6 While Jesus was in Bethany in the home of Simon the Leper, 7 a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on his head as he was reclining at the table. 8 When the disciples saw this, they were indignant. “Why this waste?” they asked. 9 “This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor.”
10 Aware of this, Jesus said to them, “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.”
The reaction of the disciples to the woman’s outrageous, costly gift to Jesus is instructive and revealing. Funny thing how the heart-gushing pious appeals for the poor move in so quickly to take the spotlight off her radical outpouring of faith and love focused on the Living God, revealed in Jesus. After all, to be a really serious Christian you need to have your nose rubbed in the tribulations of the world, right? You have to be doing something. And what could be a more conspicuous example of doing than giving money to the poor.
But Jesus does not side with the lesser god of social work. The woman’s offering was a reflection of the costly grace and love of the Living God she had come to know in Jesus. Like Mary, the slacker sister of Martha, who sat at the feet of Jesus instead of helping her sister in the kitchen, this young woman made the right choice. Her radical gift reflected her radically changed heart.
“The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me,” Jesus said. Someone unique, precious and irreplaceable was among them. The Living God was and is graciously at work in the Word, Jesus, to rescue, redeem, save and forgive that creature whose failure to love continues to be the cause of poverty and the myriad griefs of the world.
The woman is vindicated by the Lord in this story because her gift was an acknowledgement of what is ultimate – God’s amazing grace revealed in Jesus our Lord. This story is meant as a corrective to all those would reduce the Christian mission to nothing more than a food pantry or rental assistance.
Finally, Jesus said, “When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. Wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.” Notice His words; “..this gospel…”. That is to say, the gospel concerning the Son of God by whose bloody Cross and glorious Resurrection lost and condemned sinners are reconciled, forgiven and set free.