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The Rev. Stephen McKinney-Whitaker The Rev. Stephen McKinney-Whitaker

The Rev. Stephen McKinney-Whitaker is pastor/head of staff of United Presbyterian Church in Peoria, IL

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Presbyterian Church (USA)

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United Presbyterian Church, Peoria, IL


An Unreasonable Act

April 01, 2015

On Wednesday of Holy Week, Jesus dines in the house of Simon the Leper. It is an unreasonable act. Jesus shouldn't be with someone unclean like Simon, but the Gospel is unreasonable for who it includes, not excludes.

In the middle of dinner, a woman interrupts to pour an expensive jar of perfume on Jesus' head. It is unreasonable for her to barge in on a group of men. It is unreasonable for her to touch a man she is not married to in such an intimate way. It is unreasonable to use an expensive perfume in such a frivolous way.

The disciples, for once, are the voice of reason. "Why was the ointment wasted in this way? For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii, and the money given to the poor" (Mark 14:4-5).

Jesus does not agree. "Let her alone," he says. "She has done a good service for me" (Mark 14:6). But hasn't Jesus' ministry been focused on the poor? He says he came to preach good news to the poor. Three hundred denarii would be great news. Doesn't he see how unreasonable he is being?

What Jesus sees is the disciples' focus on the poor. The disciples are so concerned with the problem of poverty that they miss the embodiment of the Kingdom of God. The crowd on Sunday was so preoccupied with the problem of Rome that they missed the coming reign of God riding into Jerusalem on a donkey. The crowds see, but they don't see. They miss the Kingdom moment.

The Kingdom is coming for the poor, but ministry to the poor is a response to the Kingdom of God, it is not the Kingdom itself. Jesus made the same point about fasting earlier in his ministry (Mark 2:18-20). Our primary response must be to Jesus, who represents and ushers in the reign of God. Working for justice is necessary, but sometimes our churches become so focused on social witness that we miss seeing Christ in our midst and responding to his presence.

The unreasonable, unnamed woman sees something the disciples miss. She sees what the disciples should have heard three times: Jesus is going to be killed. She sees what is coming. She sees the pain and anxiety on Jesus' face. She sees the threat Jesus' message and presence pose to the religious leaders. She sees the cross on the horizon. She sees what Mark tells the reader in the first verse of the Gospel: "The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God."

The woman's unreasonable act is exactly the extravagant act Jesus has been waiting for his disciples to take. In contrast to the poor widow on Tuesday, this woman gives everything she has to Jesus, not to the den of robbers. She pours out everything, and even breaks the jar, for the one who gives his broken body for her.

She sees in Jesus what Jesus did not see in the Temple: the love and power and reign of God, so she knows where to put her best. Seeing the truth in Jesus and the truth of what lies before him, it is perfectly reasonable for her to do the unreasonable.

The good news of the Gospel makes what is unreasonable perfectly reasonable: to give our lives away, to break boundaries, to include the excluded, to be not afraid.

It's Wednesday of Holy Week. We know who Jesus is, and we know what is coming. What do we have to break open for Jesus today, if not our hearts? 

 


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