Gospel Reading: It was two days before the Passover and the festival of Unleavened Bread. The chief priests and the scribes were looking for a way to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him; for they said, “Not during the festival, or there may be a riot among the people.” While Jesus was in Bethany reclining at table in the house of Simon, a woman entered carrying an alabaster jar of perfume made from expensive aromatic nard. After breaking the Jar, she began to pour the perfume on Jesus head. Some sad to themselves indignantly, “What is the point of this extravagant waste of perfume? It could have been sold for over three hundred silver pieces, and the money given to those in need!” They were infuriated with her.
But Jesus said, “Let her alone. Why do you criticize her? She has done me a kindness. You will always have poor people among you, and you can do them good whenever you want, but you will not always have me. She has done what she could. She has anointed my body and is preparing it for burial. The truth is, wherever the Good News is proclaimed throughout the world, what she has done will be told in memory of her. (Mark 14:1-9)
Pastor Dawn's Homily
When I was a kid, we could never have imagined a world where people had cameras in their phones. When we wanted to remember something, we had to rely on the power of our memories. I can still remember my father encouraging my brother and I to stop what we were doing look around and “make a memory.” So, let’s stop what we are doing, take a few deep breathes and look around, focus and make a memory. Look around this room, at all these amazing, beautiful women and men because I know that in years to come you are going to remember each and every one of them. For each and every one of you are beautiful, courageous, outrageous, and memorable in your own right.
Now I have only been with you for a short while, but I’ve taken the measure of who you are and I can say without a doubt that you are all – how shall I but this, huuummm, I’m just going to go for it, you are such a beautiful bunch of bad-asses! I am going to take great delight in remembering you. Now let me assure you that were I come from, to call someone a “bad ass” is a complement! A bad ass is someone who is courageous, insightful, funny, down to earth and more than ready willing and able to commit whatever outrageously extravagant act it takes to accomplish whatever must be accomplished. In all of you I see the same kind of bad-assory that has been handed down to us from women of old. If needs must, I can see each and every one of you bursting into any place where somebody needs to create a stink; the kind of stink that will stick around preciously because you have the audacity to speak the truth, not only in words but in deeds.
The anonymous gospel-storyteller that we call Mark, didn’t exactly do a great job of creating a memory. He may have forgotten the woman at Bethany’s name, but he couldn’t erase the memory of the stink she created.
The woman of Bethany who had the audacity to take on the role of priest and anoint Jesus with nard, walked in the long line of women, named and unnamed who have claimed their right to power. In order to break into the party, to commit the priestly act of anointing, I’m sure that this unnamed woman must have needed to take courage from the memories of her people that had been handed down to her, from mother to daughter for generations. I suspect that this unnamed woman may have had the names of women like Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah and Tirzah running through her mind giving her the courage to break open that jar and create a stink.
In case your memories don’t stretch as far back as remember the names of Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah and Tirzah, let me remind you of these badass foremothers of ours. Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milchah and Tirzah are the audacious courageous daughters of Zelophehad, whose memories should strike fear into any man who dares to deny a woman her due. The memory of these women’s insistence upon arguing with non-other than Moses himself would no doubt have given the unnamed woman of Bethany courage to claim her right of anointing. Their story is recorded in the Book of Numbers, where you can read it for yourselves should you ever need encouragement in your quest to claim what is rightfully yours. According to the scriptures, Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milchah, and Tirzah’s father Zelophad had died without a male heir and according to the law, Zelophad’s daughters were to be denied the right to inherit property. Well these women weren’t going to stand for losing their share of the promised land, so they took it upon themselves to do the unthinkable. They marched right up to the halls of power, which in those days was called the Tent of Meeting and they burst right on in there and proceeded to argue with Moses, Eleazar the Priest, and the entire assembly of men.
They must have put up a great argument because Moses was compelled to take their case to YAHWEH. As the story is told, YAHWEH was so impressed that YAHWEH commanded Moses to ensure that Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah and Tirzah inherit their family’s share of the promised land. Their story inspires me, so I like to imagine that the unnamed woman of Bethany would also have found inspiration in the story of Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah and Tirzah. I can almost see the unnamed woman of Bethany standing outside the house of Simon holding on to her most valuable possession, trying to summon up the courage to entry were tradition insists she does not belong. Yet, there was something in what she had experienced in Jesus that compelled her to act.
This unnamed woman would have known that what she was thinking about doing was an act normally reserved for members of the priesthood. Anointing Jesus head with oil was tantamount to proclaiming that Jesus was the Messiah the Christ – the Anointed ONE, the one they had all been waiting for. Could she do it, should she do it, what would the elders say, what would the powers that be do?
According to this story, the gathering this unknown woman was about to disturb took place in Bethany two days before the Passover and we all know what was about to happen. Even she must have known that Jesus was determined to enter the city of Jerusalem, even she must have known the dangers that lay ahead. If not now when?
I can see her now outside the house, excluded from the party, wondering if she dared, how she dared. I can feel myself willing her on! Go on girl, get in there, claim your priesthood, go on, do it create a stink! Remember you come from a long line of badass women! Go for it!
Can you see it? It’s happening all over again. It may not be two days before the Passover, but there is danger afoot. There are children in cages, it is 85 degrees in Alaska. If not now when? Get in there and create a stink! Claim your place at the table! Claim your priesthood. Do it in memory of her. You know her. She’s Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah and Tirzah. She’s the unnamed woman of Bethany. She’s all those Mary’s who stuck with Jesus to the bitter end. She’s the First Apostle, she’s Phoebe, she’s all those who provided the means to spread the word. She’s all those women priests who served before the church became the empire and kyriarchy reared its ugly head. She’s ever sister who ever served this church we love. She’s every little girl who ever dared to dream. She’s our daughters and our granddaughters and every little girl that’s yet to be. Do it in memory of her! Get in there and create a stink! Do it for Christ’s sake. Do it in memory of her! Now is the time! Go for it!