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.

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