(A sermon based on Mark 14:1-11 for Wednesday of Holy Week)
What does it mean to follow Jesus? We learn a couple of things that it means from this anonymous woman who anointed Jesus on Wednesday of Holy Week, just two days before he would be crucified. From her we learn that following Jesus means to embrace who Jesus says he is. Another thing she teaches us that following Jesus means to participate in what he is doing.
This woman is an intriguing character about whom we know nothing other than that she performed this beautiful act of anointing Jesus. It stands to reason, though, that she had encountered Jesus previously and even that she was a follower of Jesus. Indeed, it just may be that Mark purposely contrasts her with other followers of Jesus in order to show through her what a true follower of Jesus looks like. Whereas others failed at following Jesus, she succeeded. Whereas others failed at understanding Jesus, she succeeded.
Think back, for example, to the conversation between Jesus and Simon Peter at Caesarea Philippi. Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter replied, “You are the Messiah.” Then Jesus began telling them that as the Messiah he would suffer and die and rise again. Peter rebuked Jesus and was in turn rebuked by Jesus.
Peter got it. But Peter didn’t get it. Peter said the right word but had the wrong meaning.
This woman got it in ways that Peter didn’t. Had she heard what Jesus had said about his impending suffering and death? Probably. Did she intend to anoint Jesus for his burial? He certainly interpreted her action in that way.
The evidence indicates, then, that the woman accepted Jesus’s words about who he was and about what it meant for him to be who he was. She accepted his teaching that he was a suffering Messiah who would give his life up even to the point of death. She understood that his death was drawing near and she acted toward him in ways that befit such understanding. She accepted and honored him as he truly was and didn’t try to force him into a box defined by her preconceived notions or traditional expectations.
Have we really understood Jesus? Have we really accepted who Jesus is? Or do we insist that he really was not a self-emptying, humble, sacrificial Messiah? We say we follow Jesus—what do our lives show about our understanding of the Jesus that we follow?
This anonymous woman not only understood who Jesus was; she also participated in what he was doing. She anointed his body beforehand for his burial. In that way she participated in his death; she declared her allegiance to and her willingness to share in his coming death.
Do we really participate in what Jesus is doing? We live on the other side of the death of Jesus; we live as those who know the whole story. We believe fervently and appropriately that Jesus died for our sins but do we believe just as fervently that Jesus calls us to participate in his death? How do we give ourselves up? How do we give ourselves away? After all, Jesus both died for us and calls us to come die with him and for others.
Maybe it all, like most things, comes downs to love. This woman clearly loved Jesus greatly which led her to give sacrificially. How is our love for Jesus leading us not only to accept what he does for us but also to do what we can with and for him?