At the margins

Now while Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very costly ointment, and she poured it on his head as he sat at the table. But when the disciples saw it, they were angry and said, ‘Why this waste? For this ointment could have been sold for a large sum, and the money given to the poor.’ 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. 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 26.6-13)

Jesus was back in Bethany, now in Simon’s house where this dramatic and beautiful event takes place. After his death, the women would bring oil to anoint his body for burial and this unnamed woman pre-empts that final act of love by anointing him now. In the Coronation Rite in this country the anointing oil, which contains oils of orange, roses, cinnamon, musk and ambergris, is poured from the Ampulla into the Anointing Spoon and then onto the head of the Monarch. The Ampulla is believed to be the one first used in the coronation of Henry IV in 1399 and the golden spoon is certainly of the 13th century. It is the very ancient way of anointing and goes back to Old Testament times.

The Ampulla and spoon from the Royal Regalia

The Ampulla and spoon from the Royal Regalia

So Jesus is anointed not just for burial but as a king – the King of the Jews as he would be proclaimed from the cross, Jesus Christ, Universal King as we know him.

But as I read this passage something else stuck out at me. He was in the ‘house of Simon the leper’. Was this a person who he had healed, a former leper he had touched and made clean. Lepers were complete outsiders, they lived outside of the camp in the Old Testament, they lived outside of the village or the city in Jesus’ day. They were the excluded of society. But Jesus is the one who suffers ‘outside the camp’ as it says in the Letter to the Hebrews

Jesus also suffered outside the city gate in order to sanctify the people by his own blood. Let us then go to him outside the camp and bear the abuse he endured. (Hebrews 13.12-13)

He identifies himself with the marginalised, with the excluded and our redemption is won beyond the walls, where those shut off from society were. Simon knew this and that must be why he invited Jesus for dinner. Others still labelled him for who he was ‘the leper’ but Jesus loves him for who he truly is, Simon, brought back by the one who reached out and touched untouchables.

Who are beyond our walls – did Jesus, king, saviour, friend bring you in from the cold?

your love embraces all
your arms stretched wide on the cross
encompass all.
May I love as you love
for you love even me.


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