Brooklyn_Museum – The Ointment of the Magdalene (Le Parfum de Madeleine) – James Tissot
If we ever had any doubts about Jesus and his humanity, here is a scene which challenges all our perceptions.
The easy place to go is the confrontation between Judas and Jesus over the wasteful use of money. Money that Judas deemed should be used to assist those in need and he makes his very valid point forcefully.
Jesus responds with what sounds like a callous response, you will have the poor with you always but me you won’t. Is that a valid and rational point? Is that an excuse for ignoring the waste happening in front of him or is there something else happening here?
This scene is a very emotionally charged scene, almost erotic in its telling. Let us listen again to these few verses:
“There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. 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.”
Wow. This was not rational, formal, respectable dinner party. Deep emotions bubble to the surface in a room charged with deep feelings for each other. A woman not only enters the rooms but bends low over Jesus and pours a large amount of very strong and sensual perfume over Jesus’ feet an begins to wipe it with her hair. This is a moment that would have taken the breath away from who were sitting in the room. It had the essence of deep love, deep intimate love, deep emotional love.
It was a deeply human connection between two deeply human people and Jesus could not have ignored the emotions and feelings that came with this moment. It was seductive, as seductive as any of the temptations he had experienced previously, and he recognised it for what it was – deep feelings not to be ignored but to be recognised.
Judas does what we seem to do with these human and juicy bits, he turns away and changes the subject. He goes for the old the money should be used for the poor strategy, but Jesus keeps him in the emotionally perfumed room. This is about deep love and a love that is to be expressed and experienced in the moment.
This moment reminds us that this is not just a story we can spiritualise and give the meaning that makes us most comfortable. It is a story of individual people complete with deep emotions and ordinary reactions. If we lose sight of this in this story then we will likely lose sight of it our understanding of Easter and of the people we see around us. People will become objectified – for Judas they become the poor – for us they become widgets in the consumerist puzzle – for Jesus they are people who feel deeply and need places where they can express those feelings without judgement and criticism. And yes, they sometimes may seem erotic as this one does.