Jesus Anointed at Bethany
6 While Jesus was in Bethany in the home of Simon the Leper, 7 a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on his head as he was reclining at the table. 8 When the disciples saw this, they were indignant. “Why this waste?” they asked. 9 “This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor.” 10 Aware of this, Jesus said to them, “Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me. 11 The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me. 12 When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. 13 Truly I tell you, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.” -- Matthew 26:6-13 (NIV)
I learned it during the Super Bowl… there are only ten episodes of the iconic, cultic “The Big Bang Theory” in which we see the socially awkward, often clueless to social cues, Sheldon Cooper interact with his friends, family and colleagues. Maybe I’m clueless as well, but it seems to me that since the success of this series, there are a lot more shows that feature a socially awkward, clueless star. And if that’s true, then one wonders why this is the case?
Perhaps it is because all of us can identify times in our own lives when others or, God forbid, we ourselves have been clueless! Laughing at the actions of someone who is more clueless than we ourselves somehow eases the embarrassment, shame and even pain we have felt in these situations.
I wonder who it was that was “clueless” in the case of our Biblical story, the anointing of Jesus?
The disciples were indignant, thinking it was the woman who had no idea what she was doing… that her actions would embarrass Jesus and that he would rather have been given money to “give to the poor”.
But Jesus’ response indicates that it was the disciples that were clueless. They, in fact, were the ones who couldn’t recognize genuine worship, devotion and gratitude when they saw it.
And so… what might this mean for us?
We are told that approximately 37% of us in the US attend church regularly and that 75% claim to be Christian. If my impressions are correct, most of us in the 37% believe these others are either “back-slidden”, insincere or simply “cultural” Christians who were raised with Christian values and identity but have never really came to a personal belief in Christ. In other words, we think it is this other 38% who are clueless about what it means to be “Christian”!
But given our story, should we ask ourselves if we might be the ones who are a little bit clueless?? Are there some of those Christians who are showing their love for Christ in a pathway other than church membership and participation? Are there some who are doing “a beautiful thing” for Jesus but being condemned by the church?
Now, don’t get me wrong. I believe these believers would be better served to have a regular fellowship with the larger Body of Christ; but the question of who is the one that is socially clueless- well I’m just not sure that we in the church aren’t a little bit socially awkward. The threshold of the church is a little bit like the door to Sheldon’s apartment, a universe all its own that many in our society will never choose to visit, let alone live.
These then are some the questions that the “Fresh Expressions” movement is trying to answer. (To learn more about this movement, visit https://freshexpressionsus.org/) They are seeking to find ways that the established church can come alongside those Christians who show their love by working in the homeless shelter, volunteering for Habitat or the local hospital or just being a friend to others at the local VFW, McDonalds or other community hang-out? And I wonder if we need to ask if these are some of those beautiful acts that Jesus would tell us to affirm and to come alongside as His Body?
The point of connection between Christ’s Body and the world can no longer be the inside of a worship hall, but rather outside and on the street. We’ve got to find ways to both experience and to demonstrate God’s love for us in the World, not hidden behind ornate stone walls. And rather than thinking that this a new thing, the Gospel would suggest that it has been God’s intention all along! After all, for God so love the world that…
Prayer: Help me, oh Lord, to see the beautiful things your disciples are doing, both within the boundaries of your church and outside of them. Help me oh Lord to, instead of criticizing, come alongside those who are doing these beautiful things wherever they may be found. Amen.
Rev. Dr. Steve Van Ostran