Now while Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very costly ointment, and she poured it on his head as he sat at the table. But when the disciples saw it, they were angry and said, ‘Why this waste? For this ointment could have been sold for a large sum, and the money given to the poor.’But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, ‘Why do you trouble the woman? She has performed a good service for me. For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me. By pouring this ointment on my body she has prepared me for burial. Truly I tell you, wherever this good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.’
The Anointing at Bethany is a revelation to both who Jesus is and what he is destined for. Jesus is the Messiah which means anointed one, and hes destined to die. This woman on one hand is anointing a King, but on the other hand she is anointing his body as if he were dead.
Where the disciples go wrong is that they see that their mission and ministry is about them and what they are doing. What this woman at Bethany seems to get that they don't is that the mission and ministry of disciples of Jesus Christ is going to be first and foremost about Jesus Christ.
Remember Jesus isn't just some great moral teacher. The anointing at Bethany is a reminder that this Messiah is one that will be crucified. It is his sacrifice on the cross that makes all the difference in this world as opposed to anything we could ever muster up.
This passage doesn't give us permission to neglect the poor since they will always be with us. We are certainly called to love and serve the poor as Christians. The woman at Bethany proclaims to disciples of Jesus Christ that everything we do is grounded in our "wasteful" devotion to Jesus. In our postmodern age there are many Christians and congregations that unfortunately believe deep down that Jesus isn't enough. Some see worship and bible study as a waste of time, and Holy Communion every Sunday might take too long. Devotions before every meeting in a congregation need to be very quick so "we can get to business!"
The woman at Bethany is a witness to how we should be "wasteful" in our love and devotion to Jesus which includes our time, talent and our treasure. This kind of holy wastefulness is liberating because it keeps our attention first and foremost on Jesus the anointed one, crucified for the sake of the world.
When we dive into this holy wastefulness towards our Lord and Savior we will follow him and waste our time, gifts, energy and resources in the places where he leads us. Like being with the poor, the marginalized, those mourning, the sick, and those in prison, just to name a few.
It is worth noting that other than Jesus this woman is the only other person in the entire New Testament that we are told to remember when the Good News is proclaimed. That sounds like a very powerful and important witness that we should take note of and follow.
I suppose an important question to consider both individually and communally is that if we aren't wasting our time, gifts, energy and resources in love and devotion to Jesus and the people and places he calls us to serve, than what are we wasting it all on?
Pastor Adam Sornchai