For many, the story of Holy Week begins on Palm Sunday and skips straight to Maundy Thursday, from the Triumphal Entry of Jesus into Jerusalem into the Upper Room in which He shared the Last Supper with His disciples. But there is on this Wednesday a moment that is so Jesus that we cannot dare ignore it in our celebrations.
It is the story of Jesus in Bethany.
Take yourself there. Bethany was a place with which Jesus was intimately familiar. A number of His friends lived there, and several of the Gospel stories take place within its bounds. Several beautiful stories, of which this one is no different.
Today, Jesus is in the house of Simon, whom Matthew calls "the leper." Now, you know the Old Testament Scriptures as well as anyone - the lamb that is to become the sacrifice can have no uncleanness. It has to be a perfect, a spotless lamb. Yet here He is with the leper, the outcast, the contagious, the unclean (although we must say that since there was quite the crowd gathered in the home of Simon, he likely was a healed leper, a cleansed one, though no one would have forgotten his spotty white past). He comes in a weary traveler, and it is in this story that He chides Simon for not being the most gracious of host - he did not even bring the Rabbi some water to wash His feet.
A large crowd here has gathered; Simon's home is packed to the brim. Like we said, Jesus had a lot of friends in Bethany, and although many may not have known what His presence in Jerusalem this week truly meant - they might not have been present for His prophecies of the sort - they relished a chance to see Him again, and so they came. We can imagine that Mary and Martha are there. Lazarus, too, having once died yet lived again. Simon the Leper is of course present, as it's his house. And the whole thing is a general gathering of good nature.
Until a sinful woman walks in.
She would have been noticed right away. She had, after all, a reputation. There were probably not a lot of places she could have gone in a place like Bethany, perhaps even in Jerusalem proper, without being spotted. And she knew it. She was fully aware of her position. She knew that all eyes would turn on her in an instant, that the room would fall silent, that it wouldn't take long for the whispers to begin once she invited herself into this party.
That's why she kept her eyes focused firmly on Him.
What she was about to do wasn't about her. It wasn't. She knew it probably looked that way, making a spectacle as she was. Uninvited as she was. Known as she was. But for her, it wasn't. For her, it was about Him. It was about this one opportunity - who knew when she would have another - to give back to Him some measure of what He had given her. You see, she was a sinful woman, but for all those who had "known" her, this Man knew her. This man alone had taken the time, we don't know precisely where or how, to acknowledge her, and He had given her back something she thought she had lost forever - her dignity.
The full bottle of nard was not enough. She knew it. Expensive though it was, it paled in comparison to His tremendous gift. But it was all that she had, and there was no better use for it. Traditionally, it might have been used in preparation, when the woman had finally become betrothed to a man and was to wed. But let's be real about this: there was no man who was going to marry her. Not this sinful woman.
And so, the nard was His and she tried her best to give Him the moment, too. Forget all the whispers. Forget the stares. Forget the pointing fingers and the crossed brows and the shouts for her to get out of this place, this unclean woman in a leper's house. (Are you catching the irony of that alone?)
She walked straight through, straight to where the Rabbi was sitting, and she knelt before Him, letting her long hair fall as it may. She pulled out the bottle of nard and broke it, and if there had been among them any who had not noticed her presence yet, let them notice it now, for she was making truly a scene. She poured it out upon His feet and began to wash them with her hair, and among all the whispers, what does Jesus say about all of this?
He says, She has anointed me.
Anointed! By a sinful woman. And by the way, "a sinful woman" is probably a nice way of saying, "a prostitute." A prostitute just walked into a leper's house and performed the sacrament of a priest, anointing our Lord just days before He will offer His sacrifice. Let's not miss this. It is a vital and beautiful and wonderful part of this Holy Week.
And it is so Jesus, isn't it?