It’s Not a Waste

The Passover was just two days away. Jesus had warned his disciples repeatedly what lay ahead. And, for the night they were in Bethany, at the foot of the Mount of Olives, just 2 miles East of Jerusalem. Jesus’ friends Mary and Martha and Lazarus lived in Bethany. It was here that Mary sat at Jesus’ feet. It was here that Jesus raised Lazarus. Tonight Jesus is a guest in the home of Simon, known as Simon the Leper, perhaps one of the times Jesus had come here he had healed him. We know that somehow this Simon who had been labeled a leper, an outcast, had been healed and restored to society and now was hosting Jesus and the disciples in his home.

The table was short, u-shaped, and around it the disciples and those gathered to eat leaned on one elbow and ate with the other hand. As Jesus is reclining there, a woman enters the dining area, just off the courtyard, and stands behind Jesus. In her hands is an alabaster jar filled with expensive perfume. She opens it and pours it on Jesus head. Up until that moment, time had been going by like normal – people talking all at the same time around the table, conversations layered one upon another – in that moment, time stood still.

In Greek, there are two words for time – chronos for the kind of time that ticks by on a clock, and Kairos. Kairos is the kind of time that stands still – it is the word for a particular moment in time.

In that moment, that Kairos moment, Jesus is anointed.

Presbyterian pastor Dr. Tom Long reflects that “Up to this point in the story of Jesus, many have responded to Jesus’ life; she alone has approached Jesus reverently and recognized the profound significance of his death.”

The disciples’ response to Jesus’ predictions of what was going to happen to him have been resistance, distress, and misunderstanding. But this woman anoints, makes him physically the anointed one – in Hebrew the Messiah, in Greek the Christ – the One for whom God’s people had been waiting. Anointing is a sign of holiness, it was used to set aside people for their holy duties, priests and royalty were anointed for service, and the dead were anointed for burial.

Presbyterian pastor and author Sara Covin Jeungst points out that “We are not sure what the woman has in mind, whether it is a gesture of love, a sign of veneration and respect, a recognition of his role as Messiah, or perhaps even, as Jesus himself suggests, a preparation for his burial. The only thing we know is that it was a beautiful act of generosity to honor Jesus.”

Whether she knew the significance of her act or not, she allowed herself to respond to a nudge, an urge to open her treasure and pour it out, to act on her heart’s longing, to worship, vulnerable in front of all those who might judge her, but it didn’t matter. Nothing mattered in that moment but love, pouring out, dripping down as Kairos time stood still.

Grumbles erupted almost immediately. “What a waste! That’s worth a fortune! Think of the ministry we could do with that much money! The poor in need that could have helped!”

Jesus stops them. “Why? Why are you criticizing her? She has done a beautiful thing to me.” This is religious language. The rabbis defined two types of “good works” or “beautiful things”: giving money to the poor and burying the dead. Jesus is saying that there is more chronos time to give money to the poor, but the time is now to bury him.

Still, it may seem harsh to us that Jesus says, “You will always have the poor with you.” It is one of those verses that has been quoted and misused to justify church building campaigns and to dismiss opportunities to serve the poor. Why would Jesus say, “You will always have the poor with you?” The disciples would have heard Jesus’ allusion that we might miss. Jesus is quoting Deuteronomy 15:11, which says that we will always have the poor with us because of our corporate sinfulness. We as a society disobey God’s law and the result is injustice, and as long as we are unrepentant, independent, and prideful people who believe we are self-made, as long as we tolerate haves and have-nots based on where you were born in a city or what color your skin is or your heritage, as long as we fail to love others as we have been loved by God, then yes, we will always have the poor with us.

I wonder if Jesus didn’t just look at them with pity in his eyes and a shake of his head. All this time, all this teaching, and still, they didn’t understand. “You, you all, look at you criticizing and questioning and acting better than her when she didn’t count the cost, socially or financially, when she answered God’s nudge to pour out her love. You SO don’t get it that you are ALWAYS going to have the poor with you.

And yet, they could, and we can. We have hope in Kairos moments – those moments that time stands still, because in those moments our chronos lives are reoriented.

When I think of Kairos moments in my life, I remember a baptism that Rev. Stephanie Patton performed when I was in college. As she anointed the baby with a cross in oil after the baptism, I realized in the beauty of that moment with the baby making eye contact with her and the parents standing with tears in their eyes, that the nudge to be a minister was one that I could, as a female, answer. I remember a night in Idlewild Presbyterian’s parking lot. We had been told that there was a woman in the lot who was dying from AIDS. She didn’t have many nights left and would ask us for money for shelter. We took up our dollars and then divided them so that each of us could give her a little. As I handed her my $2, I realized that she was trying not to touch me, and her hand was shaking, and she was holding a Styrofoam cup in her hand filled with water. As we exchanged the money, we made eye contact, and the water spilled, just a bit, and landed on the pavement with a splash that jumped up onto each of us, and in that moment I realized that we were both beloved children of God, washed by the same Savior. And from that time on, my relationships with those who are homeless have been different.

My friends, as hard as this is, we are living in a Kairos moment right now. As this virus dots our globe with outbreaks and hot spots, our anxiety levels may rise. Those places where we rub the nerves of the people we live with may get raw. We may grow weary, fearful, sick, overwhelmed, and we may be tempted to watch the clock, to live in chronos time, to turn to the news and memes to get us through.

What if, instead, we embraced this Kairos moment? What if we opened our hearts to God in this time, like the woman who poured out the expensive perfume to anoint Jesus?

Jesus said that wherever the Gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her. I don’t think the Good News of what she did was over that night. She set an example for us. When we are in despair, when we don’t know what is going to happen next, the Good News is that when we open our hearts to God and pour them out, God’s Will is anointed to act in the world.

I was reminded this week in one of my Lenten devotions of the power of lament.

Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann, writes that “even though about one third of the Psalms are psalms of ‘lament,’ these have been the least used by Catholic and Protestant liturgies. We think they make us appear weak, helpless, and vulnerable, or show a lack of faith. So we quickly resort to praise and thanksgiving. We forget that Jesus called weeping a ‘blessed’ state.”

The laments follow a 3–part pattern: complaint, request, and trust. I invite you to take some time this week and write your own lament for this time. Begin with complaint – things are not the way they should be – open your heart to God and pour out your complaint. And then make a request – God, act! Heal- guide the scientists! Give wisdom to leaders! Protect! Give patience! Make your request to God, and finally, place your trust in God. God is working, and God’s Will shall be accomplished.

From the cross, Jesus quoted Psalm 22, a lament, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” The good news of the Gospel is that when our hearts are broken open and poured out to God, that Kairos moment is a beautiful thing. Amen.