Today’s Reading Matthew 26:1-13
WEEK 5: FRIDAY
Time to become a fly on the wall again, this time in a little house just two or three miles east of Jerusalem. If you’re in the old city of Jerusalem first thing in the morning, the chances are that when the sun rises it will come up right through Bethany, the village in question.
The word ‘Bethany’ means, most likely, ‘house of the poor’. There is some evidence that it was a place where some of the poorest people could be cared for. And it was a place where Jesus had close friends, Mary, Martha and their brother Lazarus. On this occasion, though, he was in a different house, that of ‘Simon the leper’ — presumably a cured leper, or he wouldn’t be living in the village at all. Let’s join the gathering and see what happens.
Everyone is excited because it’s Passover time. After what Jesus did in Jerusalem the other day, they’re all wondering what’s coming next. Is he going to make another move? Is he going to give the signal for a serious uprising? He has secret contacts all over the place; are they getting swords and clubs ready for action?
The meal that evening is in full swing, when suddenly one of the women comes in. Normally women didn’t join the men; it wasn’t the done thing. So that’s a shock for a start. But then — you shrink back in embarrassment — she’s bringing a jar full of ointment, and she begins to pour it out, all over Jesus’ head! You smell the delicious aroma, above the various smells of the meal, and you watch the mixture of delight and dismay on everyone’s faces. What a wonderful smell; but what on earth is she up to?
Then some of Jesus’ followers, perhaps expressing complex social discomfort as much as real concern, start complaining. You can see their point. Here we are in a place set aside to look after the poor, and you go pouring out a month’s wages just like that? What can you be thinking about?
There is a pause. The woman looks down, ashamed at being told off and yet still pleased to have done what she did. Everyone waits. There’s only one person who can settle this.
Jesus speaks. ‘What’s your problem?’ he asks. ‘This was a good thing she’s done. As for the poor, there will be plenty of time to look after them; but you haven’t got long to look after me. You know what she’s done? She has prepared my body for burial!’
A horrified gasp goes round the room, but Jesus goes on: ‘Let me tell you this! Wherever the good news is announced, right around the world, what she has done will be told. That will be her memorial.’
Now the emotions are truly mixed. The woman is both thrilled at Jesus’ affirmation and distraught at the mention of burial. People look this way and that. Does he actually mean it? I know he’s been talking about the Son of Man being crucified, but we all assume — or we hope — that that’s just a way of talking about a time of great struggle and suffering. If he is actually going to die, what good news will there be to tell around the world? How does that make any sense?
Jesus may or may not have known, but he will certainly have guessed, that after his actions in the Temple the chief priests would be looking for a chance to kill him. 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.
You are left in a corner of the room with one or two friends, puzzling it over, wondering what to do next. Pause there awhile and listen to what the others are saying. Then imagine that Jesus himself comes over, pulls up a chair, and starts to talk a bit more, to you in particular. What’s he going to say?
Lord Jesus, give us wisdom to understand your strange vocation, and to tell your good news throughout the world.
We would like to thank SPCK Publishing for providing Lent for Everyone by Tom Wright. For more information, please visit their site: http://www.spckpublishing.co.uk/shop/lent-for-everyone-matthew/
Lent for Everyone is a devotional created and written by N.T. (Tom) Wright. For each day of Lent, there is a reading chosen from the Gospel of Matthew, plus a reflection by Wright. These readings have grown out of a project encouraging Lent reading in Northern England. This is the second in a three-volume series based on the Revised Common Lectionary of the Church of England.