[An image of a woman washing Jesus’ feet with her tears]
“Now when Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, a woman came up to him with an alabaster flask of very expensive ointment [fragrant oil], and she poured it on his head as he reclined at table. And when the disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, ‘Why this waste? For this could have been sold for a large sum and given to the poor.’” — Matthew 26:6-9
You know, Jesus’ disciples were male, and yet there was like this pack of strange women that followed Jesus wherever He went, ministering to Him and His disciples, “Providing for them out of their means” according to Luke (Luke 8:3). That would have been costly, risky, scandalous, and strange.
It was scandalous for many reasons, not the least of which was that the one who was doing the anointing was a woman. Moses anointed Aaron, the high priest. Samuel anointed King Saul and King David, and now a strange woman was anointing the Messiah.
In that society, women weren’t allowed to eat with a male guest. It was improper for them to even speak in public. And now when things were really getting stressful, this unnamed woman dumps a fortune of perfumed oil on Jesus’ head . . . not just His feet, His head.
Mark records that it was worth 300 denarii, a year’s fair wage… Jesus had just told the story of the sheep and goats and before that the parable of the talents. How could this be good stewardship and use of resources or talents?
At this point, it appears that all the disciples were Zionists of one ilk or another. I mean by that, they hoped that Jesus would lead a political revolution, overthrowing the Roman oppressors, and establishing a just Hebrew society and homeland—the Kingdom.
In some form, I suppose that everyone is a Zionist at some point in their life:
• Americans pursue the American dream… “Home of the free and the brave,” like Zion.
• Moslems pursue the Nation of Islam… submission and peace,
Jeru-salem (city of peace), like Zion.
• Marx taught the communists would create a new class of people…
the perfect society, devoid of poverty, like Zion.
• Hitler taught the Aryans would purify a perfect race of people…
the perfect society, like Zion.
• Many Zionists today work for a purified Jewish people group, in a
purified Jewish State in Palestine . . . Zion.
• Christians also hope for Zion. We hope for the New Jerusalem.
Many seem to think we can produce it with the right strategy, programs, and even military conquest . . . and you see . . . all of that takes money.
Well, the disciples were Zionists, and I suspect the most ardent among them may have been Judas Iscariot. A few days before when Mary anointed Jesus, Judas protested. Now at Simon the Leper’s house, they all protest with the words of Judas, “Why the waste, for this could have been sold, and the money given to the poor?”
“Why the waste?”
I imagine they meant more than just perfumed oil. For three years they’d followed Jesus, given up everything for Jesus or at least, what they expected from Jesus. They had seen Jesus feed the masses, heal the sick, walk on water, raise the dead and draw immense crowds ready to obey His every command.
But now, He had walked into Jerusalem, in the midst of remarkable opposition and against their better judgment. He had not raised an army but only seemed to offend the powers that be, by busting up the temple, rebuking the scribes and Pharisees, and choosing to dine at a leper’s house—Simon, the leper’s house. And worst of all, He had just told them that in two days He would be delivered up by Jews to Romans for crucifixion.
The disciples were obviously in denial—“Surely Jesus was speaking in metaphors. He couldn’t really mean it.” They must’ve thought, “Crucifixion would be an unconscionable and absolute waste.”
To Judas and the disciples, Jesus had been good for something. He was good for healing the sick, feeding the poor, building the Kingdom, and saving themselves. But to this woman, He was just good. He was beautiful.
You know all the disciples abandoned Jesus the next night when He no longer worked and was no longer good for something . . . but that pack of strange women stayed. They were at His cross: Mary Magdelene (who was literally a prostitute), Mary of Bethany, Mary Christ’s mother . . . and this unnamed woman, maybe she was there. They—“The Marys” (the strange women)—were there.
Well, Jesus is literally, “good for everything,” But when He appears to be “good for nothing,” most of us tend to think, “What a waste! Why the waste?”
In Matthew 26:8 the disciples say, “Why the waste?” For this could have been sold for a large sum and given to the poor.” But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a beautiful thing to me. For you always have the poor with you, but you will [do] not always have me. In pouring this ointment on my body, she has done it to prepare me for burial.”
“She has done it to prepare me for burial…” This strange woman has anointed Jesus,
Not because He is King. . .
Not because He is High Priest . . .
High Priest and King are good for a lot . . .
But she’s anointing Him because soon He will be good for nothing.
He’ll be dead… doesn’t that mean, basically, good for nothing?
The body is broken; the blood is shed . . .
Good for nothing . . . but good.
Some call that beautiful.
A High Priest who sacrifices Himself as a “fragrant offering” (Eph. 5:2).
