In the gospel of Matthew it states:
“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 on 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 you always have the poor with you; but you do not always have Me. For when she poured this perfume on 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 will also be spoken of in memory of her.’ Then one of the twelve, named Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, ‘What are you willing to give me to betray Him to you?’ And they weighed out thirty pieces of silver to him. From then on he began looking for a good opportunity to betray Jesus.” (Mat 26:6-16)
Matthew placed this event as occurring right before the Last Supper that Jesus ate with His disciples on the Passover, the night that He was betrayed. He makes the connection between this event and the Lord's passion. He emphasizes the focus men had on money and the cost of the perfume when this happened. He also ties it in with the betrayal of Christ by Judas Iscariot, one of the Twelve.
In Mark's gospel, which some believe he recorded at the direction of the apostle Peter, it states:
“While He was in Bethany at the home of Simon the leper, and reclining at the table, there came a woman with an alabaster vial of very costly perfume of pure nard; and she broke the vial and poured it over His head. But some were indignantly remarking to one another, ‘For this perfume might have been sold for over three hundred denarii, and the money given to the poor.’ And they were scolding her.” (Mar 14:3-5)
“But Jesus said, ‘Let her alone; why do you bother her? She has done a good deed to Me. For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you wish you can do good to them; but you do not always have Me. She has done what she could; she has anointed My body beforehand for the burial. Truly I say to you, wherever the gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be spoken of in memory of her.’" (Mar 14:6-9)
"Then Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve, went off to the chief priests in order to betray Him to them. They were glad when they heard this, and promised to give him money. And he began seeking how to betray Him at an opportune time." (Mar 14:10-11)
Mark, like Matthew, also placed this event right before the Last Supper, which is recorded immediately after this passage. Therefore he associates this event with the betrayal of Christ and His passion.
Luke's is the only account that does not place the occurrence of the event right before the passion of Christ.
Now one of the Pharisees was requesting Him to dine with him, and He entered the Pharisee's house and reclined at the table. And there was a woman in the city who was a sinner; and when she learned that He was reclining at the table in the Pharisee's house, she brought an alabaster vial of perfume, and standing behind Him at His feet, weeping, she began to wet His feet with her tears, and kept wiping them with the hair of her head, and kissing His feet and anointing them with the perfume. Now when the Pharisee who had invited Him saw this, he said to himself, "If this man were a prophet He would know who and what sort of person this woman is who is touching Him, that she is a sinner." And Jesus answered him, "Simon, I have something to say to you." And he replied, "Say it, Teacher." "A moneylender had two debtors: one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. "When they were unable to repay, he graciously forgave them both. So which of them will love him more?" Simon answered and said, "I suppose the one whom he forgave more." And He said to him, "You have judged correctly." Turning toward the woman, He said to Simon, "Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave Me no water for My feet, but she has wet My feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. "You gave Me no kiss; but she, since the time I came in, has not ceased to kiss My feet. "You did not anoint My head with oil, but she anointed My feet with perfume. "For this reason I say to you, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little." Then He said to her, "Your sins have been forgiven." Those who were reclining at the table with Him began to say to themselves, "Who is this man who even forgives sins?" And He said to the woman, "Your faith has saved you; go in peace." (Luk 7:36-50)
In John’s account, he places this event not at Simon the Leper’s house but at the home of Lazarus and his sisters, Mary and Martha. He identifies Mary as the woman who did this to Jesus. However, he still has it located in Bethany just as all the other gospels do.
“Jesus, therefore, six days before the Passover, came to Bethany where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. So they made Him a supper there, and Martha was serving; but Lazarus was one of those reclining at the table with Him. Mary then took a pound of very costly perfume of pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped His feet with her hair; and the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of His disciples, who was intending to betray Him, *said, "Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and given to poor people?" Now he said this, not because he was concerned about the poor, but because he was a thief, and as he had the money box, he used to pilfer what was put into it. Therefore Jesus said, "Let her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of My burial. "For you always have the poor with you, but you do not always have Me." (Joh 12:1-8)
Now that we have read the account of this event in each of the four gospels with each of their different angles, let’s examine it from the perspective of each person who was present in the house that day.
We’ll begin with Simon, who looked down upon the woman because she was a sinner, and doubted that Christ was a prophet because He allowed her to touch Him.
