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Thought for the week - w/b 25th March

# Church Without Walls

Published by Bimbola Adediran on Wednesday, 27 March 2024 14:48
Thought for the week - w/b 25th March

                         Reflection for Holy Wednesday

 

Who was she, this woman who did a beautiful thing for Jesus?

Some traditions associate her with Mary Magdalene, from whom Jesus cast out seven demons, according to Mark and Luke. In Luke’s gospel, there is an earlier incident of a woman anointing Jesus’ feet, which brings criticism on him, based on her allegedly bad reputation. On that occasion, as in this reading from Matthew’s gospel, Jesus defends her actions.

Let’s park the “who” question for now and think about the action itself. Embarrassing, excessive, wasteful, creepy are words which might spring to mind and clearly sprang to the disciples’ minds. They judged this outpouring of oil and emotion and rationalised their judgment in a superficially reasonable moral argument.

Had they learned nothing in their time with him? “Judge not, that you may not be judged”, he had taught them. Yet appraising others, passing judgment on them, silently in our heads or outwardly in words, spoken, written, posted, tweeted, is second nature to us. Many of our children and young people are crippled by the judgments they endure or fear on social media and many women and people of UK racial minority heritage in public life are subjected to a constant barrage of online abuse. I received some equality and diversity training a couple of months ago from two senior black women priests. They spoke about the way that it is natural, part of our fallen condition, to put people into compartments in our minds – black, white, posh, rough, gay, straight, northern, southern etc. etc.: people like us and people not like us. They urged us to practice the spiritual and social discipline of slow thinking – don’t rush to judgment about people, but give them time and space in your mind and spirit – see the image of God in all your neighbours: be the new creation that God has promised to make you in Christ.

But the disciples rushed to judgment on this woman.

Perhaps part of their anger was also disapproval of Jesus. They saw their teacher allowing himself to be flattered, indulged, compromised, made a fool of by this woman, whom they had judged to be no better than she ought to be. Here was their leader, whom some at least of them hoped would overthrow the occupying Romans, behaving like a Roman emperor. Disappointing, embarrassing, shocking, provoking.

Had they learned nothing of the real nature of Jesus’ work and kingship? He had rejected worldly pomp when he put in those harsh 40 days of fasting in the wilderness, when he freely mixed with outcasts – foreigners, tax collectors, disabled people, women and, er, themselves – a rag taggle old bunch of unknowns. Had they not understood that the prophecies of their scriptures were being fulfilled in the outpouring of God’s spirit upon the poor and marginalised – like the oil of blessing used to anoint kings in the Old Testament? Did they not understand yet about how God the Father had anointed Jesus with the Spirit at his baptism?

No, Jesus’ disciples rushed to judgment on the extravagance of this anointing, not seeing that it was a sign both of his royal due and of his coming death.

In one disciple, all these feelings welled up at once and prompted decisive action. The next event in the narrative is Judas going to the chief priests and offering to betray Jesus to them. The implication, perhaps, is that this incident was, for him, the turning point, precipitating him to personal disaster and bringing God’s love for mankind to its terrible consummation.

I don’t suppose we shall ever know for sure who the woman who triggered all this was, but we do know what Jesus thought of what she did.  He defended her against his disciples – her “beautiful” action was important and deserved to be remembered because of what it signified. She had received an inkling that this was the right thing to do, something eternally significant.  Jesus did not say that the poor didn’t matter – on the contrary, he pointed out that there would always be people in need of help. But this season of his physical presence on earth would pass and the woman was right to revere it.

We have a chance this week to try to be ‘in the moment’ with our Lord in his trials and sufferings. Let us retreat a little from the world to worship, revere and adore him. It’s easy, perhaps, to criticise the disciples, with the benefit of the hindsight which the New Testament and 2000 years of Christian witness gives us. But we are, in some way, bound up with them in this unfolding narrative – trying to understand yet failing, baffled by the enormity of it all. Just as he loved them, God loves all of us. God in Jesus does not rush to judgment on our failings – he is, in this respect, the ‘slowest thinker’ of all. In the words of an old hymn, “if our love were but more simple, We would take him at his word And our lives would be all gladness in the joy of Christ our Lord.”

 

By - Morag Bushell.

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