This is our truth, tell us yours
It is that day when, if you are Christian you remember the death of a man. A death at the hands of a state who didn’t like what he had to say about earthly power, about riches, about how they treated the other in their society. One of the last public events before the arrest of this man involved interacting with one of those “others”.
Jesus was in Bethany. He was at the table in the home of Simon, who had a skin disease. A woman came with a special sealed jar. It contained very expensive perfume made out of pure nard. She broke the jar open and poured the perfume on Jesus’ head.
4 Some of the people there became angry. They said to one another, “Why waste this perfume? 5 It could have been sold for more than a year’s pay. The money could have been given to poor people.” So they found fault with the woman.
6 “Leave her alone,” Jesus said. “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. 7 You will always have poor people with you. You can help them any time you want to. But you will not always have me. 8 She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body to prepare me to be buried. 9 What I’m about to tell you is true. What she has done will be told anywhere the good news is preached all over the world. It will be told in memory of her
Some say the woman with the perfume was a sex worker, there is no evidence of this. Cultural norms of the time made any contact between a unrealted man and woman problematic. It may be that they confuse her with the “sinful woman” who cleans Jesus’ feet in Luke. They are very different acts, one an act of welcoming, another preparation of the body for the tomb. What is similar is the reaction both times, of acceptance, of not believing Himself tainted by the contact with the other. Indeed in Mathew Jesus goes further, not only is he not tainted, he says that wherever He is remembered so will the woman be.
These accounts are those memories, collected and passed down as so much of history is. When reading any history it is important to remember there is no such thing as a fact, there is only interpretation and opinion. Interpretation depends on asking ourselves three very important questions. What did the person writing this want us to know, what memory did they want us to consider, what picture where they trying to paint of the actors in their history.
What message were the writers of the Gospel trying to convey? To use modern jargon, what was their agenda? I frequently get atheists shouting at me on twitter who seem to think the Gospels mentioned gay marriage, or abortion, or whatever the cause of the moment they claim to care about is. In the last days of his life, days that presumably will have been indelibly marked in the minds of his friends and family, what events and words are recorded?
A woman, being extravagant, friends arguing that they will never desert him (which they do) a mob turning(as mobs always do) politicians washing their hands of confronting bigots (as they always do) good men trying to oppose injustice, but failing because they are afraid they will lose their social standing.
And a man, a frightened, weeping man, alone in a garden, who knows he will not be allowed to live.
Of course the state saw that you cannot kill an idea, and co opted Christianity into another tool of kyriarchy. But today I think back to what those first Christians wanted us to remember, what acts and words mattered enough to be recorded.