Thursday, August 30, 2012


About a month ago, give or take a few weeks, I sat in the smack middle of a river of unknown-ness.  I was being washed over and felt myself drowning in the uncertainty and helplessness of it all.  The entire situation so far outside of my influence I could literally do nothing but pray.  Long.  And hard.  With urgency and fervor and reverence that has been so lacking of late in my audience with the Almighty.  Not that intimacy nor familiarity are bad in and of themselves; quite the opposite, in fact.  Jesus calls his followers friends and God’s desire is a deep, intimate relationship with each one of us.  However, my summer has been the fisheye lens of Job-esque reverence.  The absolute need to recognize exactly who is sovereign over my circumstance.

It was then that the kids had gone over the mountains and through the woods; the Officer was in the forest, unreachable and distant.  And I was quite alone, with the exception of my blind lab-velcro-ador.  And God.  Through this repast, I came to a place of genuine listening; not my typical, I’m going to toss up what I need for the day and hope the answer either falls into my coffee cup or literally opens my bible and yells directly at me mode of “hearing from God.”  I really listened; because, quite frankly, it was all I could do.  The house was hauntingly quiet; and I was suffocating under a veil of forced silence.

I had a Jerry Maguire moment; the this-isn’t-a-memo-it’s-a-mission-statement kind.  In the pressing quiet, I penned a personal manifesto.  A new mode of being who I am, with a right focus, and intentional purpose.  A way of living that would be completely different from the way I was surviving.  I typed it out.  I artfully placed it in my journal.  I read it every day the kids and Officer where gone.  And upon their return, I promptly fell back into routine.  Not all the way back, mind you; but far enough that I’d forgotten most of what I’d written.  I had the principles, the ghosts of the ideas, floating about.  But with the distractions that come with family and decisions and these situations overtaking my days, I lost what I had so vehemently purposed just a few weeks prior.

But God’s timing is always perfect.  I was thumbing back through my journal today; and there it was, as artfully displayed as ever.  And the words shone with new intensity, particularly in light of this week.  You see, dear reader, while you are reading this installment on Thursday, I am writing it on Monday (no, not future Monday… Monday past).  I know this week will require more prayer than before; more energy, more attention.  Thus I’m writing to you in anticipation of what’s coming.   [And if you know me, then you know how out of character planning is.]  I will be taking these next five weeks (the Tuesdays and Thursdays thereof) to share with you my manifesto for my new life.   My outline for a life in Christ that is honoring to God, compassionate towards others, grounded in Scripture, girded with prayer, and centered on Jesus Christ.
Join me, won’t you?  My prayer is that you might also be blessed with a renewal of spirit, find ways to apply my lessons to your life in Christ.  Perhaps even discover that you’re not as alone in your struggles as you think.  And pen your own manifesto in the process. 

For now, dear one, I will share with you the first line of my manifesto, that you might know my heart:

I am a new creation in Christ. 

The old has died and the new has come. 

I commit to walking obediently and faithfully

in my new identity

as Beloved,

as Chosen,

as Daughter.



Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Joyfully attending the mourners

I have spent the past two weeks examining how joy can look through trials.  And I have landed where one should, when seeking this truth in scripture: God is sovereign.  Over both the good and the bad.   

Thus today, I will end this mini-series with a note for anyone who is not in time such as I, those who are dancing in the bright and open spaces.  Those who find themselves reveling in goodness.  For them, we look at Job’s friends and we can discern how to joyfully attend one who mourns.

Read: Job 2:1-13, 4:1-6:26
In Job’s case, the mourning we see is literal.  All his family, save his wife, has died.  His fortune decimated [which in that time and without children to attend him, made him a drain on society and even lower on the social food chain than widows and orphans]; his health suddenly deteriorated so that his is physically miserable every waking moment and unable to find respite in sleep.

