Matthew 26: 6-16
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.’
As a child learning about the events of Holy Week, I was told that this story took place on the Wednesday of the week leading up to Jesus’ death. Scholars now, it seems, disagree with my Sunday School teacher and think that this is actually a story told as a flashback. But even if it is, its in the text in Matthew’s gospel tucked between what happened on Tuesday and what happened on Thursday, so I’m not going to worry too much about what the scholars say.
Each day, when I walk the dog, I see rainbows. Rainbows, mostly made by children, in the windows of houses in every street. They’re there to spread a bit of joy in these anxious times, but to me they’re also a stark reminder that we have been told to stay at home. A reminder that the children in those homes are not at school, or at brownies, or at the park, but at home. Most of them get to go out once a day for exercise, but for many people, even that is not allowed. If you are over 70, or have a range of particular medical issues, or are displaying even mild symptoms like a cold, you are to stay at home, for your own safety, and to safeguard others.
That can be a tough pill to swallow. Doing nothing is hard. Especially when we see others working so hard. Key workers who are not staying at home but are going out and risking their own wellbeing for the benefit of others. I’ve found it surprisingly hard, often feeling guilty or useless or both.
And yet sometimes, simply receiving the care of others is the best thing we can do. A woman walks into a dinner party and pours costly ointment on the head of one of the guests. The other guests are appalled. What a waste! Think what she could have done with the money if she’d sold the ointment instead.
Jesus, the recipient of the ointment, does not condemn her. He receives the gift that she offers and thanks her. He could not prepare his own body for burial. Even Jesus, sometimes, needs other people to carry the load.
Sometimes we just have to let go of our own desperate desire to help, to do something, to be in control, to make a difference, and instead receive the gift of others working hard on our behalf. Sometimes all we can do is put a rainbow in the window, stay at home, and say thank you.
Let’s just pause a moment and remember again the grace of God. The vast love that he has for each and every one of us, not because of what we do, but because of who we are, his precious children.
I’d like to finish with words from the hymn ‘Dear Lord and Father of Mankind’.
Drop thy still dews of quietness,
till all our strivings cease;
take from our souls the strain and stress,
and let our ordered lives confess
the beauty of thy peace.
The beauty of thy peace.