THURSDAY, MARCH 31ST
A TIME OF SHARED STRUGGLES
As Holy Week gradually draws closer, we wonder what Jesus may have to say to us today. What will be his story of frustration? How will we share that same struggle? We quiet ourselves to listen as Jesus begins…
While I was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as I 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 my 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 I 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 14:3-9, NRSV, revised*)
As you sit quietly to reflect on his words, place yourself in this setting as the woman who is anointing Jesus (in the book of John, she is Mary, the sister of Lazarus). How do your feelings change as you move from adoring and blessing Jesus, to hearing the words of condemnation from the disciples, and then hearing Jesus assure them of the good you are doing for the world?
In many ways, I can understand the disciples’ confusion. Jesus was always teaching about loving others, about helping and feeding the poor. This woman’s extravagant act of anointing Jesus’s feet – and his acceptance of her kindness – seem out of place. But instead of asking Jesus or Mary for clarification, the disciples immediately become angry and make judgments about the waste in front of them with the need around them.
In our world of strong opinions and critical judgments, we can understand how Jesus and Mary must feel. We try to help someone, but we are criticized for not doing more, or for not choosing another way. We try to resolve or reduce the troubles of our world, but we are informed of all the reasons we cannot. Our actions can be misinterpreted, our intentions can be misunderstood. Here, some of the disciples criticized the woman and Jesus for her act of loving adoration, when she was actually performing the preparations for his burial. There was much more to her act than they could know at that time.
What can we do? Each day, we can seek God’s guidance to do our best, with the resources and information we have, to make a difference for good. And then we can take any resulting judgments, criticisms, and misunderstandings and surrender them (and the critics) to God. I once heard a wise adage to let God be our only audience. If our desire is to please and bless God by all that we say or do, then our intentions and actions will be filled with goodness, integrity, and compassion – despite what others may perceive or misconstrue.
Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. (Philippians 4:8, NRSV)
*The name of Jesus and his pronouns have been adapted by Karen into first-person.