Job’s friends, as is likely fitting when we look at chapters 4 through 6, get a bad rap more often than not.  And with our hindsight, with our knowledge of the end of Job’s story, it is easy to pin the moniker of “bad friend” on them.  However, we must examine their actions in sequence.  One of my favorite moments in the early chapters of Job comes in chapter 2, verses 11 through 13.  Job’s friends hear about what all has happened to him.  And they are compelled to go to him.  And comfort him.  And when they see him, they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights, because they see how great his suffering is. 
There is something in each of us that pulls us to our loved ones when they’re hurting.  An urgent feeling of needing to be where they are.  Not for any particular purpose, but to lend comfort with our physical proximity.  Job’s friends heed this, and go to where he is, to simply be there with him in his pain.  Once they are there, they don’t utter a word for seven days or nights.  They know there is nothing they can say to pierce this pain.  Words are too flimsy and whatever they might say at this point would only serve to undo whatever comfort their presence has brought.  Attending Job in silence is the only thing they can do.  And it is enough.    

I find that this is the mark of a good friend.  Someone who can show up, uninvited, and just be.  Someone who listens if the mourner is ready to speak, and waits if the mourner is not.  Someone who, with their physical proximity to the situation, validates the pain of the mourner; whose presences says, “This hurts.  And it’s okay that it does.”  These are the types of friends we all need; the type we should be.     
Yet there are times in life when one’s mourning may not seem as warranted.  You might find a friend mourning the loss of a dream [career, house, opportunity, fill in the blank].  And it might seem foolish to grieve, even slightly, for something they never had.  You may, in light of whatever situation you encountered, be tempted to list all the things that are right in their life at that time; trying to call their mind to blessings and set them in a spirit of thankfulness.  But we are not the arbiters of pain, of what hurts whom, nor how much.  Our duty, as friend and Christ follower, is to mourn with those who mourn; and to rejoice with those who rejoice.  To not pass judgment on what should or shouldn’t hurt, or how much, or for how long.  And to check every word that you think should come out of your mouth before you spew it.  Yes, there will be times when you can impart truth into a life in desperate need of it.  But carefully measure your words; because the ill-timed comment or the thoughtless lesson can do more damage and cause further separation [at least initially] than loving silence. 

Thus we can look to Job for our times of sorrow.  We can find that regardless, God is sovereign.  And in Job’s friends, we can see how to love a friend through their trial…and how not to as well.         


Friday, August 24, 2012

How to rest

Read: Job 2 [note: 11-13], and 2 Samuel 12 [note: 15-17]

Something we talk about when we’re frazzled; in seasons of busyness and full-throttle forward-motion.  Something we ascribe to monastics, to clerics, to desert-dwelling mothers and fathers of the faith.  Something a bit lost in mainstream evangelicalism.  For, no matter the circumstances, we are to wear ourselves out with service.  Whatever trial we’re in, we either need to be serving our way through it; or teaching from it.  There are great lesson of faith and perseverance tucked into our trials, to be sure.  And each is a testament to God’s great and abiding love and faithfulness.  Certainly, others who are walking a similar road can benefit from our experience, when told in the spirit of transparency, so that God may be glorified, even in the midst of the storm.    
Yet, in times of difficulty; times when the path you’re on is failing to rise to meet your feet, when you want the conductor of the rollercoaster of your days to stop it so you can recover your equilibrium, when the waiting has stretched you so thin that it feels like there is nothing of you left, in those times, are we supposed to try to serve and give?  Or are we meant to rest and to be attended to?

