“But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, ‘Why do you trouble the woman? She has performed a good service for me. For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me. By pouring this ointment on my body she has prepared me for burial.’ “
– Matthew 26:10-12 (NRSV-CE)
This fourth day of Holy Week, we commemorate Holy Wednesday or Spy Wednesday. The passage above (the entire story is from Mt. 26:6-13) comes from Jesus’s time at the house of Simon the Leper in Bethany (also told in Mark 14:3-19 and in John 12:1-8, where this woman is identified as Jesus’s close friend Mary Magdalene). A woman who had a jar of very expensive perfume (costing about a year’s worth of wages at the time) poured the entire thing on Jesus, anointing him and angering his disciples, who believed that the perfume could have instead been sold for the aforementioned amount of money, to give to the poor. Jesus rebuked them and praised the woman’s actions, saying that they would always be remembered.
It was after this that Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve apostles, started thinking of betraying Jesus to the Jewish authorities, hence its other name of Spy Wednesday. The John account says that Judas wasn’t really thinking of caring for the poor, but wanted the money for himself – he served as treasurer to the apostles.
There is a similar story told in Luke 7:36-50, where a woman known for being sinful entered Simon’s house and, weeping, used her tears and hair to kiss, wash, and dry Jesus’s feet before anointing him. Jesus used the Parable of the Two Debtors to show that this woman, with her many sins, still chose to love him (“Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love.” [Lk. 7:47a, NSRV-CE]). It may or may not have been the same woman, or even if it was the Magdalene herself, but this is not the point.
As we remember the Paschal Mystery of the love of the Lord for us, let us take a moment to remember the actions of the woman who owned the expensive perfume. It is true that the perfume could have been sold and the proceeds used for charitable purposes. However, this woman knew her priorities, and she acted on them right: She used what she had to serve the Lord. Whether or not she knew about Jesus’s upcoming death and resurrection, her perfume was her sacrifice offered to Him – by anointing Jesus with it, she was preparing him for his burial, or at least bringing Him her offering.
What can we get from this story? It is a reminder to not just know our priorities, but to live them out the best way we can. As Christians, we are called to prioritize the love for and service to the Lord above all others, and to do so wholeheartedly and with all we’ve got. The woman knew the perfume was very expensive, worth a year’s work. Yet a year’s work was nothing to her as she chose to anoint Jesus with said perfume. She made a worthy investment in Christ, no matter how the disciples thought. She gave the Lord her precious wealth, knowing that only God deserves the ultimate glory we pay.
God Himself prioritized our salvation by sending His Son to die for our sins, even though He did not need to and was not compelled to (for Jesus was sinless). The woman with the perfume illustrated very well the kind of priority we, as God’s children, are expected to have.
As such, I invite you to join me as we strive to prioritize Christ in our lives always, and to offer all we’ve got for His sake.
Have a blessed Holy Week!