The woman opens a costly jar of oil and pours it over Jesus’ head. The rich perfume of the burial tomb fills the house, ruining everyone’s appetite. What is this wanton waste, this melodramatic display? Surely the Rabbi will be angry with her.
Instead Jesus praises her for her generous gift, confusing his disciples and making them angry. His followers have, up until now, put their own needs below those of their impoverished neighbors, giving away everything, keeping nothing back. Now, suddenly, the Rabbi commends a woman who squanders a huge chunk of her resources on a defeatist symbolic gesture.
It is a story about levels of understanding. Usually the disciples see, as I do, the landscape of ordinary reality. This viewpoint limits us to judging things in terms of our behaviors and categorically declares that some acts are good and others are not so great. From this perspective we might ask, “Giving to the poor, now – isn’t that always the right thing to do? Doesn’t it trump most other activities we could engage in?”
The woman who anoints Jesus does so because she has really, deeply, heard and responded to what he is trying to say to his followers. She has seen the future, and she accepts it. Her enacting this anointing is her affirmation of her Master as he engages his destiny. It is a gift of understanding and compassion.
Doing the right thing is never really the issue. Our behaviors by themselves do not bring us closer to or lead us further away from the kingdom of heaven. The realm of God’s rule is not a set of actions. Instead it is a point of view. What matters is the outlook that comes from that place within us where our ordinary conscious perspective has been swallowed up in God’s. Then we see meanings that would otherwise be hidden, and everything we do reflects a deeper sensibility and purpose.
God, take me beyond my limitations of thinking and experience and make me an instrument of your unfathomable compassion. Amen.
Laurie Gudim is a religious iconographer and liturgical artist, a writer and lay preacher living in Fort Collins, CO. See her work online at Everyday Mysteries.