Matthew, Mark and John all relate the story that happened in Bethany, two days before Passover. A woman anoints Jesus’ head with fragrant oil. Matthew and Mark wrote that they were at the house of Simon. John mentions the same story as taking place at Lazarus’ house with his sister Mary as the woman. The validity of the Bible is sometimes questioned due to conflicting stories like this one. But in human relationships, confusion and conflict are more typical than consensus. The Bible is essentially the human story, from God’s perspective. Christ came to wake up and re-direct His people. The days around His death and resurrection were confusing times for those nearest to Him. They use different details, but the message is the same.
N.T. Wright mentioned that Bethany means ‘house of the poor,’ where the poorest people received care. Women did not typical join men who were gathered, other than to serve. Thus this woman’s presence, and her extravagant use of costly oil, was shocking to the disciples. Yet Christ elevates the woman’s thinking as more correct than the men. As a modern woman, that makes me smile. But it was revolutionary in first century Israel. Jesus lifted the worshipful, serving believer, over the calculating follower. He saw to the heart of their intentions.
Christ’s message of service speaks to me. I feel called to serve in many areas; but I can get bogged down in measuring the costs. I enjoy cooking for a party, but the mundane chore of making dinner feels like drudgery. Yet when I see this job as a service for Christ; my burdens are lightened. They become gifts and opportunities for me to share Christ’s Love. His Spirit gives me grace to rejoice in my blessings however they are disguised. When I give my best effort, my work becomes worship.
The woman was focused on worshiping her Lord with priceless oil; her best gift. The disciple was focused on the cost. His anger was practical in the world’s view. The cost of the ointment could have bought food for many hungry people and more supporters to their cause. After Jesus’ triumphal entrance into Jerusalem, and his actions at the temple, the disciples were eagerly awaiting the climax of Christ’s story. They couldn’t imagine that God’s Son would give up His life or die. As N.T. Wright states, “ What none of the disciples yet realized is that, for Jesus, this was not only the direct and foreseeable result of his whole kingdom mission. It was the means by which that mission would be accomplished.”
Christ tries to explain and commend the woman for her faithfulness when he says: ” It’s a lovely thing, what she’s done for me. You always have the poor with you, don’t you. But you won’t always have me…wherever this gospel is announced in all the world, what she has just done will be told.”
He reminds them of his coming death and prophesizes that they will take His message to the whole world. His death would not just change Israel. He knows it will transform the world. Service for its own sake will always continue, and does not change circumstances. Service for Jesus transforms those who serve and those who are served.