We come to Wednesday of Jesus’ Last Week. Tuesday had been a long day, filled with a lot of teaching and a lot of tension. Wednesday begins with Jesus and his disciples at a house in Bethany, the home of Simon the Leper. Bethany was not far from Jerusalem, about two miles or so. We don’t know if Jesus is staying there or simply sharing a meal, but he is there with his disciples and with some other people who have gathered in this home. The focus of the story becomes a woman who is not named.
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.”
The storm clouds are gathering over Jesus. The authorities have managed to convince one of his own followers to hand him over on a trumped-up charge. He is eating in the home of Simon, a leper. By the way, eating at the house of a leper probably would not have cast Jesus in the best light, but he is there. Where else would he be?
An unnamed woman brings an expensive jar of ointment of nard and she breaks it open. Nard had a very pungent smell, somewhere between mint and ginseng. Imagine this scent filling the room as she proceeds to anoint Jesus’ head with the ointment.
A group at the table begins talking, probably loudly asking why in the world is she wasting this ointment. It’s worth about 300 denari, which would be the equivalent of almost a year’s income for the typical laborer. It’s worth a lot of money. Some at the table perceive her to be wasting it. But that is the last thing that she is doing.
Typically, you wouldn’t use this type of nard but she does. Jesus defends her for using it. She gets it, she understands where this week is heading. He says, “let her alone she is anointing my body before its burial. Whereas the disciples don’t understand what he is saying, this unnamed woman does understand. She understands that Jesus will lose his life for his cause, for God’s cause. She acts out of the fullness of her own heart. She was willing to give up everything she had to honor this man. This is why so many refer to this woman as the first Christian. She believes who Jesus is before anyone will discover any empty tomb.
This unnamed woman understands the nature of God, understands what Jesus’ life has been about even when those who have followed him closely do not. She knows that God’s grace is priceless and it is not meant to be stored up. It is meant to be freely poured out, freely shared because it is so abundant. There is enough to go around, there is no need to limit it, no need to place to conditions upon it. Those at the table think that the woman has wasted what is valuable This moment is valuable for the value comes not from what it in the jar, but what happens in this moment between the woman and Jesus. It is a moment of extravagant and unconditional grace.
There is enough. Where God’s grace is concerned there is always enough. As we travel with Jesus on the road to the cross, we are reminded that what is really important is to see the mystery of grace reveled to It is revealed to us every way, in moments large and small. that it is abundant and unconditional. Thanks be to God.