In the second chapter of Job, we find that not only has he lost his fortune, his children, and his health, but his wife has basically abandoned him as well.  [When a loved one’s advice is, “curse God and die,” I don’t think they’re emotionally or spiritually present with you anymore.]  But Job doesn’t get up and start preaching to her, trying to show her the folly of her words.  Instead, he sits.  His friends come to visit him, knowing he needs support.  But Job doesn’t jump up and play the host.  They sit with him in his mourning; and he doesn’t move.  He rests solely in the truth with which he had answered his wife, “Shall we accept good from God and not trouble?”  Job rests in the fact that no matter the situation, God is sovereign over all. 
In the twelfth chapter of 2 Samuel, we find David, confronted with his sin [stealing another man’s wife, having her husband killed, and then marrying the woman he seduced] by the prophet Nathan.  David admits his sin, yet still his son is struck ill.  David stops all activity, spending nights lying on the ground in sackcloth [remember, he’s the king] and pleading with God.  His servants stand at the ready to help him to his feet.  But David doesn’t move.  Though he’s crying out for intervention, he is also resting in God’s sovereignty; knowing that the outcome of his situation is entirely in the Lord’s hands.

Neither men relent in their rest.  They don’t eventually go back to work; they don’t preach from their pulpit of ash and misery.  They wait.  They cry out.  They rest in the fact that God is in control.  For one, things eventually turn out more joyously than they began; for the other, they ended with death.   But the truth is that God is sovereign over both the happy and sad endings. 

God is God.
A friend recently illuminated that I was in such a season.  But, I argued with her as I had already with God, I need to be doing something.  I can’t just sit.  Not with all that I’ve been given; not with all that’s at stake for so many.  I have to do something.  She smiled with gentle warmth and proffered, “Might this not be what you’re supposed to be doing right now?  Learning to rest?”

It’s certainly not the rest of Sabbath; a joy-filled worship-full repose beside still waters.  Yet, it is a rest from the daily busyness and rushing.  It is restful for my spirit to spend more time in prayer, more time in the word, more time with God.  So perhaps the waiting is the purpose, so that I [or David or Job or even you, dear one] may draw nearer to God.  And that we might all rest in His sovereignty.           

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Recognition of Joy: the in-between spaces

Read: Psalm143

In Psalm 143, we once again find David, the man whom God hand-picked as king, crying out to the Lord.  David, amid armies who sought his destruction.  David, who seems never to be far from an audience with the Lord.  Again, David is crying out for God to save him, to rescue him from his enemies, to place his feet on solid ground again.
As I mentioned on Friday, the Officer and I have been on unsteady ground this summer.  Not with one another (thank God), but with external circumstances mounted against us.  So I can understand the “level ground” metaphor in verse 10.  I have felt like our path has been undulating beneath our feet for months now.  Sometimes jerking out from under us, sometimes turning sharply so we are thrown to our knees.  And I can’t count the number of times I’ve said to the Lord, “I’m done.  I want off this ride.  I’m so tired of it.”  Yet, with every bend, every day that we thought would bring an end to this rolling path we’re on, there has been an extension.  A date set further in the distance.  And we have had to wait.  Even more.  Again and again.  Like David, I have begged the Lord to “answer me quickly;” to “not hide [His] face from me” [v7].   Yet the answer remains imminent.  So I am left to wait.  Left to trust; left to entrust the space between my cries and His answer to the Lord [v8].
In this gloaming I, like David, must meditate on God’s works, in both my life and in history [v5].  Doing so allows me to recognize from whom my relief will come.  David repeats the same theme throughout this song:
YOUR faithfulness
YOUR name’s sake
YOUR righteousness
YOUR unfailing love.
David recognizes that the only help he can receive will be because of and directly through the LORD.  There is no other source; no one else who could affect change for David.  Not even the to-be-king himself.  Whatever the outcome, however the end to his current situation presents itself, it will only be because of God’s faithful, righteous, and unfailing love.  And it will only be for the glory of God’s great name.
So in my time of waiting on wave rippled roads, I resolve to waiting.  For joy is the recognition of whence my rescue comes.  And worship can be waiting right where you are, for the answer you know is forthcoming.    

