Tales of a Midwest Lutheran on the East Coast

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Simon the Leper and the Woman who anoints Jesus

Lent Meditation 3-4-15

Let the word of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Christ the Rock of our salvation. Amen.

Over the course of these next few Wednesday nights, we get to meet a few of the cast of characters that surrounded Jesus. And tonight we’ve meet two more: Simon the Leper and the woman who anoints Jesus.

Were you able to picture the scene in your mind? Did you hear the babble of conversation suddenly interrupted by gasps of surprise? Did you smell the strong scent of the nard ointment filling the room? Did you see the confused faces of the guests? Did you yourself feel a little confused? There’s much more going on in this scene than simply an interrupted dinner party.
We could, like the rest of the guests there that night, get caught up in the money details– for example, a jar of nard worth more than three hundred denarii. A denarius was an entire day’s wages, so that means, in today’s money, this jar of nard might be worth… somewhere in the neighborhood of twenty thousand dollars.

Gosh, that WOULD have gone a long way if say, she were to have donated it to the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen, or RISE here in Hightstown. She could have fed forty refugee families for a year through ELCA Good Gifts, or funded around a year and a half of one seminary student’s education.
But what did she decide to do with that costly jar of ointment? She decided to waste it all on Jesus. At least that’s what the other guests at Simon’s dinner party thought, and of course they entirely missed the point.  It’s as if they were watching a 3D movie without the special glasses.

This actually happened to Beau and me not that long ago. We paid for and thought we were seeing a regular old 2D movie. But after the regular-looking previews, the movie began with that blurry, double vision screen that makes your eyes hurt from trying to focus, and nothing was making sense. Fortunately, the theater fixed their mistake by giving us all 3D glasses and restarting the movie from the beginning. And itt made SO MUCH MORE SENSE!! We could actually understand what was happening!

The guests at Simon’s house for dinner did not have on their cross-shaped glasses. And that was why the events unfolding around them did not seem to make any sense. People just don’t go wasting expensive perfume on ordinary guys like Jesus, no matter how good of a preacher or teacher or healer he was. That was money poorly spent, down the drain, thrown in the trash. Like the jar you saw as you walked in tonight – a jar of precious perfume among the garbage in the trash.

The great tragedy for them is that they SHOULD have already been wearing their cross-glasses, for the very fact that they were having dinner at the home of someone called Simon the Leper. We assume that whatever skin disease he might have had had been cured by Jesus– which might be why Simon invited him over in the first place: out of gratitude. We can’t know for sure, but some have supposed that Simon is the unnamed leper that Jesus heals at the very beginning of Mark. In THAT encounter, Jesus heals the leper in question, and then tries to swear him to secrecy. But this non-leper leper will have none of that – he went everywhere spreading the word about Jesus, causing a big stir.
Though now, even if he had been cured, Simon is forever known to us as “the leper.” And no one in their right mind wants to be anywhere near someone with leprosy, which was painful and mutilating to the skin. He probably knows what it is like to be treated like garbage and to be discarded by society - to be thrown away by the side of the road.

Without their cross-shaped glasses, the other guests at this party didn’t understand that the same Jesus who breaks bread with lepers also is the same Jesus who refuses to scold women who seem wasteful.
While Simon was defined by his illness like it was part of his name, this woman has no name for us to remember – only this single act of love. In some of the other gospels, she is Mary, sister of Lazarus, or a sinful woman. But for Mark, she is a woman on a mission.  She has one job – to remind Jesus of who he is and why he came.

She anointed Jesus so that he could take his rightful place as king – not in a coronation, but through death on a cross. “Christ” is not Jesus’ last name: it’s his title. Christ in Greek and Messiah in Hebrew both mean King or anointed one. A king was crowned by being anointed, in order to be set apart for a special purpose. But anointing does have another use – on the bodies of the dead to prepare them for burial. That is what this woman did. She couldn’t follow Jesus by leaving her home and family and work. But she could show him one last kindness on his road to the cross.

Jesus knows that just around the corner lies betrayal and suffering and humiliation and death. His body would be beaten and flogged and a crown of thorns would be shoved onto his head before he was hung to die on a cross and then hastily laid in a borrowed tomb. His death might have looked like a total waste to the rest of the world – a waste of three years, a waste of a life, a waste of time for the Son of God.

But God using the kindness of an unnamed woman is not a waste. Breaking bread with the unwanted is not a waste. The cross is not a waste – in fact, it is the exact opposite. The entirety of God’s love that Jesus shows us could not fit on the cross – and that is why it stands empty. Empty like an entire jar of nard, poured out and seemingly wasted in an act of love one woman gave to her Lord.
So… Who are the people around us that the world won’t waste their time on? Who do we see when we put on our cross-shaped glasses?

And what are YOU squandering on Jesus? What are you willing to give away, throw away, or pour out in the service of following him? What are you willing to waste, in Jesus name?

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