Read: Matthew 26:6-13
On Wednesday of Passion Week, Jesus was anointed in Bethany.
Culture plays a huge part in how we view things, what we see, and what we don’t see. In China, people blow their noses right onto the ground. Most westerners think that is disgusting, but the Chinese see the ground as the place where you dispose of things you don’t want. When westerners blow their noses into a handkerchief or a tissue, people from China would think that is disgusting. They would wonder, “why would they want to keep that?”
Our cultural lenses are just as powerful when we read the Bible.
If you were a first-century Jew, and you were either present and watching what was happening or reading the account Matthew wrote, there would be nothing in this story that played by the rules, that would be considered acceptable by social norms. Nobody experiencing this or reading about it would be comfortable. Even the disciples, who by now probably thought they had Jesus and his priorities figured out, were thrown a curve. The only one comfortable here is Jesus, and he is turning everything upside down on everyone else.
Jesus was eating at Simon the Lepers' house. Lepers were considered unclean. To be in the same room as one was unacceptable; to accept hospitality from one was scandalous.
Next, a woman comes and pours expensive Nard over Jesus’ head. An adult Jewish woman would never talk to a man who wasn’t her husband or brother or father, much less touch one. Either of these two things would have had most self-respecting Jews heading for the exits.
But wait, there’s more.
Pouring expensive oil over the head was symbolic of anointing someone to be king. That act was the responsibility of a priest—a male priest—yet Jesus accepts this anointing from a common, unnamed woman.
The disciples begin to critique the extravagance saying the money should have been spent on the poor, after all Jesus always advocated for the poor. But Jesus even rebukes them.
You see, taking care of the poor falls under the 2nd most important commandment (love you neighbor as yourself) and Jesus wants them to understand that you can’t fully fulfill the 2nd most important commandment until you’ve fulfilled the most important commandment (love the Lord your God with all your heart).
Lest you think the woman got away without her actions being turned upside down, Jesus accepted her anointing him as king, but he described it as anointing him for burial. After all, that’s how his kingdom would come, through death and resurrection, not through might and conquest.
That is always how his kingdom always comes.
Jesus started out this week by turning the tables on the Roman authorities when he rode into Jerusalem. On Monday he turned over tables in the temple.
Passion week is all about Jesus turning over tables.