Wednesday – The Anointing at Bethany
While Jesus was in Bethany in the home of a man known as Simon the Leper, a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on his head as he was reclining at the table.
When the disciples saw this, they were indignant. ‘Why this waste?” they asked. ‘This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor.’
Aware of this, Jesus said to them, ‘Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me. When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. I tell you the truth, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.
. . . Wednesday is a quiet day as a cooler wind blows from the Mediterranean and the sky is full of heavy gray clouds. A light rain that fell in the morning has left the wooden joints moist at the home of Simon the Leper and a periodic trickle is heard from the drops of water still falling into the puddles outside the front door.
Given the whirlwind of events and experiences the disciples have seen in the last three days, the casual nature of this day seems to drag on and on, filled with monotony. Peter and Andrew sit next to each other recalling Jesus’ apocalyptic words from the night before. They are still taken aback - never before had Jesus gone so far and for so long with such a gloom-filled voice. Judas also finds himself deep in thought. He sits isolated in a corner, replaying the week in his mind.
Judas was so near to Jesus on Sunday - sensing Jesus’ urgency and willingness to lead the nation of Israel. Now, though, he feels distant . . . and unaware. He wants to speak with Jesus, but a bitter taste still remains from their last conversation. Jesus and Judas seem driven towards different ends. He had asked Jesus if they needed to secure some weapons, hoping to hasten his master’s decision. Jesus merely frowned, told Judas that he still did not understand and turned away. That was yesterday. They had not spoken since.
The only person who remains externally joyful is a small, robust homeowner who gladly plays the role of servant. Simon’s heart overwhelms with gratitude and his hands are busy to spill the joy inside of him. Here, in his home, is the man who returned life to him. He remembers the cool touch of Jesus’ hand wrapping around his wrist – sending fire through his skin and into his chest, a holy touch. He thinks about that touch, occasionally, as he goes about his preparations – nimbly picking out the hot bread from the clay stove, his pink fingers juggling the loaf.
And as he walks into the room with the guests, he remembers how impossible this scene was. Plagued with leprosy and the scorn of society, Simon had given up on entertaining guests. He had begun to curse his own existence - a solitary one devoid of fellowship. Those days were not long ago. Ah, but sweet is the song that Simon whistles between his teeth as he brings a pillow to lay beneath Jesus’ head. He has been healed, his leprosy gone at the mere touch of this gentle man’s hand.
But, this day the merriment of Simon is about to be overshadowed by the gift of an unknown woman who enters silently through the front door. Her entrance is nothing too unnatural. The disciples are accustomed by now to scores of people coming to see Jesus. Sometimes they linger on the outside of their lodging – waiting for him to emerge. Other times, they come in groups, two by two just like the animals walked into the ark. This woman, though, walks in by herself, and the only thing that is unusual is the rather large clay pot she clutches to her side.
Without saying anything, she scans the room. She sees him and moves towards him. Judas watches her and puckers his face as he sees her break the neck of the jar. And as she moves closer towards Jesus, all eyes now land upon her and the sharp scent of spikenard fills their nostrils – an aroma like and unlike either mint or ginseng. And just below their nostrils, the mouths of all – including Simon – are now loose and open. Shocked is not a strong enough word; appalled is more appropriate.
She tilts the jar with her right hand on the bottom of the vessel, and a thick oil streams onto the top of Jesus’ head. He closes his eyes and lets his head roll a bit on his neck. Meanwhile, the crowd’s sense of belief is similarly poured out, and an audible gasp is heard when the woman lets down her hair, stoops at Jesus’ feet, and begins to wipe the excess oil into his calloused feet.
Finally, Judas can stand it no more. He stares at the woman but speaks to Jesus, “Why this waste?” he says curtly. His mind is still on the pressing needs, on the threats looming before them, about the needs of the poor. After all this time with Jesus, Judas’ eyes still do not see; his ears still have not heard.
She sees, though – this unnamed woman who pulls her hair back into a loose bundle behind her head and gathers it with a ribbon at her neck. She knows – knows precisely the manner and make of this man before her. She knows that no gift, no offering, could do justice for the gift he does offer … that he is about to offer. This, her act, is a right sacrifice to be told to all generations.
Gratefulness is the gift she gives to her Savior and pleasure is what fills the mind of Jesus. Gratitude is the emotion found on this day. It is the Wednesday before the dark days of Thursday and Friday and the silent day of Saturday, but already one has prepared Him for glory . . .