"I Will Wait" by Mumford & Sons

Friday, August 17, 2012

What Joy looks like through tears

Read: Job 1:13-22, Psalm 142

Today was hard.  I had to let go of something that has been a source of deep and abiding joy for me.  And yes, I waited until the last possible moment; hoping for the hail Mary pass that didn’t come.   Instead, I’m left praying it’s not a permanent release.  Yet if it is, God is still sovereign.  This morning also brought with it news that has the ability to stifle hope.  Again.  And the Officer and I, together, are still smack-in-the-middle of a time of decided trial which has been marked with a series of false peaks and mirages; this wilderness has consumed a quarter of our year, and still we have no respite in sight.  Another beloved of my heart has had news of the life-altering flavor; and I can’t but hurt with them.           
So a resolution to joy may seem forced.  But joy isn’t a painted on smile and an “everything’s peachy-keen” attitude.  Joy might be recognition of who attends your situation; the acknowledgement of the One from whom your strength, on the weariest, days comes.    

In the first chapter of Job and Psalm 142, we find two men encountering different varieties of the pain a fallen world can provide.  Both Job and David knew what to do in times of hurt; times of grotto dwelling and ash sitting.  Each first recognized the hurt they felt, and then proclaimed God sovereign over his circumstance.
Within the space of four verses, Job loses his entire fortune, all of his servants, and each one of his children.  We could understand how Job could have lost every shred of joy.  And we do see Job react to the news in an emotionally appropriate way: he tore his clothes and shaved his head in mourning.  Yet immediately afterward, he fell to the ground

…and worshiped.
We are told that in his proclamation that “naked [he] came from [his] mother’s womb; and naked will [he] depart.  The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised,” Job “did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.”[1]  Job recognized the sovereignty of God, in spite of and even through his circumstances.  And so while he was in full mourning (and appropriately so), Job demonstrated what scriptural joy in crappy situations looks like.

David is known for crying out to God in every situation, good or bad.  In Psalm 142, he cries out to God for mercy and rescue.    He proclaims an expectation that God will be good to him.  He says that the Lord is his refuge, even when rescue is in the future tense.  Speaking thus, David is able to decry his circumstance and still claim God as sovereign over even the situations (and people) that have driven David into hiding, into literally skulking about in a cave, fearing for his life and the as-yet-to-be-made-real promises of Almighty God.  
Thus, I submit that joy is neither circumstantial, nor does it mean faking happiness.  Joy allows for truth in our emotions.  We can cry, we can mourn, we can say that our situation sucks.  So long as, at the end of the day, we land firmly on the truth that God is God.  And He is sovereign over our stuff, our circumstances; and He is deserving of our worship.  Even if all we can say is, “You are God.”

On days like Job’s or David’s, even my today, joy looks like breathing.   In and out.  In and out.   

And worship can simply mean saying, “God reigns.” 

[1] Job 1:21-22

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The wearing down of joy

This summer has worn me down.  Not in the way I anticipated, with too much sun and frivolity.  But in an I-never-thought-we’d-be-here fashion.  Yet, here we are. 

After a year of such spectacular filling and learning and revelatory delights, I am found in the valley.  Where the only portion of scripture that is ringing truth into my heart is the psalter.  And the chords which these poems strike are not high and taut with the universal beauty of Christology or soteriology; but achingly and tremulously deep, with a resonating truth for me.  Right here.  In this breath.   

 Les Larmes de Jacqueline (Jacqueline's Tears) Op.76 No.2 / Harmonies du Soir Op.68 composed by Jacques Offenbach (1819-1880), dedicated to Arsène Houssaye.  Performed by Werner Thomas with Münchener Kammer Orchestre; dedicated to Jacqueline Du Pre.

I have always loved the psalms for their intimacy, their naked honesty before God.  Those that flow from the quill not, at least initially, meant for others’ consumption; those are the ones that I find forming themselves in my chest before I even know how to pray on these days.  So many were penned in moments of intense, personal emotion; some as praise that incorporates a [hopeful] complaint, and others as lament ending in worship.  Thus we find there is room for the entire pendulous scope of human emotions, in either at one time.

