A mid-Holy Week meditation from Walter Wangerin:
It was now two days before the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread. And the chief priests and the scribes were seeking how to arrest him by stealth and kill him, for they said, “Not during the feast, lest there be an uproar from the people.” And while he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he was reclining at table, a woman came with an alabaster flask of ointment of pure nard, very costly, and she broke the flask and poured it over his head. There were some who said to themselves indignantly, “Why was the ointment wasted like that? For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor.” And they scolded her. But Jesus said, “Leave her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you want, you can do good for them. But you will not always have me. She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for burial. And truly, I say to you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.” (Mark 14:1-9)
What a blessed contrast you make to the rulers in Jerusalem! They would preserve their power; you came with no power at all. They vaunt themselves; you have-except for one remarkable characteristic-no self at all.
What is your name that I might address my praise to you? I don’t know. Were you someone’s mother? I don’t know. Were you old, bent by years of experience? Were you a prostitute? Or else, praiseworthy for purity and virtue? Were you poor, the ointment an impossible expense for you? Or rich, with easy access to a hundred such flasks? I don’t know. Mark never says. I know nothing about you save this: that you anointed the head of my Lord.
Ah, but that’s enough to know! That deed alone is your identity, your entire being: your self. It memorializes you forever. “What she has done,” says Jesus, “will be told in memory of her.” Woman, now you are that deed, neither more nor less than that deed. I marvel at you. I pray God that I might do-and therefore be-the same.
For what was your gesture? An act of pure love for Jesus particularly. It was an act so completely focused upon the Christ that not a dram of worldly benefit was gained thereby. Nothing could justify this spillage of some three hundred days’ wages, except love alone. The rulers who sought to kill Jesus were motivated by a certain reasonable logic; but your prodigality appears altogether unreasonable-except for reasons of love. The disciples, in fact, were offended by an act that produced nothing, accomplished nothing, fed no poor, served no need. They reproached you as a wastrel.
They were offended by the absurd, an act devoted absolutely to love, to love alone.
But Jesus called it “beautiful.”
Who else anointed our High Priest, as priests should surely be anointed in office? Who else anointed our King, the son of David? Who else anointed the body of our Savior for burial? No one but you. I don’t know that you consciously recognized these offices of the Lord; but love instinctively sees the truth. Love enhances and names in truth. No one else anointed him and by that gesture declared him Messiah, the Christ. The act, therefore, was more than beautiful. It was rare and rich with meaning.
And since the act is all there is of you, since humility has reduced you to this single thing alone and now you are no more nor less than your love for the Lord, you yourself are beautiful and rare and rich with meaning.
You are the beauty of faithful loving.
To those who do not truly love, you will ever be ephemeral or else an offensive. either a shadow or an idiot. To me you are a model. You gave up all; you became nothing at all save love for the Lord; and exactly so are you remembered. Here, “wherever the gospel is preached in the whole world,” is love’s monument.
You, nameless, anonymous, lovely indeed: thank you.
Jesus, I love you, I love you!
Cleanse me of anything that is not love for you, even though the world will think me preposterous and my friends-some of whom are your disciples-will not be able to make sense of me. You are all the sense and meaning I need. I love you.
[from Reliving the Passion (Zondervan, 1992), pp.42-44]