“Now when the Pharisee who had invited Him saw this, he said to himself, ‘If this man were a prophet He would know who and what sort of person this woman is who is touching Him, that she is a sinner.’" (Luk 7:39).
Being a Pharisee, he was righteous in his own eyes. He judged both Jesus and the woman unjustly in his heart, and failed to look at himself first. While he did well to invite Jesus for dinner, he did not show Him love like the woman did. He neglected to greet the Lord with a kiss, to give Him water for His feet, and to anoint His head with oil.
The Woman’s Perspective
Now let’s see what this event looked like through the eyes of the woman herself. According to Matthew’s gospel, “A woman came to Him with an alabaster vial of very costly perfume, and she poured it on His head as He reclined at the table.” (Mat 26:7).
She saw Jesus as Messiah, the Anointed One, and she anointed His head. She believed in Him. She brought an alabaster jar of very costly perfume with her, intending to pour it on Him. She did not normally walk around with this jar. Rather this was deliberately done especially for Jesus. No cost was too high, no gift too expensive for Him.
According to Mark’s gospel, “While He was in Bethany at the home of Simon the leper, and reclining at the table, there came a woman with an alabaster vial of very costly perfume of pure nard; and she broke the vial and poured it over His head.” (Mar 14:3).
She did not just open the cover and pour a portion of it out on Him, but she broke it open. The Greek word for “broke” indicates that she completely broke it, as when something is broken into pieces. By breaking it, she rendered it unable to be used again in the future to hold the contents. She went for broke, not sparing anything, giving Him all that of the costly contents inside of it with all their beautiful fragrance that she could have put on herself and enjoyed. She gladly exchanged it for the fragrance of Christ.
According to Luke’s gospel, “And there was a woman in the city who was a sinner; and when she learned that He was reclining at the table in the Pharisee's house, she brought an alabaster vial of perfume, and standing behind Him at His feet, weeping, she began to wet His feet with her tears, and kept wiping them with the hair of her head, and kissing His feet and anointing them with the perfume.” (Luk 7:37-38)
She was known in that city as a sinner. We are not sure if she had ever used any of this perfume previously as part of her sinful lifestyle to seduce men into sin. If she did, then she may have trapped many men with that same perfume, by putting it on herself. But by now giving it over to Jesus, she demonstrated that she no longer needed it, because she was departing or had departed from her sinful lifestyle. This was true repentance and contrition for sin.
She came to the Lord when she learned that Jesus was reclining there in the house of the Pharisee named Simon the Leper. She sought Him out, carrying that alabaster jar of perfume. We know that he was reclining, as was the custom in that culture, rather than sitting on chairs to eat. When she found Him, she humbly and contritely took up her position standing at His feet, weeping before Him. Seeing herself so utterly sinful as she was, and He as her Savior, she wept with sorrow for her sin. The message, though unspoken, was absolutely clear. She was seeking His forgiveness.
As her tears fell from her eyes onto His feet, she knelt and wiped them dry with her hair. This was a great act of worship, seeing His feet of greater worth than the hair of her head. His feet were dusty and dirty from walking around outside with sandals, and they had not be washed when he entered the home, as was then the custom in that place. Her tears served as the water to wash them and her hair as the towel to dry them. It was no problem for her to do this. There was no hesitation or reservation on her part. In fact, she did not stop kissing His feet from the time He entered the house. She lavishly poured out her love on Him, and the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.
The Disciples’ Perspective
Next let’s see how this event looked through the eyes of the disciples. They saw it as a waste, since they were most concerned about the cost of the perfume. They 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." (Mat 26:8-9). The reason they scolded her and bothered her like that was because their focus was on the money, since the perfume was not ordinary, but one that would have fetched a high price. In their view, pouring it out all at once like that on one person was expending it without necessity or use. They felt she was destroying it wantonly or luxuriously, squandering it, and thereby causing it to be lost through negligence.
Judas was one of those who shared that same viewpoint, and who was thinking about money. “Then Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve, went off to the chief priests in order to betray Him to them. They were glad when they heard this, and promised to give him money. And he began seeking how to betray Him at an opportune time.” (Mar 14:10-11). It was during this particular event that Judas, who was intending to betray Christ, ultimately went off to do so in exchange for the promise of money. It is interesting that this woman’s act of love for Jesus triggered such a dastardly act on the part of Judas for the sake of financial gain. This is the nature of persecution, which is often done out of jealousy. What a contrast there was between what this woman was doing and what Judas was doing at that moment! Their hearts were in two completely different places.