And so I am here, recalling that yes, the Word of God is meant for teaching, and rebuking, and guiding, and forming.  But it is also a salve.  When too long in the refining fire my soul has been made to linger.  When I am weary of the vastness of my wilderness; when the loop-the-loop nature of my journey has caused me to yearn to lie down in a cool, dark, safe place. 

Therefore, I am dedicating these next few posts to joy.  A focus to which I committed my year; and one from which I do not feel I’ve strayed.  But these next two weeks I will address the abiding joy that is not circumstantially dependent; joy that sustains through the storm, yet is neither forced nor false.  Joy that is big enough to allow for tears and great disappointment, for pain and genuine wounds.  A joy that might not look anything like the common typography of the word.  Because there is a difference between jumping up and down, clapping one’s hands while declaring the Lord’s praises, and only having the strength to lift your face, wet with tears, long enough to say, “Today, God is still God.”  Yet in both, joy resides.  And it is neither sinful nor weak to inhabit the later for a time. Both are equally valuable in His eyes.  Both are attended to with the same Divine devotion and tenderness.  And both are allowed to be expressed in the throne room.       

Let me encourage you, if you are in the midst of your own storm, if you feel you are drowning, you are not.  If only you trust in the Lord.  If you are dancing because the joy inside must be expressed, turn your praises to God and delight in where you are.  But count what we will cover in the next two weeks as preparation.  Tuck the words away, as provision for what may come.  And know that even if the sheen of your delight never dulls, you may be called upon to use these lessons to care for someone who hasn’t the strength to recover their joy.  You may be the one who must help carry them through their storm.

If you have never tried the spiritual discipline of praying through the Psalms, may I suggest that you do?  If this seems too daunting, pick one: a favorite, one you’ve heard taught before, or just open the book and choose the first one you see.  If you can’t connect what you’re reading with your life immediately, move to the next psalm.  There is one that will.  When you find it, pray it.  Replace the second person with your name or personal pronoun (Jen, or “I”, or “me”); replace the third person (“The Lord”) with second person (“You”).  Make it personal.  Talk to God using the words found in scripture; and let the Holy Spirit do the work in between.  Do this for a few days this week; try for at least three.  Write it out; speak it out loud.  Do whatever will make this a conversation between you and God.  About you and Him; about your life right now and your relationship to Him right now.  It may feel stilted at first, it may feel rote; but give it time.  You will find the gamut of human experience within the psalter, and seeing your life reflected back from the Word of God can be one way to experience a new depth of intimacy with God.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Where We Go From Here...

Today, each of the women in Christ’s ministry can serve as an emotive window for those of us trying to follow after him as our Lord.  Being abandoned or rejected five times, as the Samaritan woman may have been, may resonate with those of us who have been involved in serial monogamous relationships; even those of us who have been taught by contemporary culture to experience as many sexual partners as possible before settling down in marriage.  Yet, we find that the common experience is that at the end of these types of relationships, there is a hollow rejection and impression of decreased worth, as this woman likely experienced.  Perhaps for some of us today, the very fact that she has had many partners, and is not a prostitute, might make her relationship with Jesus more accessible and vibrant. 

When considering Mary and Martha, it is important to balance the two extremes these women enact.  Jesus tells the lawyer preceding their story to go and do likewise, not merely go and contemplate the gospel message, or go and serve until burnout.  Much like the anointing, which was acceptable while Jesus was with them, sitting at his feet to the negation of all else may have been an extraordinary expression of devotion.  Yet now that the Kingdom is here, with its work handed over to the church, neither extreme, Martha’s doing versus Mary’s contemplating, is ideal in and of itself. 

