Jesus doesn’t make faith comfortable for anyone. No surprises there. Here he is in today’s story sitting at the table in a leper’s house. The implication being that once again Jesus is showing us who he hangs out with. Leprosy, now known as Hansen’s disease, was not one of those things you messed with and hanging out with people who had the disease was just not done. And here Jesus is, hanging out with someone you weren’t supposed to. It’s a little unexpected. Okay, a lot unexpected.
And then. And THEN. A woman pours out a bottle of expensive perfume over Jesus’ head. REALLY expensive and aromatic perfume. It’s referred to as nard which is derived from the oil of a flowering plant of the Valerian family. Which is found in the Himalayas of Nepal, China and India. This is not something that grows wild in that field across the street that you can go pick a bunch and do anything with.
What’s the most expensive perfume you’ve seen or purchased? Using the numbers that Mark gives us and some estimating, what she poured on his head would have a value of about $40,000 or so in today’s dollars.
Which begs a couple of questions. How many shoes could we provide with an extra $40,000? How many meals at Matt Talbot could we provide with an extra $40,000? How far would $40,000 go in making sure that every young person has a decent vocabulary when they enter kindergarten?
These are the question that the disciples seem to be asking Jesus. These are the questions I’d be inclined to ask, how about you? Jesus’ response then is a little unexpected. He seems to be saying, “It’s fine. Really. We’re good. The poor will be with us always.”
That’s a little unexpected. That’s like trying one of those Pinterest projects and the result being a little different than what the picture on Pinterest looks like. That Pinterest fail thing.
The whole thing is a bit unexpected. I mean, it is one thing to dab a little bit of good smelling stuff on each wrist or a little behind the ears but an entire jar? If Jesus doesn’t get mad about it, if he even appreciates it while noting the poor will be with you always. What does one say about that?
I think Jesus is preparing his followers for what is coming. Jesus wants to get them ready. We know how all this turns out. Jesus makes his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, is betrayed, tried, convicted, and crucified and then is resurrected. His followers don’t know this like we know this.
Not that Jesus hasn’t been telling them. He keeps telling them and keeps telling them. They won’t listen and even respond in odd ways. Remember James and John a few weeks back? Jesus tells them the whole story of betrayal, trial and crucifixion and they respond not by recoiling in horror with weeping and gnashing of teeth but instead they ask him which of them can sit next to him in places of honor.
Jesus has been telling them he’s going to die and now he’s coming near that time. He needs to get their attention and while he probably wouldn’t have suggested pouring $40,000 worth of expensive perfume on his head he doesn’t prevent it either. And he makes a teaching moment out of it.
In Jesus’ day there was a need for something aromatic following a death. Remember Mary’s response when Jesus was going to see Lazarus after he Lazarus had died? Something to the effect of “Master wait, he stinketh”? That’s the point Jesus is going after here. He knows he’s going to be executed and knowing what is needed following a death in those days he’s trying again to make sure the disciples understand what’s coming.
Not in a small way, either. Jesus allows the woman to use all of a jar of a very best perfume because Jesus wants his followers to remember that in the coming days followers he wants all of their very best as well. The coming days aren’t going to be easy but Jesus wants their all. Jesus wants their very best.
So it is with us. Jesus wants us to be ready. Jesus wants our all. Jesus wants our very best. The coming week is a good time to spend some time thinking about that. As we work our way through Holy Week and Christ’s betrayal, crucifixion and resurrection, how are we giving Christ our all? How are we giving Christ our very best?