Pure Perfume Poured in Preparation

Matthew 26:6 then, blah blah blah, 7 then, blah blah blah, and so forth -13, then, more blah blah blah.

Remember, like the book Matthew, My missives build on each other.

Now when Jesus was in Bethany, at the home of Simon the leper…” Bethany was a village, just outside of Jerusalem, near the Mount of Olives, where Mary, Martha and Lazarus lived, and also one aptly named “Simon the Leper.” At least I hope that he had leprosy, not that I wish leprosy on anyone but that it would be a horrible name if he did not have leprosy. Though I think that it is safe to assume that he no longer has leprosy during this dinner. We don’t know much about Simon. But we do know more about Lazarus, Martha and Mary and the village of Bethany. Jesus appears to have stayed in Bethany during his final days. Those who read many of my missives will remember my favorite verse found in Matthew 21:17; “And He left them and went out of the city to Bethany, and lodged there.” Let these Holy Words ferment in your minds. It’s my favorite verse because it proves that without proper context, we can quickly distort the text. Lazarus, Martha and Mary seem to be siblings. We first meet them in John’s gospel, in chapter 11. “Now a certain man was sick, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. And it was the Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment, and wiped His feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick. The sisters therefore sent to Him, saying, “Lord, behold, he whom You love is sick.” John also let’s us know that the “woman” in today’s text is Mary, the sister of Lazarus, notice.

“a woman came to Him with an alabaster vial of very costly perfume, and she poured it upon His head as He reclined at the table.” Matthew doesn’t give us her name, but a quick dose of Vitamin E will reveal, and already has revealed, her identity. Some pastors and preachers, theologians and teachers don’t think that John’s account is the same scene as Matthew’s, but most do. Although I find myself in the minority most of the time, I am with the majority on this one. John does not write chronologically, and writes with different aspirations than the authors of the synoptic gospels. It is therefore no surprise that while certainly similar, there are different themes in each text. And if you haven’t noticed by now, John is obsessed with feet; Matthew with heads. Nevertheless, the woman pours out very expensive perfume on Jesus. Uncharacteristically, Mark gives us more information than Matthew, he tells us the worth of the perfume, “this perfume might have been sold for over three hundred denarii.” That’s over a year’s pay in those days. Question; how did the disciples know so much about perfume? But I digress; still look at the following:

But the disciples were indignant when they saw this, and said, ‘Why this waste? For this perfume might have been sold for a high price and the money given to the poor.’” The perfume experts, the disciples, become indignant at this woman for placing perfume on Jesus? What business is it of their’s if a woman wants to waste a year’s pay on Jesus? Problem; Jesus wouldn’t call it waste and actually calls it a good thing

But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, ‘Why do you bother the woman? For she has done a good deed to Me.'” On the one hand, I completely agree with Jesus. Leave the woman alone, perfume experts. It’s her perfume. We don’t know where she got it or how, but it was in her possession and she chose to pour it out on Jesus. On the other hand, this seems very strange. Why would she pour it out on Jesus? Did he smell bad or something? And the disciples, experts on perfume that they are, have a point. Can you imagine the good one could do with a year’s pay and how many poor people they could feed? But Jesus continues to clarify.

For the poor you have with you always; but you do not always have Me.” True, but, this would help eradicate poverty, wouldn’t it? Actually, I will not follow that thought to conclusion but I will say, we do still have poverty and it is not because of this woman. And need we be reminded that Jesus is days from death and burial?

For when she poured this perfume upon My body, she did it to prepare Me for burial.” We need to see the Spiritual significance along with the earthly significance. Earthly at that time, dead bodies were packed with perfume and spices. Spiritually speaking, I struggle with the significance. But then I remind myself to keep it simple stupid. What’s the greater context? Jesus is prepared, unlike Israel in Egypt. Notice the context, remembering that this is immediately preceding the Passover; “she did it to prepare Me for burial.” Remember the context​ of the first Passover; “For it had not become leavened, since they were driven out of Egypt and could not delay, nor had they prepared any provisions for themselves.”

Truly I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done shall also be spoken of in memory of her.” These are very strong words and here we are, nearly 2000 years later, still telling her tale. 

Notice once again, considering the context and re-engaging; “Now when Jesus was in Bethany, at the home of Simon the leper, a woman came to Him with an alabaster vial of very costly perfume, and she poured it upon His head as He reclined at the table. But the disciples were indignant when they saw this, and said, ‘Why this waste? For this perfume might have been sold for a high price and the money given to the poor.’ But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, ‘Why do you bother the woman? For she has done a good deed to Me. For the poor you have with you always; but you do not always have Me. For when she poured this perfume upon My body, she did it to prepare Me for burial. Truly I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done shall also be spoken of in memory of her.’”

In the context of the impending death and burial of Jesus, during the Passover, the sacrifice of this woman becomes clear. Sure she could have sold the perfume and given it to the poor. However, she could have also sold it and used it on any number of earthly pleasures. Rather, she chose to anoint Jesus with it, in preparation for his burial. The disciples are worried about the poor, which there have always been and always will be, but neglected to realize that they only have Jesus for two more days. The way of life that the disciples had become accustomed to, is about to come to an abrupt end, but not for Jesus, he was prepared–this is why he came, to die. From the foundation of the world, Jesus has been prepared and preparing for this moment. The disciples are still yet to see the severity of this moment. Like Israel on the first Passover, the disciples should have been prepared. Yet we find a woman with very expensive perfume is the only one in touch with the preparedness of Jesus. It is another cause for pause in the life of the true Israel.

 

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