Monday of Holy Week
While Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he sat at the table, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very costly ointment of nard, and she broke open the jar and poured the ointment on his head. But some were there who said to one another in anger, ‘Why was the ointment wasted in this way? For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred days wages. and the money given to the poor.’ And they scolded her. But Jesus said, ‘Let her alone; why do you trouble her? She has performed a good service for me. For you always have the poor with you, and you can show kindness to them whenever you wish; but you will not always have me. She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for its burial. Truly I tell you, wherever the good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.’ Then Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve, went to the chief priests in order to betray him to them.
The first thing that this story tells us is that Jesus was a welcome guest in the house of an untouchable, a leper called Simon. Can you imagine how his disciples would have felt on edge? Who is the least popular person that you know? Who is the one that all the important people shun? That’s the house where you’ll find Jesus eating and drinking. Will you be there with him? And if so, will you be joining in, or will you be standing around the edge somewhere, hoping no one actually see you there?
Or maybe it’s you. It may be that tonight you sit here with the burden of being someone who at some point in your life was the one left on the outside. It is a burden which sits timelessly on the surface of our unconscious, waiting for a quite moment, when there are no distractions, to remind you of the times when you were the one that nobody wanted.
It’s a voice that can be unceasing and which can shape all that you do. Its words have the power to mould your actions - ever to appease others or maybe to confirm what they said about you.
What must it have been like for Simon the leper to have God to dinner?
In the midst of what you think of yourself, what kind of affirmation would that be?
How would you respond?
Maybe your response would be like the woman with the alabaster jar of ointment.
Imagine how long she had saved - almost a whole years wages.
Think of that. How much would that be to you?
So grateful was she for being recognised and valued, no longer someone’s rubbish, that she wanted simply to do something in return. She wanted to give something to God.
And in the midst of the male bluster, she was the one who quietly stepped in, and broke the top off her alabaster jar with a loud crack that would have silenced the room.
She understood what no one else did, that the end was very close. Through her eyes we see how to value Jesus. All that she had she gave to him.
Those are so like the words in our wedding service at the exchanging of rings. All that I am I give to you. All that I have I share with you. She was offering herself to Jesus with a responding love like that of a bride or a groom.
And so how about us?
If we don’t wish to give like that it is not because we are ungrateful.
It’s just that we haven’t yet realised the depths to which Jesus will go to reach us.
We haven’t yet seen him through her eyes.
May the Lord open our eyes to see that we owe him everything - all that we have and all that we are, for he comes still into our homes and into our lives with the words, ‘You are important to me. You are worth the life of God.’ Amen.
Holy Week - Tuesday
This reading follows on immediately from last night when Mary of Bethany anointed Jesus at the house of Simon the Leper.
Then Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot, who was one of the twelve; he went away and conferred with the chief priests and officers of the temple police about how he might betray him to them. They were greatly pleased and agreed to give him money. So he consented and began to look for an opportunity to betray him to them when no crowd was present.
I always wonder about Judas. What must the last few days of Jesus’s life have been like through his eyes? I suspect that the reason that we are so fascinated by him is because he turned on Jesus after having lived, worked and ministered alongside him for three years. And so we worry that if Judas, who had actually been there and witnessed it with his own eyes could be turned, could get it so wrong, then what about us? If an eye-witness could lose faith then could it happen to me?
So what did Judas see in that last week? What finally made him turn on Jesus? Matthew and Mark link the story with last night’s narrative about Jesus being anointed by a woman at Bethany. It was as if that act of dedication and love was what finally inspired Judas to betrayal; that there was something which took place in his mind that spurred him on, and I find myself wondering if it was jealousy at the root.
And jealousy can quickly turn to contempt, and I wonder whether that was finally what took Judas over. I am pretty sure that he would have had his doubts about Jesus. There are some suggestions that his name, Iscariot, may have linked him with a group of assassins. Another possibly was that he came from the south of the country whilst Jesus and his closest associates were Galileans, from the north.
So right there we have grounds for Judas comparing himself unfavourably with others. It can be hard to fit in when you’re different and you start to look with jealousy on the leader and other followers who all seem to have so much in common. And so you need to protect yourself. What do you do? In your own mind you start to look less favourably on the leader.
If the leader doesn’t matter so much to you, then it doesn’t matter if you feel like you’re not on the inside of the group. Once you start to hold the leader in contempt you can feel more at ease and fool yourself that it really doesn’t matter. Except it does. Why else would it hurt so much to be on the outside?
I wonder if that’s what Judas did. I wonder whether, by the time he had got to Jerusalem for this final time, Judas had already decided he didn’t like what Jesus stood for simply because he was jealous, maybe of Simon Peter, James and john, or maybe of the attention that Jesus was himself getting. And once you have got yourself into that kind of mind set it is very easy to be tempted to try and rid yourself of the one who is causing you so much internal angst.
And then the woman comes and pours expensive anointing oil all over Jesus’s head. Judas sees not only the way she lavishes love on Jesus, but also the way he treats her tenderly, affirming that her story will be told whenever his story is told. Instantly she’s an insider, and the jealous root in Judas that he has allowed to blossom into contempt for Jesus and hatred for his followers who, to him, seem all to be on the inside, finally takes over and he decides to betray Jesus.
Could it be me doing the same thing? Could it be you?
I think that the biggest problem for us in our spiritual journeys is comparison. We look at other people and the relationship they have with Christ and we want to be like them. Or we see what they’re doing with their lives and we want to be like that. That jealousy is at the root of betrayal. And the Lord says to us, ‘Do not be concerned with how others live their lives. You have your own life, your own calling, your own direction with me. Walk the path that you share with me, not the path that someone else shares.’
So maybe Judas was jealous. And perhaps we should consider how we view the lives of others and remember that each of us has our own calling, and we should value what the Lord has called us to do rather than what he has called another to.