Reading Time: 7 Minutes
In recent blog articles, I have used an imaginary narrator to tell the story. This person has traveled with Jesus from Galilee and had been present for what took place in the Temple complex and on the Mount of Olives.
Jesus and his disciples were still meeting on the Mount of Olives, when the narrator heard Jesus say, “You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified” (Matthew 26.2).
The narrator continues: This was the fourth time that I heard Jesus talk about his death on the cross. His arrest and execution did not take him by surprise, but it still seemed impossible to all of us even though he kept talking about it.
I remember every Passover celebration since the time I was a little child. We celebrated Passover and remembered how God delivered our people from slavery. It was then that God made us his special people. What I didn’t know was that this Passover would be the most earth shaking event in my life. But not only for me, it would have significance for every person on the earth.
A Plot Against Jesus
After Jesus had spoken to his close followers, we broke up our gathering and settled in to rest and reflect on all that he had said. I heard a couple of very reliable men talking about something that disturbed me greatly.
They said that people who ruled the religious establishment in Jerusalem were making plans to arrest Jesus and to kill him (Matthew 26.3-5).
After a few hours of much needed rest, Jesus and group of about 20 men and women began walking down a path to the road below. I wasn’t part of that group of his closest followers, but out of curiosity I decided to tag along.
At the base of the Mount of Olives, we took Jericho Road and walked the three miles to Bethany. When we got there, I was able to situate myself by a window at Simon’s house. A lot of people call him “Simon the leper,” because he had previously been a leper, but had been healed by Jesus.
The group crowded into his house to eat with some of the women serving. There was a woman like me, who had walked with the group from the Mount of Olives. I thought she would stand outside and watch the dinner party like I was doing.
I turned my head and she was no where to be found. Then, as I looked through the window, I saw her approach Jesus. She broke open a jar of ointment that would have cost an average person a full year’s wages. I was surprised beyond words when she poured it on Jesus’ head.
I didn’t know what to think. Was she anointing Jesus as the Messiah? If she was, who did she think she was performing that act! If anybody should anoint Jesus, Peter should have been the one to do it.
We all had heard Jesus talk about the possibility of his crucifixion just a few hours ago while we were on the Mount of Olives. Was she trying her best to give him a good burial? If so, it was strange to do that before he had died?
My thoughts were interrupted by the harsh words of the disciples. They said, “Why this waste? For this ointment could have been sold for a large sum, and the money given to the poor” (Matthew 26.8-9).
To tell the truth, I agreed with them. This morning Jesus had told us about the last judgment and that care for the poor was a sign of a righteous person (Matthew 25.37).
I was very surprised to hear what Jesus said to his disciples. He said, “Why do you trouble the woman? She has performed a good service for me. For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me” (Matthew 26.10-11).
His words really made me think. Everything Jesus said seemed to indicate that he thought his end was near. I wondered if the woman believed his death was to be soon. Maybe, she did the only thing she could do for the man who had changed her life? Possibly, that was it.
Then Jesus told us that what I was thinking was right. He said, “By pouring this ointment on my body she has prepared me for burial. Truly I tell you, wherever this good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her” (Matthew 26.12-13).
I love how Jesus always said that the “last will be first and the first will be last” (Matthew 19.30; 20.8, 16). This woman was like me, a nobody. None of us knew her name, but she was the one to anoint Jesus for his burial and Jesus said that the whole world would know about her act of love.
After the meal was over, we walked back to the Mount of Olives. Even though I was not one of the close followers of Jesus, they made sure I had something to eat.
I learned much later that Judas had slipped away from the dinner and met with the religious authorities. I was told that he got paid quite a lot of money to betray Jesus to them (Matthew 26.14-16).
The Best and Worst of Humanity
It is not accidental that the anointing of Jesus in Bethany is sandwiched between two stories of severe opposition. These stories warn us to beware of own worst character traits.
The religious leaders were experts in the Scriptures. I am confident that they knew them better than I know the Bible. Unfortunately, they had a head full of knowledge and a heart full of pride, power and hate.
Judas had the privilege of walking with Jesus on a daily basis. He learned at the feet of the greatest Teacher of all. He witnessed one miracle after another. He is a prime example of the person Jesus described when he said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven” (Matthew 7.21).
Where did they go wrong? Where can we go wrong? I don’t know about Judas, but I am convinced that the religious leaders wanted to hold on to their power at any cost. They were willing to deceive, manipulate, and even kill to keep their privileged positions of power.
Lord Acton wrote to Bishop Mandell Creighton in 1887, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.”
We should take the actions of Judas and the religious authorities as a warning to hold any power that we have lightly. We also should beware of those who attempt to manipulate their followers to grant them more power.
The unnamed woman is the perfect person to imitate. Her faith in Jesus was so strong that no gift was too great to bestow on him. She crossed social and gender boundaries to honor Jesus and no one could stop her.
The perfume of her devotion covered Jesus’ head. The fragrance, also, filled the entire home. When men and women give Jesus their devotion, Jesus is blessed. However, the effect of that act produces an attractive fragrance that is experienced at home, at work and at play.
Dear Jesus, we worship you today. We ask that you help us to love you with all that we have. Please sound a great warning, when we use our power in ways that do not reflect your love.