Matthew 26:1-13, Prepare
By Rebecca Hall
This passage marks an important turning point in Matthew’s gospel. Jesus has finished all his teaching. He’s done. Everything he knows about the Kingdom of God has been said, illustrated, and lived out through his ministry. The story now turns toward his death. He tells the disciples again that he will be turned over to the authorities and crucified. The powerful priests make plans to nab him. And an unnamed woman approaches him at a party and anoints him with expensive, perfumed oil as he reclines at the dinner table. We know this story well. The disciples are offended by the woman’s extravagance and declare that the money could have been given to the poor. But Jesus rebukes them, saying that the woman has done a beautiful thing in preparing him for burial (Jewish custom was to anoint bodies the night before burial.) “You always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me”, Jesus tells them.
I’m struck by the huge act of love by the unnamed woman, contrasted to the bickering disciples. They still don’t get it. They are still stuck on the rules they learned. 21st century therapists would say that they’re “shoulding” all over the woman. They missed the bigger point of extravagant love. I imagine that out of all the guests at the party, no one wanted to hear that Jesus was going to die in two days. We know from previous stories that the disciples resist when Jesus tells them his fate. This woman, in contrast, doesn’t deny, resist or rebut. She offers her presence, her money, and her service for Jesus’ benefit.
This is a strange reading to have during Advent, when we are waiting for the sweet baby Jesus, not the hanging-on-the-cross Jesus. These scripture verses, read through Advent-eyes are a powerful illustration of how to prepare – both for the birth of something and the death of something. We know in Advent God is about to break into the world. And in our reading we know God is about to be crucified. Our lives, too, are full of births and deaths (both metaphorical and real). Preparing is not getting caught in the weeds of “ought-to’s” and “should’s”. Rather, a faithful response is to ask ourselves how we may be in the situation with extravagant, costly, beautiful love.