“While Jesus was in Bethany in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on his head as he was reclining at the table. When the disciples saw this, they were indignant. “Why this waste?” they asked. “This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor.” Aware of this, Jesus said to them, “Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me. When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. Truly I tell you, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.” (Matthew 26: 6-13 NIV)
There is so much going on in this passage. So much. I imagine you could preach on it every year, just before Easter, and find new things to say even after 25 years. Why am I writing about it today, then? Well, it is half term, which means my daughter is off from school; it’s also reading week at college, which means I’ve potentially got space for extra studying this week. Yet, as anyone who has raised small children or knows anyone who has raised small children will know, that isn’t quite how it works.
I am not begrudging my just turned 4-year-old time with mummy, especially as quality time with mummy is actually quite hard to come by at the moment. Plus she’s about to go through all sorts of changes with starting school, then moving house some time next year, so I figure mummy time is important. Sensibly, I’ve enjoyed time with her doing different things each day, while I’ve also allowed a bit of time each day to get some work done. However, it’s now Thursday evening and I’ve spent the whole afternoon trying to do work to no avail.
At one point I had to be quite firm with her, as I had reached the limits of how many times I can be interrupted while I try to read my book. Realising that I wasn’t getting into the flow with the book (The Joshua Delusion for anyone who cares), I thought I’d spend some time on my talk for this Sunday’s All Age service. No problem, I thought foolishly. Once again, in she trots to miaow at me. Literally. She just stand next to me making cat sounds. Cute, right? Except now I have to start again. Again. So I’m cross. And actually, it’s unnecessary for all sorts of reasons but mainly because she hasn’t actually done anything wrong.
I apologise. We cuddle. She’s ok again. Yet I’m still cross. Why? Because my husband (saint in our daughter’s eyes) is sat upstairs able to just get on with doing his work. And in that moment, my heart burns with jealous anger. “Well of course daddy is beloved in this house! He never has to tell her to go away because he’s doing work!” I mutter. I’m then torn; I know I have a choice to make. I can continue to be annoyed and embittered. Or I can calm down. But how? How can I let it go (ironic, as that’s the song that’s blasting in the living room right now), when I’m feeling hard done by?
I remember, and know, that turning to God ALWAYS helps. I decide to read the Bible, largely because it means I can sit down, put my feet up and drink a cup of tea at the same time. And I don’t have to utter a word or a thought. So I open the pages of my Bible to Matthew 26, and read of Jesus being anointed in Bethany, shortly before he is betrayed, trialled and crucified.
What do I find there? This beautiful image of a woman, unnamed, willing to undergo public humiliation by doing something ‘foolish’: pouring away invaluable, expensive perfume. For what? Some man. The reaction of those present? Absolute astonishment and anger. “This could have been sold and the money put to better use!” they cry. They have a point. Jesus had spent his ministry up until this point teaching people to look after the poor. And yet, his reaction is of astonishment and anger too, but not to the woman. Instead he is dismayed by his friends’ response.
You see, in their response they say to the room, “Jesus, you’re not worth it. Jesus, you’re not worth this lavishing of perfume. Jesus, you’re not worth this anointing before your death.”
Whereas, the woman’s act says loudly and clearly, “Jesus, this is how much I think you’re worth. Jesus, you’re worth this costly perfume. Jesus, you’re worth more than what the world values. Jesus, you’re worth this act of devotion. Jesus, you’re worth me pouring away what I own.”
As I sat reading the passage, I pondered how in that moment I hadn’t only been cross with my daughter and my husband. I’d also been annoyed by my present circumstances: that I have no choice but to work from home and actively ignore my daughter, when I’d much rather say to her, “Stuff my work! I want to spend time with you.” Yet, what does this say of how I value Jesus? How I value his death? How I value his sacrifice? For a moment – just 10 minutes or so – my heart cried out loudly, “Jesus, you’re not worth it. You’re not worth the late nights and the early mornings. You’re not worth the time away from my daughter. You’re not worth this feeling of resentment towards my husband. You’re not worth it.”
Yet the woman’s actions and Jesus’ response show us that following Christ is the only option that is worth it; pouring out our whole lives for him is all we can do. So, my cup of tea is empty, but my heart is filled afresh, as I am reminded that following Jesus’ call on my life sometimes means pouring something away which the world calls valuable. Because he is worth it. And that’s worth remembering.