The power of nard

One of the things that I love about working with TKT at Saint Paul’s in Foley is his willingness to experiment liturgically.  Sometimes we border on violating the rubrics, and on occasion we’ve smashed right through them, but as low churchmen interested in how the liturgy can work as an evangelistic tool, we’ve also done so having first reflected theologically.  In recent years, we’ve become a little more tame about our wanton flagrance against the rubrics, but the desire to allow our people to experience the liturgy fully remains strong.  As was the case a few years back when TKT decided that on Lent 5, Year C, we would set out some spikenard essential oil so that we could smell what that dining room smelled like the evening that Mary anointed Jesus.  TKT bought a small bottle of nard oil, and poured it into a small dish, and I swear to you, I can still smell that Godawful stink to this day.


Don’t try this at home kids.

This next sentence has rarely been said by a disciple of Jesus, but here goes.  I agree with Judas, that money would have been better spent on food for the poor.  Such is the power of nard.  But nard has a metaphorical power beyond its overwhelming stench.  Following on the heels of the Gospel lesson for Lent 4C, Mary exemplifies what it looks like to offer the same sort of prodigal love that the Father shows in sending Jesus to live and die as one of us.  Mary is wastefully extravagant in anointing Jesus with pure nard, but she does so out of love, honor, and respect for a man who as taught her what love incarnate looks like.

“You’ll always have the poor with you,” Jesus says, “but you won’t always have me.”  Mary knows this to be true, and so before she misses her chance, she wants to show Jesus what she has learned about the love of God, a love so extravagant that it doesn’t make sense on a human level; a love more extravagant than spikenard is stinky.  I know that I’m not there yet.  I try to love God in the same wastefully extravagant way that God loves me, but I fall short of that ideal.  I try to love my neighbor in the same sort of wastefully extravagant way that God loves me, but I find that to be impossible, people are just so hard to love sometimes.  Still, I know the ideal, shown sacramentally in the power of nard poured out on Jesus over dinner with friends.


A $30,000 Bath!

Each post this week will focus on the biblical account of the events that occurred in the last week of Jesus’ life.  Today’s reading is from Mark 14:1-11 (NRSV).

It was two days before the Passover and the festival of Unleavened Bread. The chief priests and the scribes were looking for a way to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him;for they said, “Not during the festival, or there may be a riot among the people.” While he 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 denarii, 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. When they heard it, they were greatly pleased, and promised to give him money. So he began to look for an opportunity to betray him.


It is Wednesday in Holy Week and Jesus has lost his mind.  While the focus of this day is all about Judas, it is Spy Wednesday after all, the story of the Woman, likely Mary, sister of Lazarus, who anoints Jesus with pure nard is intriguing to say the least.  Three hundred denarii is a years worth of wages for the average laborer in Jesus’ day.  According the the US Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary for a construction laborer in May of 2013 was $30,460.  It is no wonder people got snippy when they realized what was happening.

Jesus was given a $30,000 bath, and he seems to enjoy it.  It is Wednesday in Holy Week and Jesus has lost his mind.

Jesus doesn’t just enjoy it, he lifts it up as an example.  “Wherever the good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.”  What is it that we are supposed to learn from this extravagant event?  Jesus gives meaning to the seemingly spontaneous act of the Woman, “she has anointed my body beforehand for its burial.”  Tom Wright, in Mark for Everyone, suggests that it is yet another way in which the role of women is raised up in and through the ministry of Jesus.  “She has, in fact, gone intuitively right to the heart of things, cutting through the male objections on the one hand, and contrasting with the male plots on the other.  Not for nothing is this story sometimes held up as an example of a woman getting it right while all around her men are getting it wrong” (191).

That’s well and good, and something that probably needs to be heard by a Church guilty of 2,000+ years of patriarchy, but I think it goes even deeper than that.  This Woman is the only person willing to give Jesus the honor he is due.  It isn’t just the crowds who take Jesus for granted, but even his closes companions fail to see the truth of who he really is.  Lazarus will betray him, Peter will deny him, the rest of his disciples will abandon him.  Only one person in the whole story of Holy Week gets the ramifications of what it means that Jesus is the Messiah, and so she breaks open a $30,000 bottle of perfume and anoints Jesus as king of her life, and probably unwittingly as King of kings.

It is Wednesday in Holy Week, and while all of our attention is on Judas, we should not underestimate what this Woman has done for Jesus.