February 21, 2016: An Annoying Anointing

Posted on : Feb 18th, 2016 | By | Category: This Sunday's Service

The bible is as rife with conspiracy theories as is American politics and culture. This Sunday’s scripture is an example of that. It is a story about a woman, who does something that no woman is allowed to do, let alone to a male rabbi.

The context of the story in Matthew’s Gospel is that it happens two days before the celebration of the Passover meal which we, in the Christian tradition, remember as The Last Supper. This story takes place in the home of “Simon the leper.” It is quite certain that Simon no longer had leprosy or no one would have been in his home. Not even Simon! In this time in history, those with leprosy were banished to live outside the city limits out of fear that they were contagious. It is, in fact, quite reasonable to assume that Simon was someone whom Jesus healed. Whether Jesus actually healed Simon or not, it is obvious that Simon no longer had leprosy. However, Simon would still carry the burden of having had leprosy and therefore would be considered an outcast and a person of whom many people would be afraid. But Jesus obviously was not afraid to be with Simon the leper.

The city in which this incident occurred was Bethany, home of Mary, Martha and Lazarus, whom Jesus raised from the dead.

So, Jesus was having dinner in Simon the leper’s home and a woman came in with an alabaster jar of pure and costly ointment. She broke the jar and poured the ointment over Jesus’ head.

Now at this time in history, women were not allowed to touch men. And women certainly were not allowed to function in “prophetic roles” which is what this anointing with oil is about. And furthermore, a woman was absolutely forbidden to touch a Rabbi.

So what just occurred here was even more volatile than the current political angst about nominating and appointing an Associate Justice of the US Supreme Court to replace Justice Scalia who died last week.

However, instead of a gender war breaking out, the fight erupts over money $$$.

Some of the men who were present were indignant and said, “What is the purpose of this? Why was this pure and costly ointment wasted? It could have been sold for thousands of dollars and that money could have been given to the poor!”

And Jesus responds, “Get a life! Chill.” Why are you so angry with her? She has done a beautiful thing for me. She anointed my body for burial. And then Jesus offers these words, which must have made the men’s head spin: “Truly, I assure you, wherever through the whole world this Gospel is proclaimed, what she has done will be told in memory of her.”

So, here we have Jesus saying that what this woman has done is such a good and beautiful thing, that wherever his life story is told, it will be told in memory of her. But, there is one thing missing here: her name. Who is this woman of such importance?

The feminist theologian, Elizabeth Schussler Fiorenza, wrote a groundbreaking massive 600 page study seeking to figure out who the “her” is that this Gospel is to be told in memory of. It is probably Mary Magdalene who, in spite of historical tradition, is NOT a prostitute, but rather a woman from whom Jesus drove out seven demons, that is a woman who Jesus healed. Some have gone so far as to hypothesize that Jesus was also married to Mary Magdalene.

Unless there are some ancient biblical manuscripts found somewhere, we will probably never know for sure who this woman was. The early Christian writers removed her name from our story of faith. All that we know is that some unnamed woman did something miraculously wonderful for Jesus, and her life and our lives have been Changed for Good.

One of the things I love about this woman’s story is that it makes room for each and every one of us, who may not be known by name or status, position in life or greatness, prestige or infamy, to have a significant role in changing the world for good. In fact, it is often the servant-ministry expression of our faith that changes us and others for good. More on Sunday.

Lenten Blessings to you,



~ This Sunday’s Scripture ~

Mark 14: 3-9 / Matthew 26: 6-13
The woman who anoints Jesus’ head.

Jesus was having dinner in Bethany

At the house of Simon the leper

When a woman came in with an alabaster jar

of pure and costly ointment.

She broke the jar and poured the ointment over the head of Jesus.

Some who were present were indignant.

“For what purpose is this waste?

Ointment like this could have been sold for a huge profit

And the money given to the poor.”

And they were angry with her.

But Jesus said, “Let her alone.

Why do you trouble her?

This beautiful thing she has done for me.

As for the poor, you can do good to them whenever you wish.

The poor you will always have with you.

You will not always have me.

She has done what was in her power to do.

She anointed my body for burial.

Truly, I assure you,

Wherever throughout the whole world this gospel is proclaimed,

What she has done will be told in memory of her.”


Translation from “WomanWord” by Miriam Therese Winter


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