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, 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.” 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 not always have me. In pouring this ointment on my body, she has done it to prepare me for burial. Truly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.”
(Matthew 26:6-13 ESV)
Today we study a very famous event in the life of Jesus. It took place about 48 hours before He would be put to death. After a full day of confronting the Jewish leaders and teaching His disciples Jesus went to Bethany where He had friends [Luke 10:38-42; John 10;1-44]. He was in the house of Simon the leper when a woman came to Him with an alabaster flask of very expensive ointment (perfume). She poured it on His head as He reclined at the table.
Lepers were not allowed to live inside of cities. They had to stay away from the general population since leprosy was (and is) contagious. Therefore we know that Simon had been cured of His leprosy, but sadly not of the associated moniker. Human beings have a tendency to remind each other of what we once were rather than what we are, don’t we?
Matthew doesn’t tell us the name of the woman but from John’s parallel account we know it was Mary, Martha’s sister [John 12:1-3]. From Mark’s account we learn that the perfume cost 300 denarii, which was about a year’s wages [Mark 14:3-5]. It should also be noted that the alabaster flask was likewise expensive and due to its design would have had to have been broken in order to pour out the perfume.
When the disciples saw Mary’s actions they were indignant. They thought it was a waste and that it would have been better for the perfume to be sold for a large sum with the money given to the poor. But while giving to the poor is a very good thing and is something God commands His children to do [Proverbs 19:17 et. al], in this specific case Mary’s actions were better.
What Mary did was a beautiful thing. She did it to prepare Jesus for burial. She seemed to understand something that the dense disciples didn’t even though Jesus had told them repeatedly – that He was going to be crucified and buried.
As a kind of reward, Mary’s actions would be told in memory of her. And sure enough, this story appears in all four gospel accounts. For 2,000 years billions of people have read about Mary’s actions.
The disciples were right. The perfume and alabaster flask could have been sold for a lot of money. But Mary chose to use her resources to serve Jesus. I wonder how many of us, if any, would be willing to spend an entire year’s salary on a cause that Jesus cares about.
Mary’s actions were selfless and reckless. But this is exactly the kind of devotion God wants from us because that is exactly the kind of love and devotion He has for us. The world may criticize us, as the disciples did Mary (note she was troubled by their words). They may think we are wasting our time and money. But it would be a mistake to allow our actions to be controlled by what others, especially non-believers, think or by considering what else we could be doing with our time and money.
We should only be concerned with using our time, talents, and financial resources to serve Jesus.
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