November is a month for remembering. The month begins with our remembering those who have given us a good example in the way they lived their lives with All Saints' Day. On the following day we remember those who have gone before us with All Souls' Day, on November 5th we remember events that affected our country four hundred years ago, and then on Remembrance Day and Remembrance Sunday we remember those who have made and are making sacrifices on our behalf by laying down their lives for others in wars and conflicts. At the end of the month the commencement of Advent marks the point at which we begin to remember Christ's arrival on Earth.

Remembering what went before is important to us, since it helps us to understand who we are and where we are going to. Perhaps it is only natural if sometimes we wonder if we will ever be remembered for anything (and perhaps we hope too that no one will remember some of the things that we have done!).

This month's Bible story is about a person whose unlikely actions caused her to be remembered. It is found in all four Gospels, and you might like to read all four versions for comparison. They are to be found at {bible}Mark 14: 3-9{/bible}, {bible}Matthew 26: 6-13{/bible}, Luke 7:36-50 and {bible}John 12: 1-8{/bible}. This is a well known story, and you might like to note:-

  • What happens?
  • Who are the characters and what do they do and say?
  • Key words or phrases that you remember.
  • What is different in each version of the story?
  • What may have happened to this story as it's been told?
  • Why are the versions so different?
  • Are these differing versions of the same story or distinct stories altogether?
  • What is going on?

Mark's version is probably the oldest. Mark and Matthew tell the story of an unnamed woman who appears in Bethany at the house of Simon. She pours expensive ointment on Jesus' head, as a prophet might have done, preparing for his death.

Luke tells it differently, mentioning Simon but not Bethany. The woman anoints Jesus' feet, weeps on them, and wipes them with her hair. She is a sinner who has been forgiven.

John sets the story in Bethany, in the house of Jesus" friends Lazarus, Mary and Martha. Mary anoints Jesus' feet, wiping them with her hair and preparing him for burial but there's no suggestion that she is more of a sinner than anyone else.

Later tradition attached Mary Magdalene to the story - in poetry and images - so Martha could end up with Mary Magdalene as her sister. The traditions and memories around this story became confused. One medieval picture even shows a woman anointing the head of Jesus, and another his feet, at the same time. The existence of these four Bible versions suggests this story has changed as people have remembered it differently. We should not be surprised that a story told again and again over a few decades got altered before it was written down, and even afterwards. Stories often change as they are passed on, sometimes deliberately so as to illustrate a point. Some would see significance, for example, in the changing of a story about one woman's bold prophetic act into the story of a fallen woman.

Because of our different experiences and the needs of our times we notice particular things about a story and highlight those as we retell it. Sometimes we might want to hide what we do not like in a story. Sometimes we might want to 'bend it' to fit the immediate questions we face or the prejudices we have. This is natural and it is what happens, even with Gospel stories. Some people call us back to an 'original' or first version, or even to "what actually happened'. Others say that God can be as much in the later retelling as in the earliest version.

  • If you had to choose one Gospel account of this story which one would it be and why?
  • Does your choice suggest anything to you about the people who first told this story and the Gospel writers who passed it on?

Remembering A Woman

In {bible}Mark 14.9{/bible} Jesus says: 'Truly I tell you, wherever the good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her."

  • If the woman could come and speak to our church now what might she say to us?
  • Would she be glad that her story is still being told?
  • Might she be angry that she has sometimes been remembered as a 'sinner'?

Remembering Our Story

  • How would you want to be remembered?
  • Is there a story you would want to be told 'in remembrance' of you?

Remembering Jesus

  • What do you think Jesus wanted us to remember about Him?
  • What does this particular Gospel story of the woman who anointed Him help us to remember about Jesus?
  • How would He want us to tell His story so it could be remembered 'in the whole world'?

Chris Noyce