Judas was a man who could be bought for a price. He asked, “What are you willing to give me to betray Him?” (Mt 26:15). Don’t ever set a price for your soul, for which you would be willing to deny Christ or compromise your convictions in any way, because if you do, the devil will surely send someone who is willing to pay it.
Being money-oriented, Judas was naturally motivated by greed, which is what made his reaction different from that of the other disciples. “But Judas Iscariot, one of His disciples, who was intending to betray Him, said, ‘Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and given to poor people?’ Now he said this, not because he was concerned about the poor, but because he was a thief, and as he had the money box, he used to pilfer what was put into it.” (Joh 12:4-6). He was selected by the Lord to be the treasurer, yet even as a disciple of Christ given that kind of trust, he had no problem stealing money from the Lord’s treasury box that he was responsible for. Ultimately that was his downfall, because he valued money more than the Lord.
His eyes were blinded by money, and to him the woman’s act was outrageous, not because of the money it wasted, but because of the opportunity he lost to have that money for himself.
As Paul said, “But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” (1Ti 6:9-10). Judas is an example for us to show us what happens to those who ignore the warnings against greed and covetousness in Scripture. His longing for money caused him to wander from the faith and pierce himself with grief. He fell into temptation and a snare, because of his desire to get rich, and plunged himself into ruin and destruction. Scripture tells us that after he saw that they decide to put Jesus to death, he was filled with remorse and committed suicide by hanging himself.
Now let's look at the event through the eyes of other guests at the dinner in that house with Jesus, who have not already been mentioned. "The other guests began to say among themselves, 'Who is this who even forgives sins?'" (Luk 7:49, NIV). This is yet another perspective to consider. They marveled at Him, wondering who He was, since He was able to forgive a person's sins. No one else but God has the authority to forgive sins. No other man but Jesus Christ God's Son can do so. Let's not forget that. We, too should marvel at His ability to forgive our sins. As I said in my previous article, no matter what you've done, you need to know that if you repent and return to God, He forgives and forgets. You can trust Him to do it, since He is gracious and compassionate.
The Lord’s Perspective
Finally, let’s view this whole matter through the Lord’s eyes, which is the most important perspective of all. While everyone else was judging the woman, scolding her, or looking down upon her act of worship, how was it viewed in the sight of God? We know from Scripture that Jesus enjoyed and appreciated her loving act of devotion to Him.
“Turning toward the woman, He said to Simon, ‘Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave Me no water for My feet, but she has wet My feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave Me no kiss; but she, since the time I came in, has not ceased to kiss My feet. You did not anoint My head with oil, but she anointed My feet with perfume. For this reason I say to you, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little." (Lk 7:44-47).
He saw her faith, and responded by saying directly to her, "Your sins have been forgiven." (Luk 7:48). While everyone marveled at those words, He said to the woman, "Your faith has saved you; go in peace." (Luk 7:50). He could see that she was a sinner who had come home.
It was an unforgettable moment for Him. He said, “Truly I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be spoken of in memory of her." (Mat 26:13). He knew that God would not forget what she did, and neither would He. In fact, by declaring it so, He saw to it that people throughout the whole world for thousands of years to come would remember what she did to Him there that day. She would be famous for this simple act, of which others did not appreciate or see any value. And it was recorded in every single one of the four gospels, which underscores its importance to God.
Jesus rebuked the disciples for bothering her and told them told them to leave her alone. He said that she did a good deed to Him, which He viewed as a beautiful thing (Mk 14:6). He recognized that she was preparing Him for burial, which was soon to happen. He said, "For when she poured this perfume on My body, she did it to prepare Me for burial.” (Mat 26:12). Not only was the house filled with the fragrance of the perfume, but so was He, since He was covered with it. And that fragrance surely stayed with Him and upon Him during the last supper, during His prayer in Gethsemane, throughout His arrest, trial, crucifixion, and death on the cross. The soldiers must have smelled it, as well as Pilate, Herod, and the people by whom he carried the cross on those narrow streets of Jerusalem. Since He said that it was preparation for His burial, we may assume that even when they took Him down, they would have still smelled some of it upon Him. It was long lasting. Nothing about what she did was wasted at all in His sight. It had eternal value to God. This is the nature of true worship, as Jesus taught us how to love God.
