While he was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head.
Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, “Why this waste of perfume? It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor.” And they rebuked her harshly.
“Leave her alone,” said Jesus. “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial. Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”
Then Judas Iscariot, one of the Twelve, went to the chief priests to betray Jesus to them. They were delighted to hear this and promised to give him money. So he watched for an opportunity to hand him over.
There is so much to do.
We’re grabbing overcooked burgers through drive-through windows because we haven’t been food shopping in two weeks, and we feel greasy and tired and we know that reason our bodies feel so terrible is because we aren’t sleeping properly, and because we’re eating food while walking in between meetings and work and trying to do something good for the world.
Our time is so valuable, and we’re counting it like pennies at the cash register.
Let me tell you, stupid, that we here are all of little faith only from carelessness, because we haven’t time; things are too much for us, and, in the second place, the Lord God has given us so little time, only twenty-four hours in the day, so that one hasn’t even time to get sleep enough, much less to repent.” – Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov
There is so much we have to do for the world. The world is suffering, struggling to be freed and aching to be healed. I drove through an underpass in downtown Atlanta tonight, rows of sleeping bags during the first really frigid night of the season. I drove right through. I started calculating in my head which days I could serve somewhere, pulling up names of all my friends doing ministry in the city, Facebook messages I could send, text messages I could pop off.
And meanwhile, the laundry is undone. All I have in my fridge is leftover fruit that I scavenged from the remnants of an event at my tavern, and condiments: low sodium soy sauce, dill pickles.
One hasn’t even time to get sleep enough, much less to repent, Dmitri complains to his monk brother in The Brothers Karamazov.
One hasn’t even enough time to properly care for oneself, let alone care for the world!
Scriptural hindsight is 20/20, but I don’t think there are many of us that wouldn’t be with the bustlers in the Gospels. If Jesus stepped in, sat down on your couch in between the unfolded laundry and the laptop with the half-edited manuscript that was due yesterday, I think you would hustle with Martha to tidy up and present something worthwhile to Him and to the world.
I think we would join the people in the corner of Simon’s house, too. Shocked that $25,000 worth of oil was used for some kind of an aesthetic religious statement. Some of the horror is self-righteous. But some of it is earnest concern. We’ve been using our precious time and money for the good of the world, because Jesus told us to. When Jesus accepts this gift, it doesn’t fit our Jesus who turns over money changers’ tables in the holy place. It doesn’t fit our Jesus who yelled at religious leaders for tithing but not caring for the poor.
Oh boy do I have opinions about people who do not use their gifts or time or money or life for the world the way that I would. The way that everyone should.
“Leave her alone,” Jesus says. “Why are you bothering her?”
Leave her alone.
This moment is sacred.
Nard was used for sacred moments. To anoint the dead. To anoint a king. To anoint a bridegroom before he was married.
This woman that Jesus defended, that doesn’t have a name, wasted this physical gift with a tangible dollar amount. It could have helped the world. She used it for anointing.
She used it to name the Sacred.
She anointed her king.
She anointed the Crucified God for burial.
She anointed her Bridegroom.
We are so busy doing, acting, moving, fixing, that it’s hard to get our attention. The recklessness is all that can catch our eye, point us to the Sacredness that we push past in “practical” life. The shock to our system, icy water to a warm body, is all that can start our heart again.
People in the corner demand that everything is quantified and qualified, that either we’re pietists or activists, that either we are in the mud with Jesus healing the sick or we’re on a mountain examining our navels. If the active life is good than the contemplative life is bad. Everyone wants an either/or.
Dusty from a long walk across the country, where he healed and preached and fed the people, Jesus is anointed.
Without the anointing, without the reminder that Jesus is both/and, human and More Than, not just our liberator but also our Bridegroom, without the foolish, reckless, unquantifiable moment of naming the Sacred in that living room –
what are we, without it?
Christ anointed, for death, for rule, as our true Love, is the heartbeat of our lives.
Time for the Sacred, some days, feels reckless, wasted, pouring productivity into a void. For what purpose. For what good end. For what reason.
Because there are aches in us that run deeper than our bodies. And there are aches in the world that run deeper, too.
Your time with Jesus, touching, tasting, seeing that the Lord is good, is not a waste of your precious resources. Or perhaps it is a waste.
It’s a sacred waste, a reckless anointing of the Sacred moments that we keep typing and walking and breathing our way through without ever wondering what glory is right on the edge of our awareness, waiting for us to stop, to look.
The nameless woman made them all stop, look.