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A Whiff of the Cross

The house was basic, but its simplicity was offset by the beautiful perfume wafting among the guests.  Simon who owned it, for years had been a leper, an outsider and ironically a pharisee (Lk 7:36) but now he was clean.  And the guy who cured him was why people wanted to be there. The decor didn’t matter, the intoxicating aroma made the ordinary beautiful.  The pieces of a broken alabaster vase lay discarded on the floor.  A woman, a lady of the night (Lk 7:37), had broken the neck off a beautiful alabaster bottle and poured its contents over Jesus (Mt 26:7, Mk 14:3).   For John, the woman was Mary, the house belonged to Lazarus, and the aroma was nard (Jn 12:3).  The event is in every Gospel, and with the exception of Luke, it’s the trigger for Judas’ betrayal.  The act provoked heavy criticism, “What a waste!” (Mt 26:8).  The perfume was worth a year’s wages (Jn 12:5), in NZ  dollars that’s $52,000.  Extravagant even by affluent western standards.  That sort of money could have gone a long way to alleviating the plight of the poor.  Isn’t what we are supposed to do as Christians?  But Jesus does the unexpected, he defends her.  “Why criticize this woman for doing such a good thing to me?  You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me (Mt 26:10).”  Egotistical talk to those with a social conscience, even offensive, we know it offended Judas.  Jesus continues, “She has poured this perfume on me to prepare my body for burial (Mt 26:12).  Jesus in saying this, gives me a whiff of something else.  Something beautiful and ugly at the same time.  It’s the smell of the cross.  Jesus then makes the claim, “I tell you the truth, wherever the Good News is preached throughout the world, this woman’s deed will be remembered and discussed” (Mt 26:13).  True or false, we don’t hear about this woman every time the gospel is preached?  We rarely hear about this act from 21st C. pulpits.  Nonetheless, it’s true, we hear about the cross if the good news is truly preached.  The perfume is the cross, its horrendously expensive, it cost Jesus his life.  To those who have come under its influence, its aroma is intoxicating.  It operates in the dark regions of humanity among the immoral, the undeserving, the outcasts, and lepers of life.  The rich and privileged often miss out.  It causes offence so that respectable well-meaning people work against it.  The aroma continues to waft in humanity, even among us, as again and again we experience our own expensive alabaster vases broken.  Health issues, failure to measure up, mental illness, financial crises, seemingly unresolvable relational difficulties, injustice, power imbalances, vulnerability, contradiction, and powerlessness; are all aspects of our brokenness.  Our cross presents to a broken world, and we are unaware that it is the forgotten face of Jesus.  The cross is where divinity meets humanity; his humanity, and in it is the answer to the world’s desperate need.  Does your life have a whiff of that beautiful aroma?   

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