'Now the Passover and the Festival of Unleavened Bread were only two days away, and the chief priests and the teachers of the law were scheming to arrest Jesus secretly and kill him. “But not during the festival,” they said, “or the people may riot.”
While he was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head.
Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, “Why this waste of perfume? It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor.” And they rebuked her harshly.
“Leave her alone,” said Jesus. “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial. Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”
Then Judas Iscariot, one of the Twelve, went to the chief priests to betray Jesus to them. They were delighted to hear this and promised to give him money. So he watched for an opportunity to hand him over.' Mark 14:1-11
Faith is not simply what we think, a set of beliefs or signing up to a certain doctrine, no, faith is about how our lives are orientated. Christian faith is about a personal commitment to Jesus, the one who has come to rescue us, that then leads us to a whole new way of life. To have faith in Jesus is something that cannot go unnoticed and radically transforms who we are. The evidence of our faith is seen through how we live. If what we say we believe is a contradiction to how we live, then we must be rightly challenged to question what we really believe.
Now many of us would hold our hands up right away and confess that we know how our lives do not always reflect our love for God. This is where integrity plays its part. Integrity is about what we believe and who we are becoming. In Jesus we are not who we were, but we are not yet who we will be. We are on a journey of becoming. God is calling for our lives to be orientated towards him and to be absorbed and concerned about his goodness. In this way we will rightly be utterly concerned for those who are treated in evil ways.
Judas and the woman who anoints Jesus help us consider which way our lives are heading and who we are most concerned about.
The woman, we are told in the other gospels, has lived a 'sinful' life, or, in other words, she was probably a prostitute. Her life had been filled with rejection and abuse, and now she lived a life that excluded her from society, and where the religious said she was denied access to God. Yet she encounters Jesus and sees in him something remarkable. She recognises in Jesus the compassion, forgiveness and love of God. And so she reorientates her life to God and responds in a way that she sees fit - the pouring of expensive perfume on his head. This was an act of love, an act desiring the mercy and grace of God.
People rebuked her though, calling at a waste of money and a stupid thing to do.
But Jesus rebukes them and sees where the heart of this woman is. He knows that she has responded to him in love, and that is quite simply all that he asks of us all.
We need to be careful to not dismiss someone's actions just because it does not fit with what we think is right and proper worship to God. We need to be careful not to make faith all about signing up to a set of beliefs, because when we do we leave no room for spontaneity, expressiveness and creativity. We need to keep our eyes open to how God is moving and acting in people's lives and the surprising ways he is revealing himself.
The Spirit of God is wild and un-tameable, and we need to be prepared to be led by Him in the most challenging and surprising ways.
The actions of Judas reveal another story. It is a desire for self, a 'me first' mentality. His love for money deceived him. We are not told the full extent of Judas' thinking behind his betrayal of Jesus, but once again we see an orientation of life, yet this time it is away from God. Judas was one of Jesus' closest friends. He was one of the twelve disciples, someone who had been with Jesus from the beginning, who had seen the miracles and witnessed God's amazing ways, who had heard Jesus teach and preach and been with him in the deep conversations, sharing his life with him. Yet despite all of this something got hold of Judas that denied all of this and sought another way.
And so we need to be careful that we don't allow ourselves to walk the same path as Judas. Love for money, power, sex and fame can all easily replace a love for God and our lives can all too easily orientate themselves away from God.
When we see the widows, orphans, abused and oppressed yet do nothing about it because of our 'me first' menatality, then Jesus will challenge us.
When we believe that faith is all about what we believe and nothing about what we do, then Jesus will challenge us.
When we dismiss people because their actions don't fit with 'our way', then this story reminds us how Jesus sees things very differently. For the one who looks the most religious can indeed be the one who cares least for Jesus, and the one who appears to be the biggest 'sinner' can indeed be the one most devoted to God.
Let us ask God to challenge us this Easter and to allow him to re-orientate our lives towards him and his ways.