“She has done what she could and has anointed my body for burial ahead of time.” Mark 14:8 NLT
Jesus was having dinner in the home of Simon the Leper, when a woman came in with a beautiful alabaster jar of expensive perfume. She broke the jar and poured the perfume over his head. It was a wasteful action that made no sense to everyone at the dinner. The perfume was worth about a year of wages – it could have been sold and the money given to the poor. But Jesus turned the woman’s act of extravagant love into a memorial of his impending betrayal and death:
“Leave her alone. Why criticize her for doing such a good thing to me? You will always have the poor among you, and you can help them whenever you want to. But you will not always have me. She has done what she could and has anointed my body for burial ahead of time. I tell you the truth, wherever the Good News is preached throughout the world, this woman’s deed will be remembered and discussed.” Mark 14:6-9 NLT
It was a catalytic event that triggered the betrayal of Jesus by Judas – an act that is unimaginable for a disciple of Jesus. The essence of the story was recorded in all four gospels although the details differ in the gospels of Luke and John – the woman’s deed was indeed remembered and discussed wherever the Good News is preached.
The woman’s action marked the beginning of the end of Jesus’ life on earth. In caring for the dying, it is very critical to be able to identify when a patient is at the end of life. When doctors are able to identify that a patient is at the end of life, they can focus their attention to provide the patient with terminal loving care instead of subjecting him or her to futile and painful death denying and delaying measures. When we deny the reality of death, we cannot truly live. The good news of the Christian faith is that Jesus came to empower us to face death and to live the abundant life by remembering His death on the cross through the ritual of the Holy Communion:
“For every time you eat this bread and drink this cup, you are announcing the Lord’s death until he comes again. So anyone who eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord unworthily is guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. That is why you should examine yourself before eating the bread and drinking the cup. For if you eat the bread or drink the cup without honoring the body of Christ, you are eating and drinking God’s judgment upon yourself. That is why many of you are weak and sick and some have even died.” 1 Corinthians 11:26-30 NLT
Jesus transformed the Jewish Passover feast into a means of God’s grace for all of us who accept Him as our Lord and Saviour. It is not a magical ritual to save us from hell – it is a sacred act that leads us from having a transactional faith with an impersonal God to a transforming relationship with the Risen Christ. We no longer have to strive to obey God out of fear with a transactional faith – that God will bless us only when we please Him. We will seek to obey God out of love because we have become the broken body and the poured out wine of the Risen Christ. We are set free from God’s judgment so that we can live as a forgiven and forgiving community of love.
The most important act in the celebration of the Holy Communion is the examination of our hearts and the confession of our sins. God does not want us to live in the shadow of His judgment but in the light of His unfailing love. Self examination and confession are not rituals to appease an angry God. As our loving Creator, God knows what is in each person’s heart and knows that we cannot be trusted (John 2:25). We have a sinful nature and we are perfectly imperfect. Spiritual disciplines are to help us grow in our relationship with God – to be in a right relationship with God rather than to be perfect:
“If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness. If we claim we have not sinned, we are calling God a liar and showing that his word has no place in our hearts.” 1 John 1:8-10 NLT
The woman’s apparent waste of the expensive perfume aroused negative and sinful emotions in Judas that led him to conspire with the Pharisees to betray Jesus. Meditating on this story drew an awareness that the spirit of Judas lies deep within all of us. It is so easy to be critical and judgmental when we see things only from the human point of view. Our actions are driven by our thoughts and feelings. Judas’ act of betrayal is the fruit of anger, greed, envy, pride and lust.
Jesus knew that Judas was going to betray him and told the disciples as they were eating, “I tell you the truth, one of you eating with me here will betray me.” But Judas was so blinded by anger, greed and envy that not only did he ask, “Am I the one?”(Mark 14:17-19 NLT), but he took the bread and the wine and then went on to betray Jesus. Our sinful desires keep us from hearing the whispers of love in the silence of God.
God’s agape love dictates that we have the power to choose. We are not created to be robots but to be God’s beloved children. Just as Adam and Eve chose to disobey God, Judas was tempted to betray Jesus. Likewise, we too will be tempted to disobedience and rebellion. Even Jesus was tempted in the wilderness to test God – to jump off the highest point of the Temple to prove God’s promise in Psalm 91:11-12. But he held fast to God’s commandment in Deuteronomy 6:16 – You must not test the Lord your God Matthew 4:5-7). Jesus came to be the spiritual bread and wine for us to change our distracted and deceitful hearts into discerning and devoted hearts for “obedience is better than sacrifice, and submission is better than offering the fat of rams. Rebellion is as sinful as witchcraft, and stubbornness as bad as worshiping idols” (1 Samuel 15:22-23 NLT).
Many of us have not been able to celebrate the Holy Communion over the past year or so and our souls are hungry and thirsty for God. The woman anointed Jesus for his funeral but God is waiting to anoint us and has prepared a feast for us:
“You prepare a feast for me in the presence of my enemies. You honor me by anointing my head with oil. My cup overflows with blessings.” Psalm 23:5, NLT.
We are called to be God’s anointed priests to mediate His love and grace to a hurting world. God’s amazing grace is that He is always waiting for us to turn back to Him:
“So the Lord must wait for you to come to him so he can show you his love and compassion. For the Lord is a faithful God. Blessed are those who wait for his help.” Isaiah 30:18 NLT
With the social distancing measures and restrictions for corporate worship, we need to find new ways to nurture our souls and to draw near to God. The best way to counter the spirit of Judas that is in us is to remember that Christ is in us and our hope of glory. Cultivating times of silence each day to wait on God is a simple way to seek God’s presence. God is waiting to anoint us and fill our cup with His love. And as we do so, we will find what Thomas Keating found – the freedom to do what God likes – the freedom to be our true self and to be transformed in Christ.