The clear use of women in Jesus’ incarnate ministry should provide a template for contemporary churches to model.  Woman today, as in Jesus’ immediate context, need to be permitted to express their individual gifts in an edifying manner for the whole body of Christ, not solely for other women or children.  Whether it is through missions like the Samaritan woman, leadership like Martha, study as with Mary, or worship and service like the woman from Bethany. 

As a woman in contemporary western culture, who is afforded the opportunity to pursue theological education, I appear to have little in common with the women in the gospels, save a faith in Jesus Christ as Messiah and Lord.  As such, it would be ill-advised for me to promote a feminist theology over and above my male brethren.  In fact, because I have been given so much, I am more like the Pharisees or disciples; thus my focus must not be on advancing a feministic gospel, but rather the gospel that has come to save the lost, free the oppressed, welcome the outcast, and lift up the downtrodden.  Gender, ethnicity, socio-economic status, and educational background must not have any bearing on whom I serve.   On a practical level, I am called to humble myself as Christ did, to reach across cultural barriers, with the message of God’s abounding and saving grace.  No matter the circumstance, no matter the outcome, the good news of Jesus Christ is meant to heal lives that have been devastated by whatever lurks in their past.    

And yet...

Every church I have attended has had no women deacons or elders.  Though some have permitted a woman to teach on special occasions, these women may not be ordained.  One church's governing council removed their endorsement from a sister church plant, when that community began permitting married couples to serve as elders together.  Gender-inclusive language is still cumbersome and most times does not enter into the sermons.  When applying for grad-school, I was told by my then-pastor that a seminary education, merely for the sake of education, was a waste of money; yet when my husband sought the same pastoral approval, he was not given similar comments.  I have been firmly instructed by elders that women pastors are unbiblical.  I have been corralled by pastors who say that I can only serve in women’s or children’s ministries.         

Thus, beloved, there is work yet to be done.  We must note that Jesus did not prevent women from physically following him, day after day, unto the cross.  He did not shoo Mary back into the kitchen.  Jesus gave the honor of first missionary to an unnamed foreign woman, and the honor of first resurrection testimony to the formerly demon-possessed Mary Magdalene.  Jesus was ministered to by women, he was financially supported by women, and he utilized women to advance his ministry.  May he continue, through the empowering of the Holy Spirit, to use women, men, the outcasts, and the have-nots to bring honor to his name, and souls into his kingdom,

for the glory of God the Father.        

Did you enjoy this study?  For a refresher, or to catch one you missed, here's a link to the other articles in this series: The Women Who Knew Jesus

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Requiem for the Messiah

For the past month, we have looked at a few women in the gospels; women who knew Jesus.  Women who felt the weight of the Savior’s hand, heard the timbre of the Messiah’s voice, and peered into the eyes of the Eternal Son of God.  Each woman who saw the Christ was changed because of him.  Each has been preserved in the Holy Scriptures because her interacting with Jesus has something to teach us, these millennia later.  But the women we have studied are not the only ones who knew our Lord.  A number of women physically journeyed with Jesus during his ministry; some were significant enough participants in his ministry so that they are remembered by name in the gospels: Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Susanna are listed specifically, along with “many others…[who] were helping to support [Jesus’ ministry] out of their own means.”[1]  That Jesus allowed women a prominent place as disciples would have been revolutionary, and meant that “distinctions of privilege and superiority over subservience and inferiority would not exist” in the age to come.[2] And it is women who stay with Jesus from his trial all the way to the tomb.  Though each gospel author has a different manner of portraying the resurrection, both men and women play a part in each.  Much has been made over Mark’s gospel, as he portrays the women as afraid and saying nothing to anyone; some scholars suggest that cultural conventions of the time prevent their speaking, others claim it was because throughout Mark’s gospel Jesus commanded silence regarding his Messianic identity, and still other scholars blame Mark himself for purposefully silencing women.  However, his seemingly negative treatment of women disciples should be considered an assimilation of women into the greater motif of disciples, as Mark treats the male disciples with the same negativity throughout his gospel.[3]  While in Luke “at the end, it is the women who model the key to the gospel’s power.  At the tomb, the women ‘remembered’ Jesus’ words…and the women carry the story on.”[4] Perhaps Mark’s account is meant to balance any feminist exalting of the female disciples over the males, as Bauckman states, merely because Mark’s gospel ends does not imply an ending to the story as a whole.[5] 

