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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Today’s Scripture Reading | Matthew 26:1–16             

When Jesus had finished saying all these things, he said to his disciples, “You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified.” Then the chief priests and the elders of the people gathered in the palace of the high priest, who was called Caiaphas, and they conspired to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him. But they said, “Not during the festival, or there may be a riot among the people.”

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.”

Then one of the twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, “What will you give me if I betray him to you?” They paid him thirty pieces of silver. And from that moment he began to look for an opportunity to betray him. (NRSV)

First things first. That doesn’t mean never doing the second and third and fourth things. It just means doing the first thing first, the timely thing. The disciples think they have to choose between preparing Jesus’ body for burial and helping the poor. But Jesus tells them they don’t have to choose. They can do both, but first things first.

Jesus is about to die, and this is the time to realize that and to honor him and prepare his body. Soon he’ll be gone. The poor, the people in need of help, will still be there (and here) after Jesus is gone. Jesus never tells the disciples not to help and serve the poor. In fact, by pointing out that they will continue to be there and be in need after his death implies that he expects the disciples to continue to help them after he’s gone! The fact that they’re making trouble for the woman anointing Jesus might just be a distraction from their own grief.

Sometimes it’s very hard to make space for the painful moments in our lives and to take time to grieve. But grieving is a necessary part of life. The woman in this story is taking time and special care to acknowledge what is going on. An alabaster jar of expensive perfume won’t make the pain go away, but it somehow honors the importance of Jesus’ life and the magnitude of the unnamed woman’s grief.

And perhaps her bravery in being intentional will help the disciples deal with their own grief, too. Sometimes being fully present helps other people be fully present too.

Dear God, comfort me when I need to grieve. Help me to honor the people who are precious to me and to spend time thanking them, expressing my love to them, letting go of them when I need to. Let my love be a healing balm, a precious perfume, the fragrance of sorrow and gratitude mixed together. I know that you will never leave me, God. Thank you for being with me through all my losses. Amen.

Written by Nanette Sawyer, Minister for Congregational Life

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