“And He said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and foremost commandment.” (Mat 22:37-38)
Worship is about loving God above all else. Yet in this world, it seems that most people serve wealth. This is even true of many Christians, and this indicates who their god really is. They may say they love Jesus, but if they are pursuing wealth, then that is their true master, not the Lord. Jesus warned, "'No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.' Now the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, were listening to all these things and were scoffing at Him. And He said to them, 'You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of men, but God knows your hearts; for that which is highly esteemed among men is detestable in the sight of God.'" (Luk 16:13-15).
In that room when the woman poured perfume on Jesus, the things that everyone else esteemed highly were abominations in the sight of God. He detested their evil thoughts and reactions, which were based upon their misplaced values. God knew each of their hearts, and could see through what they were saying and thinking, all the way down to their very motives. Likewise, He knew that woman's heart and placed great value on her worship. He was pleased with it and received it as a sweet-smelling savor.
Putting it All Together
Having examined the woman’s act of pure devotion to Christ from multiple angles, we have learned many things. We saw the doubt and critical spirit with which Simon viewed it. We learned from the lesson that Christ taught him that those who are forgiven much love much and those who are forgiven little love little. We saw the criticism of the woman by the disciples, because they saw what she did as a great loss. We saw the greed in the heart of Judas, who wished he could have cashed in her vial of perfume and had the money for himself. We saw how his love of money led him to betray Christ.
We saw the event as the woman herself saw it, through her own eyes, as something very special of which the Lord was completely worthy. We saw her humility, her repentance, her contrition, her tears, her kisses, her extravagant worship, her true love for Jesus, because He forgave her many sins. As she knelt at His feet, she received forgiveness of her sins and salvation (Lk 7:48,50). Although all others were in an outrage over her actions, she had found enduring peace with God at last and that was all that mattered. She cared not what others thought. All her debts with God were cancelled (Lk 7:42).
Most importantly we saw her act of worship through the eyes of Jesus, who was immensely blessed by it. He saw her heart and knew that she was truly sorry for her sins. He forgave her and received her worship, and promised that people all over the world would remember her for it wherever the gospel is preached. It was not at all a waste to Him, but something precious of eternal value.
Let’s learn from this for ourselves and apply it to our own lives. Let’s not be like Simon or the disciples or Judas Iscariot. Instead let’s be like the woman, and repent of our sins – even with tears, receive the Lord’s forgiveness, and love Him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. Let’s give Him our highest and best – our all, for which He is eternally worthy. Let’s pour out our love on Him like fragrant perfume with sincere and pure devotion.
Give Him your whole life as an offering to the King. Break it at His feet. Offer your body to Him as a living sacrifice, which is your acceptable act of worship (Rom 12:1-2). Don't let anyone look down upon your devotion or criticize you for it. Don't hold back or be stingy with your worship. For no matter how lavish your worship, it’s still it's less than He deserves. He’s far more beautiful than any vial or anything you could give. He’s more precious than the fragrant oil or the most valuable thing you have. He’s the sum of our desires and the fullness of our joy. He is worthy. Worthy is the Lord!
Attribution notice: Most Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Other Scriptures taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® NIV®, where noted.
Author's note: If you enjoyed this post, you may also like the other posts in this blog available through the links in the Home page, especially The Beauty of Brokenness, One thing, Bowing Low in Worship, Seeking the Lord, The Cost of Discipleship, Costly Grace, The Nature of Persecution, Loving Deeply, Seeking Glory from God, The Loving God Who Bids Us to Come, The Love of Jesus, God Forgives and Forgets, Repentance that Leads to Life, The Lord Healed My Backsliding, and Amazing Grace. You may also access my complete blog directory at "Writing for the Master."
Do You Want to Know Him?
If you want to know Jesus personally, you can. It all begins when you repent and believe in Jesus. Do you know what God's Word, the Bible says?
“Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.’” (Mar 1:14b-15). He preached that we must repent and believe.
Please see my explanation of this in my post called "Do You Want to Know Jesus?"
Len Lacroix is the founder of Doulos Missions International. He was based in Eastern Europe for four years, making disciples, as well as helping leaders to be more effective at making disciples who multiply, developing leaders who multiply, with the ultimate goal of planting churches that multiply. His ministry is now based in the United States with the same goal of helping fulfill the Great Commission. www.dmiworld.org.