We join Jesus today in the house of Simon the leper, in the town of Bethany. It is dinner time and He will receive one of the sweetest gestures of love ever recorded.
This story made it into all four gospels. Jesus’ words at the end explain that fact clearly; “And truly, I say to you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her” (verse 9). We looked at Matthew’s telling of Mary’s story in the blog titled “Oil of Anointing.” I invite you to go back and relive the story of that day.
Today I face the challenge of finding something more in our story. I’m trusting God to give us something new. Let’s see where the story takes us. I feel led to look at the hearts in the room.
This gathering is full of people and each person brings their heart full of expectations. To make it easier for me to follow, I’m going to make a list of attendees and then look at each of their behaviors and where their heart might be at.
At this dinner we know, from the four accounts, that we have Simon the leaper, our host; we have Jesus, the guest of honor; Jesus’ disciples; Lazarus, whom Jesus raised from the dead; Martha, Lazarus’ sister who was helping serve the dinner; Mary, Lazarus’ sister and the woman anointing Jesus; the servants, and the rest of the guests in attendance.
In the four stories we don’t hear anything about the servants and very little about Martha, who was probably in charge. We also hear little about Lazarus or the other unnamed guests in attendance. I want to give them a little attention though.
Martha was born to be a hostess! She is seen on more than one occasion serving guests and her family. She serves with distinction and to the point of distraction. She also expects others to serve well beside her. One time she asked Jesus to chastise Mary for not helping out in the kitchen. Jesus pointed out instead that Martha was choosing extravagant service over a quiet contemplative relationship. He didn’t tell her that her service was not needed, but asked her to look at how she served. Her busy service was getting in the way of spending time together with Him. She must have been right at home in this setting. Serving at a huge banquet. Her heart was focused on making sure the proceedings went off according to plan and schedule.
In Luke’s account Jesus points out that as far as serving goes, there was something lacking. Jesus tells His host that he didn’t even provide water for Jesus to wash His feet. I’ve been looking for Jewish rules and regulations concerning foot washing and have gathered that it is not a hard and fast rule to wash your guest’s feet before a banquet but is considered inhospitable not to offer that service. Jesus didn’t say that the host didn’t assign a servant to wash His feet but that He wasn’t even given water to wash His own feet. Why was that? This apparently wasn’t Martha’s job to perform or we could be certain that it would have been taken care of.
Lazarus was also in attendance. He had had the most life changing experience of anyone there. He had been on the other side of the grave. We don’t get to know what he does in this banquet, other than the fact that he is eating with Jesus. He also doesn’t stop Mary when she begins anointing Jesus. Was this because he silently praised her instead? Did he know she was going to do this before they left the home? Did Martha know? Because he didn’t stop her, I’m going to count him as supporting her. I’m pretty sure his heart held amazing love for Jesus too.
Simon, the leaper and the Pharisee, had much to be thankful for too. Jesus had healed him of leprosy and allowed him to return to his former life. But his lack of hospitality spoke volumes too. He had gratitude for what Jesus did for him but he had no compassion of his fellow man. Did Simon see his leprosy as a result of sin in his life? His attitude reminds me of Jesus words about trying to take the splinter out of your brother’s eye while ignoring the log in your own. Simon’s sins required forgiveness, just like Mary’s did. God doesn’t care about the degree of sin, just the repentant heart. Simon’s heart held judgement.
Judas in specifically mentioned in John’s account. Judas’ heart was full of lust and jealousy. He was indignant that Mary “wasted” her perfume on Jesus. He tried to rationalize his desire for what Mary had by saying he could care for the poor with what that bottle would fetch when sold, but the only “poor” he wanted to help was “poor old Judas.” He lusted after riches and was jealous of anyone who had what he wanted. His heart was selfish.
John and Matthew both share that they were there. They don’t identify for certain what they were thinking at the time of Jesus’ anointing, but Judas had to be sharing his thoughts with someone. Maybe one of them were his sounding board. Did they agree with Judas? Probably not, because they weren’t the ones dipping their hands into the money bag. Did they secretly applaud what Mary was doing? Their love for Jesus probably pushed them closer to the approving side of the equation. They followed Jesus to Jerusalem, knowing the religious leaders were out to get Him, out of love for Him. Their hearts were full of commitment to whatever Jesus asked of them, out of true love for Him.
