By Sherry Black
Feast of St. Matthias, Apostle
A Reading from the Gospel of John 11:55-12:8
55 Now the Passover of the Jews was near, and many went up from the country to Jerusalem before the Passover to purify themselves. 56 They were looking for Jesus and were asking one another as they stood in the temple, “What do you think? Surely he will not come to the festival, will he?” 57 Now the chief priests and the Pharisees had given orders that anyone who knew where Jesus was should let them know, so that they might arrest him.
1 Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 2 There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. 3 Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. 4 But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, 5 “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?” 6 (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) 7 Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. 8 You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”
Jesus’ time with his friends is short. He and his followers arrive in Bethany for dinner to enjoy a meal together, and Mary’s actions are beyond generous. With pure nard, smelling of gladiolas, red and rich, she anoints Jesus generously with such a great quantity that all within the home can smell it. By wiping Jesus’ feet with her hair, Mary acts extravagantly and without care, exhibiting great devotion to her friend Jesus. She gives of herself abundantly and without hesitation.
In 1 Samuel 16:1-13, God tells the prophet Samuel to go to the house of Jesse; his son would be king. Jesse has many sons, but as they pass by, God tells Samuel to disregard each in turn. When David is finally brought in, God affirms to Samuel that yes, this is the one. “Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the presence of his brothers; and the spirit of the LORD came mightily upon David from that day forward.”
In the New Testament reading for the Feast of St. Matthias, 1 John 2:18-25, we read more about anointing. John writes to his people, “You have been anointed by the Holy One and all of you have knowledge.” In the next section in 1 John (v. 27), he writes, “the anointing that you received from him abides in you…. But as his anointing teaches you about all things, and is true and not a lie, and just as it has taught you, abide in him.” Through the anointing of the Holy Spirit, a gift that we too have received in baptism, we are given the gift of discernment; we have the ability to know truth in our hearts and have confidence in what Jesus, through the power of the Holy Spirit, has shown us.
Anointing marks someone as the “chosen one.” In our baptism with water and the anointing of our heads with oil, we are given this great gift, too. Sealed with the sign of the cross, we are marked as Christ’s own, forever.
The Very Rev. Sherry Black is a second-career Episcopal priest, and has been a full-time hospital chaplain for ten years. She also serves a small mission church as priest-in-charge, and is dean of her deanery.
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