” by Brian Zahnd)