Jesus: A Holy Waste
I have put my spirit upon him, he will bring forth justice. He won’t cry or lift up his voice, he will not cry. I have put my spirit upon him, he will not grow faint until there is justice in all of the earth. – Isaiah 42
According to Matthew’s Gospel, on Wednesday night Jesus steals away to Bethany, just outside Jerusalem, to eat dinner at the house of Simon the Leper.
While Jesus sits at the table, a woman enters, carrying an alabaster jar filled with $30,000 worth of perfumed oil.
To have so much of something so costly, this woman must be rich. She succeeds where the rich young man failed. She gives up her treasure for Jesus’ sake.
She pours the oil onto and all over Jesus’ head and hair.
The disciples watch her, silently, watch as the oil runs down Jesus’ body, and all they can think of is how such wealth could be put to better use.
When she’s done Jesus praises her and tells his disciples: ‘You always have a chance to serve the poor, but you will not always have me.‘
Its one of the most intimate scenes in the Gospels, I think, and not because she’s a woman and he’s a man. It’s intimate because, all his predictions of the Cross notwithstanding, there is a secret about Jesus and his fate. This woman with the oil is the only one in the Gospels who seems to know it.
If we were to write the script, we would have more than a few ideas for how God’s justice might be accomplished. Yet Isaiah envisions a Servant who won’t act in ways that satisfy our definitions of justice. Isaiah’s promised Servant will insist on a way that makes no sense to those in power, to those who hunger for power or even to those victimized by it.
While all those Passover pilgrims back in Jerusalem have been humming the Song of Moses and waiting for Jesus to seize his moment, she’s the only one who seems to know her scripture. She’s the only one who knows a different song. Isaiah’s song.
The song of a Servant for whom kingly power and deliverance and justice and suffering and death are all wound together in a mysterious way.
In the Hebrew Bible, kings aren’t crowned they’re anointed with oil.
But so are the dead.
Watching her on Wednesday night, perhaps the disciples wondered which this woman meant.
Only she and Jesus knew it was for both.