By Michele Shadden
I stand amazed in the presence of a God who loves me beyond measure and grace. I wonder “who, me?” and “why me?” That is a mystery to which I will never know the answer. God just loves me and us with God’s heart and with all that God is and God asks us to do the same.
In loving God with all one’s heart, soul, mind and strength (Matthew 22:37-40), I think of the woman with the alabaster jar. She loved Jesus with all of who she was. (Mark 14:1-11).
I must confess, I love the Gospel of Mark. I love the irony and the fast pace which slows down towards Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection. Mark’s gospel was first passed down orally and I can see people sitting waiting in anticipation for the rest of the story.
From the scripture, we know that the woman broke an alabaster jar and poured very expensive nard on Jesus’ head. The story brings the disdain of onlookers because the costly perfume could have been sold and the money given to the poor (Mark 11:4-5). The onlookers here were probably the disciples. It is doubtful the scribes and Pharisees were present in this setting as Jesus was in the home of Simon the leper, considered unclean.
Throughout the gospel of Mark, Jesus repeatedly demonstrates his mission to the disciples by loving the disenfranchised, living by faith, telling and re-telling both symbolically and literally about his death and resurrection. The disciples just do not get it. They are living in anticipation of a traditional king, one who would overthrow the Romans. They are more interested in who will sit on the right and left of Jesus in heaven. Their lack of faith sabotages their healing efforts. How human, how imperfect, how much are we like the disciples?
Let us now spend more time on the focal point of our story, the woman who no one knew and the anointing of Jesus. Who was this woman? Think about it. She was probably a woman of means given the fact she was carrying around expensive perfume no one else could afford. Jesus has crowds of people following him wherever he went. What would have made this time any different? Can you see it? This woman entering the house probably through crowds of people and approaching Jesus? How did an unaccompanied woman get through the crowds to see Jesus? Can you see the stares, hear the murmurs of the others in the house? Can you just feel the disdain of the disciples as she pours the nard on Jesus’ head? Can you smell the heavy, sweet scent of nard in the midst of all the commotion?
This unknown woman was a prophet. Harper’s Bible Dictionary defines a prophet as “a person who serves as a channel of communication between the human and divine worlds.” She prophesied Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection by her simple, profound, and powerful act of anointing. What was she thinking? Did she know she was a prophet? Did she feel led to anoint Jesus, not fully understanding why but following the will of God on faith? Did she understand the urgency that was inherent in Jesus being anointed? Or did she weep as she poured the nard on Jesus’ head knowing full well what the future would bring?
Brave soul she was and in sharp contrast to the well-meaning disciples. What must they have been thinking and feeling? Jealousy, a woman in the midst, being caught off guard, wondering who this woman was and why in the world was she doing what she was doing? “Well, Jesus taught us to help the poor, what is this?” Human, human disciples.
Jesus did not abandon the poor. Jesus is emphasizing the ministry to the poor is not going away. However, his own death is imminent. He wants to prepare himself as well as his followers. This passage is also symbolic of the dread Jesus felt as the days of betrayal and crucifixion drew nearer. Jesus worked hard explaining the upcoming events of his betrayal and death to his disciples. The symbolic anointing served as an affirmation of the painful days ahead.
“She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for its burial…what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.” (Mark 14:8, 9b).
Let us look closely at the symbolism of the word “remembrance” in Mark 14:9b: Remembrance is “the purpose of fully integrating faith and life for the goals of complete obedience to God.” (Dictionary of Biblical Imagery, 703). This is, in essence, the unknown woman with the alabaster jar. The prophet lives a fully integrated faith and life, fully obedient to God.
Now, let us bring this message to the home of your heart. Close your eyes for a moment and imagine that in the midst of the demands of the day, you are having your quiet time with God.
What is the whisper of God in the depths of your open, receptive heart? Like the unknown woman with the alabaster jar, what is it that God would have you do? Does the will of God burn in your heart like flames that cannot be extinguished, whose intensity cannot be ignored? Do you feel the presence and urgency, the call of God, but not exactly sure what God is saying? What does it look like for faith and life to be in sync, to be integrated with one another? What does it mean to be fully obedient to God in your life?
Like the unknown woman with the alabaster jar, let each of us be and do that which God wills.
In this Advent season, let us consider: What did this feel like to Mary?
“For nothing will be impossible with God. Then Mary said, ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’” (Luke 1:37-38).
Now, with all our hearts, souls, minds and strengths, let us love God and do as God wills in this season of Advent.
Millicent “Michele” Shadden is a CBF Leadership scholar and student at Hood Theological Seminary in Salisbury, N.C. She is pursuing the Master of Divinity degree with a concentration in Preaching as well as Theology and Social Ethics. Michele lives in Winston-Salem, where she is a full-time student at Hood and a full-time employee at Novant Health, Winston-Salem, where she is behavioral health therapist in the telebehavioral health department.