We don’t know much more about the other guests, except that some at least made an attempt to stop Mary before Jesus told them to leave her alone. When they sat back down, did they do it because they understood His heart or simply because they were being obedient to the honored guest? Did they think Jesus “showy” or self-indulgent for letting Mary perform this service for Him? Did Jesus lose points in their minds for letting such a sinful woman touch Him, as Simon had done? Did they see themselves in her after Jesus’ story? Were their hearts full of longing or judgment?
We can clearly see where Mary’s heart was. She was so full of gratitude and love that it poured from her. It started with the price of the gift she gave. We don’t know how long she had this precious ointment before she surrendered it to Jesus. Did she have to save up to purchase it? Was it her financial security blanket; something she could sell in hard times? We know it was precious to her.
She also had to plan how and when to give her gift to Jesus. She saved it for just the right occasion. She felt led to bring it with her to this special dinner. Did she initially plan to honor Jesus this way as a thank you for Him restoring her brother Lazarus to life? Was that part of her purpose even as she poured it out? Had she listened to Jesus’ predictions of His upcoming death and believed them? Was she purposefully anointing Jesus for death? Probably not in her own mind, but certainly in Jesus and God’s.
Mary’s breaking of the bottle meant that she was holding nothing back. If she had opened it carefully so she could recap it, she would have been offering only a partial gift. She committed fully to this process. She used every ounce of her precious oil on Jesus. She gave it all.
Mary’s use of her tears and hair even further personalized her gift. Did her tears flow from a broken and repentant heart or a heart overflowing with gratitude? Were they tears of joy or sorrow? Or were they both? Did they change as she continued ministering to her Lord and heard the words He said to protect her? I can almost feel the dam of pain dissolving under His words of encouragement. She offered a broken heart that was filled to overflowing with love.
Jesus’ heart reaches out to everyone in the room. His heart is full of love and compassion but also holds correction for those in need of it. Jesus’ heart is deeply touched by Mary’s actions. He protects her from those who would judge her or try to stop her. He offers her His full measure of mercy and grace. I believe that her past was still haunting her, even though she had left those ways behind some time ago. That is why Jesus confirmed to her that her sins were forgiven. He told her that she could let it go now. She could stop beating herself up for her past.
Jesus also corrected those who tried to stop Mary. He told them to leave her alone. They immediately heeded His instructions. He reminded Simon that he too required forgiveness. In this reminding Jesus pointed out how her demonstration of gratitude differed from his. Simon’s display of thanks didn’t hold a candle to Mary’s. Simon’s gratitude was displayed by hosting a banquet for Jesus, which was given from a place of wealth and position. Even that offering was incomplete. Where Mary’s offering was from a place of poverty and humbleness.
Jesus words to His disciples were given to bring home the immediacy of His upcoming death. Stating Mary was anointing Him for burial signified His death was at hand. Jesus words regarding the poor was not to dishonor the poor or to say it was fine to ignore them. Instead He was saying that the urgency of His impending death currently took center stage and precedence. There would be a lifetime of caring for the poor ahead for His disciples, but only a few more days to spend with Him. Even in correction, Jesus’ heart was filled with love. This was especially demonstrated when He DIDN’T disclose Judas’ real motives. He knew them but chose to keep quiet about him a little longer.
Father God, I find myself displaying the same heart as many of the people in our story. Sometimes I’m Martha, so wrapped up in getting the job done that I don’t enjoy the relationship time in the process. Sometimes I’m Simon, judging others’ sins as more or less than my own and more or less deserving of Your forgiveness. Other times I’m Judas, with ulterior motives for my “righteous actions.” Still other times I’m Mary, so full of love for You that all I can do is weep and tell You of my love for You. I wish I could stay Mary all the time, but even she found an end to her offering of love. Once she was done she had to stand up and move on to face the world. Did she remember Jesus’ words of total forgiveness when Satan tried to convict her of her past sins again? I pray she boldly told him to “get lost!” I need to remember to do that too regarding my battles with him. Help me Lord to honor You with my whole heart like Mary did. Help me also be unashamed to kneel before You. Help me be humble to Your plan for my life, no matter where You have me serving. Help me remember that my serving is not my purpose but flows from a true relationship with You.