Thus throughout his life, and even after his death and resurrection, women remained faithful to the ministry of Jesus Christ.  The ministry of Jesus was expanded and greater because of these women.  He engaged them in their respective communities and life situations.  He permitted their individual expressions of devotion and service, without placing culturally expected parameters on them.  And after he left them, for the glory of heaven and the building of his kingdom, they carried his message, his story, to others.  They lived his gospel in their lives; they took his presence with them as they walked.  They did not confine him to memory or house him in four walls.  There is no greater requiem for a risen and living Messiah, than the continuation of his incarnate ministry.  Undoubtedly, these women, as they had when they knew him here on earth, called others to Jesus.  Into the love and grace that could then and can still save the world.

Surely, as it was in the first century, so should it be in churches today. 


Enjoying this study?  Here is a link to more articles in this series: The Women Who Knew Jesus.

[1] Luke 8:2-3.
[2] Baggett, John F.  Seeing Through the Eyes of Jesus: His Revolutionary View of Reality and His Transcendent Significance for Faith.  Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2008. Page 202.
[3] Corley, Kathleen E.  Women and the Historical Jesus: Feminist Myths of Christian Origins.  Santa Rosa: Polebridge Press, 200, page 137;
and Richard Bauckham, Gospel Women: Studies of the Named Women in the Bible, (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2002); and Baggett, Seeing Through the Eyes. 
[4] Ringe, Sharon.  Westminster Bible Companion: Luke.  ed. Patrick D. Miller and David L. Bartlett.  Lousiville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1995. Page 12.
[5]Bauckham, Gospel Women, 293

Thursday, August 2, 2012

An Exorbitant Worship

Four different people, witnessing any event, will recount what happened in four unique ways.  So when we find accounts of decidedly similar situations in scripture, there is always a discussion among scholars as to whether the events are the same or separate.  One such instance marks our final look (for this series anyway) at an individual woman’s interaction with her Messiah.  I encourage you to read each account, noting similarities and differences.  Find what stands out in each; what seems to be the thrust of the narrative. 

The Anointing at Bethany:

Matthew, Mark, and John agree that this incident took place in Bethany; Mark and Matthew concur it was at the house of a disciple, Simon the leper; while John merely states that Martha served and Lazarus ate the food.  Luke does not mention a location and renders the host Simon, a Pharisee.  At the outset, there seem to be too many differences for these to be the same event; yet some scholars claim that the events are too closely parallel and extravagant to have happened more than once.[1]  However, in Matthew and Mark, the unnamed woman anoints Christ’s head; in Luke and John, the woman anoints Jesus’ feet.  In each account other than John’s, the woman is portrayed as an interloper; John states that the woman ministering to Jesus is Martha and Lazarus’ sister, Mary.  Judas, again in the Johannine account, is upset with the waste, whereas in Matthew and Mark it is the disciples who regret the excess; in each text the poor being the reason such extravagance is rebuked. In Matthew, Mark, and John, Jesus rebukes the woman’s accusers for singling her out, when there remain poor within their very communities.[2]  He asserts that what she has done for him is “beautiful,” and that implies that they will have time after his burial to tend to the poor.

