“Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a beautiful thing to me.” (Matt. 26:10)
The story draws us in on so many levels. Jesus is approaching Jerusalem. It’s the time of the Passover celebration. It’s a time that’s time-honored; crucial to the Jewish faith tradition. But this time Passover will be different.
Throngs of people have made the trek to the Holy City. Sacrifices brought. Sacrifices bought. Matthew shares with us the tension. A time of grandest celebration in the Jewish tradition will end with the greatest tragedy in human history.
Jesus has made known the prediction. He’s going to be given up. Handed over. Sold out. His disciples have been informed. You and I have been informed. But being informed of something and understanding it are often not in sync.
Matthew records that Jesus is yet a short distance from Jerusalem. He’s in Bethany. He has stopped for a while. To rest. To recline at table. To share a meal. To visit his friend, Simon. Simon the Leper.
You and I might assume several things. We can assume that Simon was, indeed, once a leper. Unclean! Marginalized! Cast out! No one would touch him then. Not even with a ten-foot pole! Simon would shout out “unclean”! “I am unclean”! And you and I would have skedaddled out of there and “pretty dang quick”! Headed for the hills! The Law of Moses commanded us to do so. But Jesus didn’t head for the hills. The man of compassion came close when no one else would. He reached out to Simon when all the others pulled away.
When we retreat, Jesus approaches. When we turn away, Jesus turns toward. But that’s the grace-full Master. He gives and heals and blesses and affirms. For Jesus, it’s all about grace.
The tension in the story mounts, for Matthew tells us right away that “she” comes in. Matthew doesn’t tell us who “she” is. He says that “a woman” came up to Jesus. We might assume that in that day and age a nameless woman would be an unknown in the community. Women were considered a rung below the man in the social ladder. “She” doesn’t have a name so we might assume that “she” doesn’t have much “to bring to the table”. But that’s where you and I would be wrong. But not Jesus.
What’s that she has in her hands? That she carries gently, delicately?
It’s an alabaster container. A jar. It’s small, flask-like. You and I know alabaster to be fine-grained and from the gypsum family of soft stone. It’s typically whitish in color. But it is what’s inside that flask that matters. Expensive ointment, perfume of highest quality.
“Now how’d she get that”? Everyone around the dining table would wonder. Everyone except Jesus. He doesn’t waste time with mindless wanderings, misinformed musings, and assumptions. The great grace giver simply sees with the eyes of his heart and trusts good intentions. He’d like us to do the same. But that didn’t happen in Simon’s house that day.
“What on earth is she doing”, the disciples demand as “she” pours the costly, sweet smelling ointment on the Master’s head.
“Preposterous”, they cry.
“What a waste”, they claim indignantly. “We could have sold this oil for big bucks and given it to the poor. That would have been the proper thing to do. Isn’t that right, Jesus”?
Often, when you and I don’t fully understand the language of love, we react as did the disciples. But Jesus understands love. And he affirms those who act in love. He gives them a voice.
“Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a beautiful thing to me.”
Some express love best through physical touch; a hug, an arm around the shoulder, a gentle pat on the hand. They give love and receive love best through the physical touch. Some express love and receive love best through little acts of service and kindness. To some, affirming words hit home the best. And to some, it’s in giving and receiving gifts. I think that gifting was this woman’s language of love. She was a gift giver and a gift receiver. That’s how she loved best. Jesus knows. He always knows. He knows how you and I best give and receive love. And he affirms and encourages us.
While Matthew doesn’t say, I believe that it is safe for you and me to assume that this woman knew Jesus. She knew of his love for the poor and the marginalized, the “no names” of society. He knew of their desire to love and be loved. I believe that this woman understood the sacrifice of giving the way Jesus gives. She understood the magnitude of the gift he was committed to give. He would give his life. To Her. To you. To me. And so, she spoke the only love language she knew. “Give the great gift giver the very best I have to give.” And she did.
And Jesus, who IS perfect love, received the gift. To those whose language of love is gifting, there is nothing better than to have your gift received – with grace. Receiving – with grace- is truly affirming. To those who speak the other languages of love there is nothing better than having the gift of your love received - affirmed - gracefully. Blessed are those who give. Blessed are those who receive.
With Jesus, it wasn’t the value of the ointment that mattered. You and I can assume that the ointment came at a great cost to the woman. But the cost was irrelevant. What counted was the sentimentality in which it was offered. “In pouring this ointment on my body, she has done it to prepare me for burial.” (Matt. 26:12) And Matthew’s Jesus tells us the significance of the gift he gracefully received. And with great affirmation Jesus says; “Truly, wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her. (Matt. 26:13, emphasis mine)
It’s all about grace.