In Memory of Her

“Truly I tell you, wherever this good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.” Matthew 26:13 (Jesus)

“Wherever the Gospel is preached in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.”
Mark 14:9 (Jesus)

Oops.

You know her, right? The woman by whom Jesus was so moved, the one who made such a profound and healing impact upon him, Jesus promised that we too would be so wondrously stirred by learning of her gracious action, we would remember her every single time the Gospel is shared: every time, the good news would be proclaimed in remembrance of her? You remember her, right?
You know her: the woman who came in from the street carrying a heavy alabaster jar filled with pure nard, you remember, her, right? The woman who brought the gorgeous alabaster jar of expensive, stunning perfume and poured it, lovingly, carefully, over Jesus’ head?
You think of her, yes, every time the good news is shared, you think of what she did, her remarkable act of anointing, her gift of blessing, yes?
You know her name, yes? It is as familiar to us as any of the disciples, right?
The delicious and rare perfume, all the way from the Himalayas, her gift of anointing Jesus, as if for burial, early, preparing him for his deep deep journey into death, you think of her often, don’t you? Yes, all the time, no?

It was unthinkable to Jesus that we would forget her grace. Her gift. Her cleansing tears and her gentle hair. Oh yes, whenever we thought of him – his giving himself for us – we would remember her gift, too, how she gave herself in ministry to him: her gift of pure nard, so expensive it makes Jesus’ disciples crazy: you could sell that stuff and give the money to the poor. Oh, so now they decide they care about the poor. When she appears to bless and minister to Jesus.

JESUS: WHO NEEDS IT. Who needs it.

He is so grateful, so thankful, he enthuses about her and he is confident, “truly, whenever, the whole world, what she has done, will always be told, in memory of her.” Does he grovel? Not quite, not dignified enough. But he is profuse. And he is certain, certain to his very bones that we won’t forget her ministrations, even as he won’t forget them. It is balm, salve, healing, grace, blessing. And he is over the moon, dare I use such a prosaic phrase to describe the One who is about to die, to give all for us so we may have all forever.

Oops.
It would seem that Jesus’ confidence in his disciples, in those who went with him everywhere, and in those who passed on their experiences of being with Jesus, creating the testament, the witness to Jesus’ ministry, the Gospels of Matthew and Mark, and Luke and John, that confidence is misplaced.
They never even bothered to tell us her name.
And, even the modern editors who make up the various headings of the sections and stories in the Bible call it, distantly, “The Anointing at Bethany.”
Jesus would beg to differ. Perhaps, “The woman who anointed Jesus.” “A woman anoints Jesus’ head with oil.” And of course, then again, somebody out there in all of Christendom would just as soon call this, “A woman pisses off the disciples: again.” Uppity. What are we thinking!
We know that it’s Simon the leper’s house. And we hear about the disciples’ intolerance of her extravagance.
And you know what else: we remember this one thing from that whole story, Jesus’ defends her gift and there is this, this phrase that is quoted at least 20000 times a day, somewhere, by folks with a very different point to push, nothing to do with Jesus. This, this! is what we carry away from that story, the one to be told every time we speak of Jesus: his dismissive word to them that validates her gift, “the poor you will always have with you.” Oh, puleeeze.
THAT is not even the point. We are kind of pathetic at times, yes?

She ministered to Jesus. He needed it. She brought the best of the best to give him, her everything perhaps? All she had? We don’t know. But oh!
Oh, how richly Jesus received it. How gratefully he accepted it.
We forget: Jesus needed to be cared for.
Indeed, Jesus needs to be cared for.

Now.

By us, Nameless us. We can do it : give to Jesus.
It’s been said, (by John Wooden, it seems), “It is amazing how much can get done so long as nobody cares who gets the credit.” (Harry Truman said it, too. But the earliest credit for saying that pithy, good line goes to Charles Edward Montague, (1867 – 1928). And Ronald Reagan gets credit for it. Odd. We have made a point of keeping that knowledge current.

But the woman who came in to bless Jesus, to bathe his head in exquisite oil, to make him feel good, to cleanse, bless, care for Jesus’ body – his head; and also, likely, to signify (in the culture of the day) that here was king, the Anointed, the Messiah, the Christ! doesn’t get her name (or rarely even) her ministry acknowledged.
Let’s be honest. We don’t do ANYTHING “in memory of her.”
Oops. What were they thinking! To leave out even her name.

“Dear ‘her,’ thank you for loving Jesus for me. I’ll try to do my best, too.”
In fact, some of us do. Minister in memory of her. Give in memory of her. Offer gifts of extravagance, grace, in memory of her. Having learned her story, it is deeply moving, compelling, inspiring. And being “Anonymous” actually makes it easier. Yes, it is easier to move anonymously among the people Jesus loves, for he reminds us clearly that “even as you do this for one of the least of these: my sisters, my brothers, you do this: you give – you care – you bless, minister to, cleanse, serve me,” Jesus. Not caring who gets the credit. But I know. I know in whose memory, in whose unnamed nameless remembrance I reach out.

Her.

Jesus’ own minister. Named “her.” Do it in memory of her.

This is the thing: that we do it. That we do it. That we share the good news. That we proclaim in our actions the graciousness of Jesus. The forgiving love of God. The relentless hauling home of sheep. The offering of compassion, and of justice. Of space. And dignity. Of outright shelter. And food. And companionship on the journey. That we do it.

And, as Jesus is confident, let’s give him comfort in that. Who better to find as exemplar, inspiration, mentor, companion?

We do it “in memory of her.”

Jan Erickson-Pearson


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