For a people who are encouraged by scripture not to stand in judgement over others we in the Church have somehow managed to get really good at it haven’t we. We look at what others do, especially those in other Churches, traditions or demoninations and we call them on all sorts of things that they ‘do’ wrong in our eyes. “Well of course I wouldn’t lead, be, act, talk, like that” we say.
Church leaders and ministers are no exception. “Well of course they’re doing good work but I don’t know how they can justify that new building, I’d much rather spend that sort of money on mission or feeding the poor”
We never stop to think that the thing or the people we are criticising is the result of careful and prayerful thought, that the gift they are giving is one that has cost them dear. We tend to just see the situation for it’s monetary or it’s face value. It’s good to know as we read of these last few days of Jesus’ life that this is not something unique to us in the 21st Century – that the disciples felt and spoke that way too.
We see this when Mary, for that is who we believe the woman in this passage to be anoints Jesus with oil. The disciples are appalled. Imagine what could have been done with something of such worth. Imagine what we could have done with the money if she’d sold that and give the proceeds to us. It’s not what I would have done. Jesus rightly rebukes them. It is not for them or us to criticise what others give in worship.
And what a gift. Although valuable this gift is not about the cost of the perfume. This git is not about the value it could have received on the open market.It’s a gift that strikes to the very core of what Christ is about to do.
This perfume, often thought to be Nard, is not just valuable, in an age where Personal Body Odour was an normal fact of life, it was a powerfully strong and potent fragrance. As Jesus is being prepared for his trial, torture and death he is drenched in this gift of love and devotion. It is in his hair, his beard, his clothes. It soaks into his skin and his held there by his garments. At first the smell would be intense, over the next couple of days it would gently dissipate as he walks through the dirt, dust and grime of the city. As he sweats in the heat and under the glare of the Cheif Priests and the governor. As he’s dragged from palace to palace to face the authorities, as he is beaten and tortured as blood and water flow mingling with the sweet potent scent.
In the end, as he hangs dying on the cross, as the full weight of humankind’s failings and flaws bear down on him this fragrance will remain, perhaps no more than a feint trace in and through is final breaths. A reminder of the love and devotion of the giver, a reminder of the King he is and in that a reminder of the importance of what he endures.
What a gift. If only I had something of such worth to offer.