Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.
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.” --Mark 11:1-11; 14:3-9 (NRSV)
In all of scripture, to anoint - to engage in the act of anointing - occurs at three different occasions.
First, as we heard in both our readings from 1 Samuel and Psalm 20, the act of anointing happens when a new king is crowned. Perhaps, that’s how it is being used here. After all, we just heard the story of Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey - the way in which all of Israel’s kings would have begun their reign.
And then there’s the cry of the people, as Jesus enters the city. They cry out, “Hosanna!” Hosanna. This complex word with a double meaning. Praise Him! And...save us! So, at first blush, this anointing by this unnamed woman in our text must be the signal that there is a new king for Israel. And a new kingdom.
A second occasion in which one is anointed comes out of the deep Jewish tradition of hospitality. A tradition in which no expense is spared in caring for one’s guest. Perhaps this is the occasion here. After all, this unnamed woman anoints Jesus with oil that has cost her a year’s salary. It is an extravagant gesture on her part. So extravagant that, in fact, the other guests become critical. “Couldn’t she have sold the oil and given the money to the poor?” they exclaim. After all, in another gospel, we learn that the amount of money she has spent on this sweetly perfumed ointment would have fed a population of 7,500 poor - the equivalent of seven months of food for our food pantry. Yet, Jesus acclaims her. And her extravagant devotion. To him.
Then, there’s the third occasion for anointing. Which is for burial. Where family members - mostly women - gather together. And lovingly wash their dead. And then rub beautifully scented oils into the body of their loved one. For the last time.
This is how Jesus views the act of this unnamed woman. One who remains unnamed in our story and yet, as Jesus has promised, has now been acclaimed for over 2,000 years. Jesus views her extravagant act as the preparation for his burial. Which will take place after his own extravagant act. An extravagant act of humility and sacrifice. An extravagant act of acquiescence and obedience. An extravagant act of love. For you. And me. And for all people.
In this time of pandemic, as we are all re-examining our priorities and shedding those that no longer seem right, and as we move into this holiest of weeks, may we once again hear the story of God’s extravagant act of love in Christ. And may we, like the unnamed woman, respond with our own act of extravagant devotion. Amen.
Preached April 5, 2020, at Grace & Glory Lutheran Church, Goshen, KY.
Readings: Mark 11:1-11; 14:3-9; 1 Samuel 10:1; Psalm 20:6-9