A reading from Mark chapter 10
From there he went to the area of Judea across the Jordan. A crowd of people, as was so often the case, went along, and he, as he so often did, taught them. Pharisees came up, intending to give him a hard time. They asked, "Is it legal for a man to divorce his wife?" 3Jesus said, "What did Moses command?"
They answered, "Moses gave permission to fill out a certificate of dismissal and divorce her."
Jesus said, "Moses wrote this command only as a concession to your hardhearted ways. In the original creation, God made male and female to be together. Because of this, a man leaves father and mother, and in marriage he becomes one flesh with a woman—no longer two individuals, but forming a new unity. Because God created this organic union of the two sexes, no one should desecrate his art by cutting them apart."
When they were back home, the disciples brought it up again. Jesus gave it to them straight: "A man who divorces his wife so he can marry someone else commits adultery against her. And a woman who divorces her husband so she can marry someone else commits adultery."
The people brought children to Jesus, hoping he might touch them. The disciples shooed them off. But Jesus was irate and let them know it: "Don't push these children away. Don't ever get between them and me. These children are at the very center of life in the kingdom. Mark this: Unless you accept God's kingdom in the simplicity of a child, you'll never get in." Then, gathering the children up in his arms, he laid his hands of blessing on them.
I am the woman who anointed Jesus. I am unnamed, as many women of my time are unnamed and unnoticed. But not by Jesus — he speaks to us, takes us seriously , argues with us , unselfconsciously accepts us — he is different from the other men. I’ve been following him for a while, inspired by his teaching. I have felt that he is increasingly troubled, struggling with something he knows he must do or face. Many of his women followers have noticed this change in him. He has become more annoyed with his inner circle’s failure to comprehend what he is trying to tell them. I and some of the other women decided we needed to tell him, needed to let him know, that we could see his pain, his fear, the struggle he is going through, and although we are not sure, we too fear that it is his life that is at stake. We decided to act and to reach out to him. We bought nard and decided that we would anoint him — we would acknowledge him as our King. And also tell him that if he fears he will die, we know that fear too, we lovingly prepare him for facing death.
Our law says that for us to do so would make him ritually unclean, but we know in our hearts that Jesus would pay no heed to such nonsense. We know too that we were casting ourselves in the role of prophets by doing so, but has he not taught us to speak out, to say what we feel? We gathered the money together — some of the women following him are quite wealthy — and we bought the perfume — it cost the equivalent of a labourer’s wages for a year. It was easy to get to him at Simon’s, because Simon the leper is part of our group of women, healed lepers, possessed and others who meet together sometimes to talk about Jesus’ teaching — the inner circle of men around Jesus find us a bit odd, and I think threatening.
We are the men at the table, and all we have to say is: who does this woman think she is?! She has broken the law, and spending all that money on poncy Roman affectations is disgusting when so many are poor. Does she think she’s some kind of prophet? We know Jesus is our Messiah and our King — we don’t need her to tell us that with her pseudo-ritualism — but what is Jesus going on about death and burial for, if he’s the Messiah who will triumph? He won’t make many friends or get many good Jews following him if he carries on behaving like that and letting women touch him in that way — can’t he see people think it’s odd and unclean? He’s too familiar with the women.
All in all he’s behaving very strangely, and we don’t understand what he wants of us or what he is talking about half the time.
I am Judas, and I am disappointed and angry. I thought this guy was really going to take on the Romans and get them out, but he’s just another religious weirdo riding on the back of the people — my Zealot mates were right. And accepting the gift of nard that was imported from India by the Romans! Why didn’t he sell it and give the money to the poor instead, or put it in our kitty? As treasurer I know we need it, but no, instead Jesus praised her for doing it. So much for being on the side of the poor. I’ve had enough.
I am Jesus. I am tired of trying to explain to the Twelve about how I feel things are going to unfold. They don’t seem to hear. I increasingly feel that I am going to have to die soon: God is calling me to face this possibility. And I am scared, and feel so alone with it. That is until she came forward — Mary, part of that interesting group of women, healed lepers and possessed who worry the Twelve with their radical unorthodoxy. Peter says they go a bit too far and are doing my cause no good.
But she understands, and through her touch and her action she has let me know. I feel she is saying to me ‘No, you are not mad to feel and think what you do — I can see too where all this may lead, I can see the burden you bear — let me reach out to you … I do understand.’ It is such a relief, and it is beautiful.
I worry for Judas, though: he is so bitter and angry. I’ve noticed he has been distant with me lately. He is full of so much anger and hate, he still can’t forgive the Romans for what they did to his family. O God, please don’t let him come to harm; bring him healing for his wounds; don’t let his bitterness destroy him.
The possible feelings surrounding this group are complex and the above is merely speculation. But there is no doubt that the woman has understood Jesus. Intuitively she has responded to what Jesus has been saying — it is she who understands what he believes is going to happen to him. And lets him know through lovingly anointing him — communicating through touch what perhaps is impossible or too risky to speak out about in words.
She has done a beautiful thing for him.
Ray Gaston, drawing upon Women Believing by Ruth Musgrove
O Jesus, stretch forth your wounded hands over your people to heal and to restore, and to draw us to yourself and to one another in love. Amen.
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