Jesus is anointed at the house of Simon the Leper. This is a familiar passage, but there are three things I’d like to highlight in it.
- The alabaster jar/box carries deep significance related to a woman’s wedding. As part of the dowry, or possible just before the ceremony itself, the woman would receive an alabaster jar filled with perfume. These are fairly tiny jars and meant for a single use. They represent all of the hopes and expectation a new bride would have going into a marriage. We never get her full story, though another Gospel writer indicates she had a bad reputation, by which we should probably understand this to be sexual in nature. Whatever the case, her marriage, likely either right before or shortly after it began, fell apart. That or her family had long placed expectations of marriage upon her and she was unable to fulfill those. All those hopes and dreams were gone. Whatever the case, she no longer had those future hopes. Then she hears that Jesus comes, and she anoints him with oil. All those dreams and expectations were now placed on Jesus.
- Those who are not Jesus feign an interest in the poor. This continues even today. Jesus’ reference that “you will always have the poor” is not meant to be taken as an excuse to avoid helping poor people today. It is not an argument against social programs (though I have seen many use it that way). Quite the opposite. It’s a reference to Deuteronomy 15:11. Jesus is indicting those who pretend to care for the poor. He is critiquing those who would pass the responsibility to maintain an “open hand” to others. The chief priests who hear of Judas’s desire to betray Jesus are delighted, offering money to him. Quite the contrast.
- Jesus takes the whole scene and incorporates it into his passion narrative. She is preparing his body for burial. Jesus knows that he will soon die and this person, poor and needy as she was, plays an integral role in that preparation. It is only through his burial that he can come back to life. The only way to defeat death was to pass through death, and so Jesus is helped by this woman as he is prepared for this fate.