Here is a third study from our Lent Bible study series. It is to be enjoyed while sitting around a fire roasting some food or by a candle if that isn’t possible. We also had a piece of cinnamon bark for each person. Incase you have missed it you might enjoy this reflection for yourself. You can read an introduction to Lent at the bottom of this page. https://www.ehillschurch.com/sundays-february-april-2/
Photograph by Joshua Earle at https://unsplash.com/
Today we reflect on an incredibly tender and intimate moment in a family home in Bethany, surrounded by friends and family, in the midst of the gathering pace and increasing brutality of events in Jerusalem. Mary’s willingness to be vulnerable to Jesus, to go so far as to break the barriers of convention in the way that unmarried men and women related, freed Jesus to be vulnerable in return and to receive her offering, unwelcome as its implications were. This moment was prophetic: Jesus knew it prepared him for his death, and it was given and received in the context of hospitality that freed them all to experience the joy and the pain involved.
We have a series of reflections to read aloud and reflect on:
Matthew 26:6-13 (New Living Translation)
Jesus Anointed at Bethany
6 Meanwhile, Jesus was in Bethany at the home of Simon, a man who had previously had leprosy. 7 While he was eating,[a] a woman came in with a beautiful alabaster jar of expensive perfume and poured it over his head.
8 The disciples were indignant when they saw this. “What a waste!” they said. 9 “It could have been sold for a high price and the money given to the poor.”
10 But Jesus, aware of this, replied, “Why criticize this woman for doing such a good thing to me? 11 You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me. 12 She has poured this perfume on me to prepare my body for burial. 13 I tell you the truth, wherever the Good News is preached throughout the world, this woman’s deed will be remembered and discussed.”
…The stories in the gospels about the brother and sisters, Lazarus, Martha and Mary, always seem to have something to do with hospitality. .. we get the impression from all the gospel writers that their home was like a second home for him and these were people he knew and loved deeply. They offered their home and their hearts to Jesus on this and previous occasions, and his friends were always included too. This was a home where Jesus clearly felt comfortable, where he could put his feet up and just relax. After all, this is the home where he chose to stay during the last week of his life, walking the couple of miles into Jerusalem each day as he faced the increasing hostility of the authorities and knowing that his arrest and death were likely to be imminent – Thomas, at least, expected Jesus to die in Jerusalem. When we are facing danger or demanding situations we want to be staying somewhere where we are at home amongst friends, and, significantly, Jesus chose this home to come back to each evening.
Jesus is the guest of honour at a very special party given by his dear friends. Recently he raised Lazarus from the dead and this appears to be a thank you dinner for the man who had turned their family life around.
In her poem ‘In the Midst of the Company’, Janet Morley powerfully uses poetic license to recreate Luke’s painting from Jesus’ perspective.
In the midst of the company I sat alone,
and the hand of death took hold of me;
I was cold with secrecy,
and my God was far away.
For this fear did my mother conceive me,
and to seek this pain did I come forth?
Did her womb nourish me for the dust,
or her breasts, for me to drink bitterness?
O that my beloved would hold me
and gather me in her arms;
that the darkness of God might comfort me,
that this cup might pass me by.
I was desolate, and she came to me;
when there was neither hope nor help for pain
she was at my side;
in the shadow of the grave she has restored me.
My cup was spilling with betrayal,
but she has filled it with wine;
my face was wet with fear,
but she has anointed me with oil,
and my hair is damp with myrrh.
The scent of her love surrounds me;
it is more than I can bear.
She has touched me with authority;
in her hands I find strength.
For she acts on behalf of the broken,
and her silence is the voice of the unheard.
Though many murmur against her, I will praise her;
and in the name of the unremembered,
I will remember her.
In the midst of the relaxed atmosphere, Mary takes a pound of perfume and anoints his feet, thus suddenly jolting everyone to attention. Her action is like breaking a very large bottle of Chanel no 5 in a small space: the fragrance from that amount of perfume would be quite overpowering and its value immense, about a year’s wages for the average person. (The pure nard she used was imported from northern India. It may well have been her dowry.) It is sheer extravagance, grateful extravagance, lavished on a loved friend who had restored her brother to life.
The shock lies in the fact she anointed his feet. Had she anointed his head she would have symbolically anointed him as prophet, priest or king, but by anointing his feet she is likening him to a corpse since the anointing of a dead body began with the feet. (She had plenty enough to anoint his whole body. It seems she did anoint more than his head and feet, as Matthew and Mark suggest.)Indeed, the word that is translated “pound” is used again later in John’s gospel when describing the burial spices that Nicodemus gave to be used after Jesus’ death. That is the only other place in the New Testament that the word is used so there’s a deliberate linguistic linking of the two events. So her action carries a devastating mixed message of lavish gratitude and impending death. The meal to celebrate one man’s restoration to life is suddenly and shockingly overshadowed as it becomes also an anticipation of another man’s death.
There is no reason to think Mary knew the full import of what she was doing. The people around Jesus are being caught up in the climax of all of salvation history. They are acting for their own reasons, yet they are players in a drama that they do not understand, doing and saying things with significance beyond their imaginings. “Mary in her devotion unconsciously provides for the honour of the dead. Judas in his selfishness unconsciously brings about the death itself” (Westcott 1908:2:112).
Thoughts in these readings taken from a sermon by The Reverend Canon Rosalind Brown.
This story reminds us of the vulnerability of our God who responds with such appreciation to our individual offerings of hospitality, worship and sacrifice.
We have relationship with this same Jesus. We are a unique relationship in history.
This story also reminds us that each of our homes play a unique part to play in Jesus’ kingdom, we may be unaware of it but our hospitality and unique way of being is important as part of a much bigger picture.
Pick up a piece of cinnamon bark, inhale its fragrance and reflect on these questions:
Consider the things that God enjoys about you. What are some of your unique ways?
We all express our love/devotion to Jesus in different ways, what ways do you enjoy?
Consider what you would like to offer Him from your life at this time, like the perfume poured out.
Just as Mary poured out her financial security, consider the sacrifices/hardships that come with your offerings of love for God.
You may like to place your cinnamon sticks in the fire and then read this Psalm aloud.
Psalm 141:2 (New International Version)
May my prayer be set before you like incense;
may the lifting up of my hands be like the evening sacrifice