August 26, 2020
In Memory of Her
August 26, 2020
“Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me. 11 The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me. 12 When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. 13 Truly I tell you, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.” (Matt 26:11-13)
Jesus is at a dinner party and suddenly a woman comes in the door and pours expensive perfume on his head. The astonished diners’ first reaction is “What a waste!” But Jesus is pleased with the “beautiful thing” she has done. His response does not contradict the teaching to care for the poor, which runs all the way through the Bible: “Defend the cause of the poor of the people!” (Ps 72: 4). It’s not a question of either/or. Jesus is dining in the home of a wealthy man, a man he has healed of leprosy. The house may be furnished with extravagance, but somehow the idea of a woman bursting in unannounced and anointing Jesus with costly oil offends his guests.
Like all good stories this one makes us wonder. Bible stories are multifaceted, and it may not be easy to give a simple answer to “What is the moral of this story?” But Bible stories do end with a surprise. And the surprise always leads to a deeper understanding of the gospel message. We shouldn’t need reminding that the poor are with us. John Wesley said that as Christians we will live with the poor. But do we truly remember Jesus? Do we live as Jesus lived?
There is one more surprise: this story is told throughout the world in remembrance of Jesus, his act of dying and rising again, but also “in memory of her,” the unnamed woman, the party-crasher, who understood—more deeply than the well-regarded, invited guests—who Jesus was and why he was among them. We can’t forget her, and we are called to witness as she did to Jesus’ saving act of love.
QUESTIONS FOR THE FIELD
- This story implies that Jesus cares about beautiful acts and acts that carry deep symbolic meaning. What “beautiful thing” can we do for Jesus today?
- There are two other Gospel stories about women who anointed Jesus unexpectedly, Luke 7:36-50, and John 12:1-8. Why are these women remembered? What is Jesus’ response?
A prayer of Julian of Norwich
In you, Father all-mighty, we have our preservation and our bliss.
In you, Christ, we have our restoring and our saving.
You are our mother, brother, and Savior.
In you, our Lord the Holy Spirit, is marvelous and plenteous grace.
You are our clothing; for love you wrap us and embrace us.
You are our maker, our lover, our keeper.
Teach us to believe that by your grace all shall be well, and all shall be well,
and all manner of things shall be well. Amen. (1343-1417?)