Mary pours a jar of perfume onto Jesus’ feet and washes his feet with her hair. Judas Iscariot (and likely other disciples) respond that they could have sold the perfume and given it to the poor. Jesus rebukes them and tell them the poor with always be with them, but he will not. Her act becomes one of adoration and preparation for burial.
Sometimes this scripture is interpreted along with the Mary vs. Martha story of working vs. listening. Sometimes this scripture gets the very confusing interpretation of “don’t help the poor.” Other times, this text becomes a third space for works of piety and works of mercy (a Wesleyan idea) in which we tend to focus on too much on piety while Wesley told us to focus mostly on mercy.
These are interesting, confusing, and unhelpful interpretations for rural spaces. Rural people are often working too much as it is. They help each other. They aren’t sure who Wesley is. Also, these are boring work/life balance stories.
Instead, I’ll focus on the woman wasting her stimulus check on fancy perfume to pour on a guy she doesn’t know well. Judas gets to be a Pharisee here. I am often the Pharisee. I struggle with the reality of worship vs. service.
Sure Jesus raised her brother from the dead. But that money could have fed their family for a year or more. But this story is about the mom who buys the nice shoes for her child because she has the money, even if just this once. It’s the trip to Disney even though the next paycheck isn’t guaranteed.
I think this scripture offers rural people the chance to be tacky. The chance to live in abundance when the world will tell them they should save their money because they don’t live in the upper echelons New York, Chicago, or even Charlotte. The rural people that don’t go to the First Church or even the second. They get to wear bright colors. They get to wear the perfume they like. They get to live as if who they are matters. Mary poured that perfume on Jesus because he mattered to her.
This scripture, for me, is a reminder that rural people, poor people, marginalized people will always be judged for living into their abundance. Whether it’s jacked up trucks or food coloring in the Rice Krispy treats, they will be judged by others. Jesus sits here, letting a woman dump $20,000 worth of perfume on him. He let her. God let her.
If anything, this texts lets rural people know that Jesus is fine with them celebrating life and the giver of life. It is a sign of joy found in the celebration and adoration of woman who has a gift to share.