For the purposes of our study, we will group the Matthean, Markan, and Johnannine account together, because they deal with the extravagance of this woman’s offering in relation to “helping the poor;” while Luke’s text deals with the woman’s character and suitedness to minister to Christ in such a way. 
Considering that Jesus has spent a good deal of time instructing his followers to care for the poor, to tend the widows and orphans, and himself tending to the least among the Jews, Susan Miller, referencing Mark’s telling, makes the claim that the woman is a prophetic figure.  Miller says that this woman’s act of anointing Jesus indicates his kingship, and her breaking of the jar to pour out the ointment foreshadows the last supper, when at the Passover Christ breaks the bread and pours wine as a symbol for his soon to be broken body and poured out blood, on behalf of the sins of the world.[3] She also suggests that the waste, about which the disciples are upset, represents the coming loss of Jesus’ life.  Baggett agrees with this appraisal, seeing the Markan text as an antecedent that prepares Jesus for his burial.[4]  As a funeral offering, a lavish expenditure of 300 denari is not completely uncommon, and Jesus states that this prepares him for burial.[5]    Dr. Craig Blomberg cautions that while this offering is acceptable to Jesus, who does not require a simply ascetic life from his followers, it is to be the exception in a life devoted to meeting the needs of the have-nots.[6]  Thus in these three accounts, we find a woman who is likely distraught over the thought of losing her Messiah.  She symbolically prepares his body for burial.  Acting in the lavish and tender and intimate way a person who has just lost the love of her life might. 

Certainly, in first century Palestine, it was the women who tended to the bodies after death; the women would wash the earthly shells of their loved ones with tears and perfumes, caring for these spent husks one last time before releasing their loved one into the dust.  Thus we find a woman doing what is culturally expected of her for someone she loves so dearly, merely at a time that is deemed inappropriate by her contemporaries.  Yet this woman, instead of saving her resources for a time when, at least to her mind, Jesus would not benefit from them; pours out her possessions while he is still with her.  Because she loves him.   
And Jesus says this is okay. 

Yes, we are to regularly and habitually use our finances and resources on behalf of the poor.  Yes, we are to give of our time, talents, and treasure daily and sacrificially to benefit the poor and outcast.  Yes, this is to be the practice that marks us as Christ followers: the care of those in need.  But in this woman, we see that it is also good to spend ourselves on behalf of those we love. 

No, this isn’t to say, “Well, I love me, so I’m gonna buy that boat/diamond/Tuscan Villa for myself!”  But imagine the love that would be conveyed if you spent that money (assuming that you have it and aren’t borrowing it) on the person closest to your heart.  Your spouse, your parent, your children, your best friend.  To show them, here and now while they are still drawing breath, that you love and treasure them.  Once.  Sacrificially.  For the sake of love.  Imagine the depths of their spirit to which this would speak.  Imagine their joy in knowing they are so delighted in.  So loved. 

Because, poor or otherwise, Christ loved each of us so much that he spent himself once, sacrificially, for us.

An exorbitant sacrifice.  For Love.

And just for fun, here’s a link to the world’s most expensive desserts.  On the off chance that you’re considering a decadent love offering for your special someone…my favorite?  purely for the artistry: The Fortress Stilt Fisherman Indulgence, $14,500.

Enjoying this study?  Here's a link to other articles in this series: The Women Who Knew Jesus

[1] Same event: William Hendriksen, New Testament Commentary: Exposition of the Gospel According to Mark, (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1975).  Different events: Sharon Ringe, Westminster Bible Companion: Luke, ed. Patrick D. Miller and David L. Bartlett, (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1995). 
[2] Craig L. Blomberg, Neither Poverty Nor Riches: A Biblical Theology of Material Possessions, (Leicester: APOLLOS, 1999), 142.
[3] Susan Miller, “The Woman who Anoints Jesus (Mk 14:3-9): A Prophetic Sign of the New Creation,” The Journal of the Britain & Ireland School of Feminist Theology 14 (2006) 221.
[4] John F. Baggett.   Seeing Through the Eyes of Jesus: His Revolutionary View of Reality and His Transcendent Significance for Faith.  Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2008. Page 113.
[5] Matthew 26:12, Mark 14:8, and John 12:7.
[6] Blomberg, Neither Poverty Nor Riches, 142.