Which came first-the thought or the feeling, the chicken or the egg? Like that eternal riddle, I will never know the answer as I became aware of both at the same time.
It was early morning, already bright, and the hens were clucking and strutting around me as I scattered the seed for them. I scoured the yard checking all the nooks and crannies where they like to roost. While gathering eggs I was reflecting on the previous few days. Then, simultaneously, both a realisation and fear entered me. Suddenly careless, I dropped the egg I had just picked up and the yolk spilt out over the dusty ground. I stared at it already whitening as it congealed and half-baked in the dazzling sunshine. Despite the heat I shivered, as if a cloud had passed over the sun creating shadows. The sky was blue and clear.
The sound of Martha humming as she worked in the house broke into my reverie. Already the aromas of rich and varied spices reached my nostrils. My older sister starts cooking early when she is preparing for guests. Usually by now I would have joined her, excited in the anticipation of the evening to come. Today I lingered, the apprehension and dread wrapping me in stillness, freezing my blood to inertia. I must go in. She will call me soon. I must act normal. With one glance back at the two hens still scratching at the stony ground, I turned to go in. A sparrow darted from the wall nearby to land next to the forgotten grain. An idea had formed in my mind. Would I have the courage to carry it through?
Tonight after supper, I brought down the perfume that I had reserved for my burial. My parents had given us a gift of a bottle each before they died. It was the only precious item that I had in my possession. Lazarus of course had already used the myrrh given to him, so there was only mine and my sister’s left. I smiled at the thought of Lazarus. It was as if he had never been ill. I remembered my despair, my sadness, my resentment that Jesus had not come to us earlier. It was Martha who had faith on that occasion. I grimaced at the thought of my own poor behaviour. I must make it up to him, show my gratitude. A new determination quickened my step.
I usually sit quietly in the background listening to the men talk. Tonight I was impelled forward. My eyes glistening with unshed tears, I opened the pungent smelling lotion and began to pour it on the feet of my Lord. His feet were dusty and sore from the day’s walking. I noticed a blister on his little toe and redness where the strap of his sandal had rubbed on his shin.
I heard a commotion beside me. Head bowed and kneeling at Jesus’ feet I stopped in mid action. The Judaean, that financial whiz-kid was complaining in his high whining voice “Why waste that expensive perfume? Its criminal. We could sell that to make money for the poor! How extravagant you are? Do you have money to burn?”
I couldn’t reply. Silent tears now flowed down my flushed cheeks. I had no power to stop them. I could not look up. I could not move. Was Jesus angry with me likewise?
I saw the movement before I heard the gentle sigh as Jesus reached forward and gently cupped his hand under my chin. He tilted my face towards him. His eyes met mine. He continued to gaze into my eyes as he spoke to Judas “Stop bothering this woman. Tonight she is doing a beautiful thing for me. The poor will always be with you. You won’t always have me.” I felt an involuntary shudder. For a moment the fear was back.
There had been a stillness around us, almost as if the whole room was holding its breath. Gradually the men began to start-up their conversations again. They accepted the spoken words easily, respecting my action because Jesus did. Did they not wonder at his words? Judas glowered in my direction. I knew the sophisticated city dweller was angry at being rebuffed in favour of a mere woman.
I ponder on what Jesus has said. A surge of love and appreciation thrills through me. Yet there is something else – a growing foreboding too. With trembling fingers I continue with my self allotted task. I grow bolder. With gentle strength I massage the oil into his feet.The action is bringing me a sense of peace. My hair has become uncovered and dishevelled falling over his toes. I hear a light sound and I know my hair has tickled him. I feel light-headed with the musky fragrance. His skin is warm and firm under my touch. He is so fully alive. Yet tonight I am anticipating his death.