My bible helps tell me that Matthew is sharing a story from earlier in the week with us in our reading today. In John’s gospel this event happened before Jesus rode into Jerusalem to start His final week, this side of the grave. We get to read about it now in Matthew’s account.
Jesus and His disciples are enjoying dinner with a man named Simon. Jesus healed Simon of leprosy earlier in His ministry. Simon is MORE than grateful to Jesus for his healing. Not only did Jesus restore Simon’s health, He restored Simon’s life back to Him. No way would he have been able to entertain guests in his previous condition.
There is a debate as to whether Jesus was anointed once or twice during His ministry. Bible Hermeneutics Beta hosted a discussion on this subject. Some even surmised that Simon the Leaper was also Simon the Pharisee. After reading what the experts had to say, I want to go with the two Simons being the same person and only one anointing taking place. I don’t think this is something to “split the church” over so I chose the story which appeals to me more. Let’s put ourselves into it too.
Our host Simon is dressed in his finest robes as he welcomes his guests to his house. Not too long ago he was reduced to hiding in the streets and shouting “unclean, unclean” any time someone approached him. Today he is standing in the entry way to his garden greeting guests with warm handshakes and nods. He keeps searching the approaching guests for the Honored Guest. Finally he sees Jesus and His disciples approaching in the distance.
Simon quickly speaks to the servants and tells them to begin setting the table. Jesus is coming. As soon as He arrives the festivities will begin.
Jesus enters the courtyard and Simon bows deeply before Him. Jesus touches Simon on the shoulder and Simon rises. Together the group makes their way inside the house. Simon gushes with excitement at having Jesus visit his home. He repeatedly thanks Jesus for accepting his offer of the banquet. Once inside Simon directs Jesus to the seat of honor and the remaining guests gather around the table.
Conversation, wine, and fine food flow freely about the room. Everyone is talking of the upcoming Passover celebration and what their plans are for participation. Lazarus is sitting between Peter and Andrew. He has been sharing his account of being called back from the grave by Jesus. Others sitting nearby are spellbound by his account.
Martha and Mary are also in attendance. Martha is assisting the chief servant in the kitchen with the task of keeping such a large gathering and meal flowing smoothly. Mary has been sitting close enough to hear the stories but not so close as to be improper. She can’t help but watch Jesus’ every move. This Man saved her life, figuratively and literally. She was about to be stoned to death for her sin when He arrived on the scene. Her sin was publicly exposed. Jesus turned away her accusers with a single challenge. Words she will never forget. A debt she can never repay. She has come prepared to try though.
Mary has a secret hiding in the folds of her skirt. She intends to make a public display of her gratitude to Jesus today; just as public as the display of her guilt. She has spent every penny of her savings to acquire a gift worthy enough to offer to Jesus. It really isn’t enough but it is everything she has. She is waiting for just the right time to present Jesus with this gift from her heart.
Dinner is in full swing and everyone is relaxed. It’s time. Mary slowly rises from her seat. She reaches into the folds of her skirt and removes the most beautiful bottle she has ever seen. As she approaches Jesus she breaks the seal on the bottle. An intoxicating aroma begins to emerge from the bottle. Mary steps directly behind Jesus, who is now in a semi reclining position. She kneels down behind Him and pours a little of the fragrant oil into her cupped hand.
Several eyes have turned her way as she made her way toward Jesus. She was allowed to attend the feast as a courtesy to Lazarus, as she and Martha are his sisters. Simon, as a Pharisee hasn’t forgotten Mary’s sins. He knows of Jesus’ intervention on her behalf, but he still considers her a sinful woman.
Mary extends her hand above Jesus’ head and slowly allows the oil she is holding to drain through her fingers onto His head, dampening His hair. She pours a second handful of oil into her hand and repeats the process. She recaps the bottle and places it beside her on the floor . Mary begins to massage the oil through Jesus’ hair.
Conversation and eating stopped as Mary began her gift of love. All eyes are on her as she works the oil into Jesus’ hair. Lazarus is speechless. He had no idea she was going to do this. Judas and Bartholomew look at each other, then at the bottle of oil resting near Mary’s knees. Judas quickly calculates the price of such an ornate bottle and becomes indignant. “This could have been sold and the money used to feed the poor!”
“Leave her alone. She is performing an act of love for Me. You will always have the poor and can raise money to feed them later. What she is doing is preparing Me for My burial.” Jesus then looks at Simon and sees the disgust in his eyes. “Simon, a money lender had two individuals who owed him money. One owed a large sum and the other a smaller sum. Neither could pay what they owed. The money lender decided to have mercy on both of these individuals and completely forgave their debts. Which of the two do you think loved him more?”
Simon quickly answers, “The one who had the bigger debt forgiven.”
“That’s correct Simon. This woman has demonstrated how much she loves Me. How much do you love Me?”
By this time Mary has completed anointing Jesus hair with her perfume and moved to kneel at His feet. Her heart is touched deeply by His defense of her again. She begins weeping and her tears are falling on Jesus feet. She begins wiping her tears across Jesus feet, cleaning them with her hands. She continues weeping and wiping until Jesus’ feet are clean. She then lets down her hair from its knot at the nape of her neck and dries her tears from Jesus’ feet. As she dries His feet she places gentle kisses on each foot. She then pours the remainder of her oil onto His feet and massages it into His skin.
Jesus continues to praise her actions to those who would challenge her. “When stories are told of My life and all I have done here, her display of love will be told right along with them. What she has done is love extravagantly. Do not ever forget her sacrifice and humility. This is true love.”
The meal has effectively come to an end. Everyone is silent before Jesus and His praise. Mary finally gathers her bottle from the floor and tucks it back inside her skirt. With one more kiss of each of Jesus’ feet, she backs away, stands, then turns and leaves the house. She has done what she came to do. She silently goes home where she shuts the door to her room and relives the moments spent at Jesus’ feet. His words about anointing Him for His burial are troubling to her, but those are pushed aside for now as she recalls His praise and understanding of her act of love.
Father God, how much do I show You my love? Not nearly enough for all that You have done for me. How often do I judge others for the way they show their love to You? Please forgive me for not recognizing the heart behind the actions. Earthly love can be shown in so many little ways. So simple and quiet that I sometimes miss them completely. The head of a child resting on my shoulder. The kisses sent from across the room. The holding of a door when I walk through. Letting me play my music or asking me which shows I want to watch. Each of these simple little things is a gift of love.
I can show my love to You in simple ways too. Saying thank You for Your provision of food on my table. Taking time to listen to You as I read Your word. Remembering to give You time each day. Reaching out to others You bring my way. Following where You lead me, in word and deed. Truly praying for a friend or family member in need. NOT getting angry when I feel slighted or wronged. Demonstrating patience with my husband (I’ll be working on this one for a LONG time!).
Thank You for all the love You have shown me. Please help me love like You do.