Mark 14:3-9

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.” Mark 14:3-9

It has been said that you can learn a lot about a person by the company he keeps. As we walk with Jesus in the last week of his earthly life, we find him having dinner in the home of Simon the leper.

Simon the leper.

Today we know that leprosy (called Hansen’s Disease) is a bacterial infection that attacks the skin, the peripheral nerves, the upper respiratory tract, and the eyes. Left untreated, it can be horribly disfiguring. It is not very contagious – you need to have very close and repeated contact with an infectious person to catch it. And it is both treatable and curable.

They didn’t know any of that in Jesus’ day. As far as people knew back then, a leper had been cursed by God and was a danger to the community. Lepers were outcasts, suffering both from the effects of their illness and the pain of social dislocation.

In terms of social rejection and public fear, until the coronavirus pandemic, the HIV/AIDS crisis is the closest most of us have known to the experience of leprosy in Jesus’ day. In terms of health, it was simply a dangerous and deadly virus. But left in the hands of people with their own agenda, it was cast as a shameful illness and a sign of God’s wrath. Doubly tragic.

It says a lot about Jesus that he chose to have dinner in a leper’s home.

Suddenly the party is crashed by an unnamed woman who surprises everyone by anointing Jesus’ head with oil. “Messiah” means “anointed one.” The Hebrew expectation was that the Messiah be a king, a political leader, who would liberate the people and usher in an era of peace. Jesus praises her for her action – everybody else thinks it was a waste of money.

A leper. An unnamed woman. And a group of people who seemingly have no idea who Jesus is or what Jesus is up to. Quite the motley crew.

Whatever you think about Jesus, leave room in your understanding to appreciate the company he kept.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, yes, we still remember the woman who lovingly anointed your head. We can imagine the rich smell that filled the room. May our minds and hearts continually be open to the ways that you always show up in the most surprising places, among the most unsuspecting people. Especially now as we taste of the fear, the loneliness, and the misunderstandings around the coronavirus. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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