The King of Kings who descends into the depths of the earth. She couldn’t comprehend all of that, but she could recognize beauty.
She sees the Beautiful One, then she does the beautiful thing—limitlessly, extravagantly, unselfconsciously—as if it were her nature.
“Truly I say to you,” says Jesus, “wherever this Gospel is proclaimed in the whole world [cosmos] what she has done will also be told in memory of her [or as a memorial from her].” “Wherever and Whenever in all the cosmos… ” as if her good work, her beautiful thing, is eternal, like an “eternal weight of glory beyond compare” (2 Cor. 4:17).
Jesus valued her deed above all things . . . as if all things were arranged to give birth to this deed. And the disciples called it, “a waste.”
Do you remember what Jesus called Judas? “The son of waste,” (John 17:12) “the son of apolia,” perdition or waste. All Judas’s efforts to save the city, build the church, build Zion, and feed the poor . . . a waste.
And did you hear what Jesus said? “The poor you have with you always.”
That’s Deuteronomy 15:11, “ For the poor will never cease out of the land; therefore I command you, You shall open wide your hand,” says the Lord.
“Give to help the poor because we’ll always have the poor.”
Isn’t that rather defeatist? “You will always have the poor so give to the poor.”
Yes, if you think the elimination of poverty is the goal. And No, if you think the act of giving to the poor is the goal.
Yes, if you want a Marxist or capitalistic utopia in which mercy is obsolete.
And No, if you’re aiming for a Kingdom flowing with Mercy and red wine, like your body is constantly flowing with blood and life, where mercy is not obsolete but absolute.
Yes, if you hate mercy.
And No, if you love it . . . if you love Love.
If all love mercy, then all enjoy poverty and riches, receiving and giving, giving and receiving, and no one worries about keeping.
Well, this woman sees mercy, receives mercy, and bears mercy as if it were the painful fruit of her own womb. She bears mercy, and the mercy is worship, and it is eternal.
So, the means are the ends, and the end is the means. Mercy is not simply a means to end poverty. Poverty is a means to grow mercy—hesed, covenant love, grace.
This whole fallen world, with all its suffering, is a means to grow mercy.
Love expressed—mercy—is the harvest of the earth. Mercy is the grain and grapes, the bread and wine reaped in Revelation 14, the body broken and the blood shed. Mercy is the Judgment of God. God is Mercy. So Jesus is Mercy in flesh—like wine in an earthen vessel. Jesus is the Good, hanging on a tree in the Garden where His body is laid. Not just good for something . . . but Good.
He is beautiful . . . beautiful beyond description.
He is Beauty.
And this strange woman was the only one that saw it—saw Him that day.
In two days, His Body would be broken and life would pour out.
And so now, her flask is broken and a fragrant offering poured out.
Jesus said, “The son of man… will be crucified,”
And she worshiped God’s mercy, with mercy.
Jesus said, “The son of man… will be crucified,”
And the disciples thought, “What a waste.”
George Buttrick wrote, “Let no man stand at the foot of the cross and say, ‘Why this waste?’”
We stand at the foot of the cross, and what do we say?
Do we say, “I could fix that; I could make sure that it never happens again?” Do we try to save the Savior from saving rather than dropping to our knees and worshipping the Beautiful One.
To Judas, Jesus was good for something—thirty shekels of silver.
To the strange woman, Jesus was just good, and so she dumped a fortune over His head.
Whenever we worship a cause or a kingdom, we betray the King.
The strange woman didn’t worship a cause or a kingdom, she worshiped Jesus.
Even when He appeared to be good for nothing.
Even when He was naked and weak.
Even as He hung on the cross—especially as He hung on the cross.
She loved Him when He appeared to be good for nothing, and lo and behold, He was good for everything—an entirely new world.
There are all sorts of strange women in the Gospels, and they all have names or titles or occupations except this one woman, whom we meet the night before Christ’s passion begins.
She’s archetypical. I believe she’s a picture of us.
In the Revelation, John sees her coming down out of Heaven from God, as a bride adorned for her husband. As she comes down John exclaims, “She has the very glory of God.” The glory of the strange woman is that she sees the glory of God, and thus, reflects the glory of God . . . Jesus. The glory of the strange woman is the glory of the strange man . . . Jesus.
Today, will you—Bride of Christ—worship Him even in the moments when He appears to be good for nothing—just good?
This devotional was prepared by Kimberly Weynen, Peter Hiett’s assistant. It’s part of a much larger sermon entitled “The Beautiful Thing.” You can read, watch or listen to the sermon in its entirety here: “The Beautiful Thing”