It's a lovely tale about a woman who takes the finest perfume, very expensive stuff, and pours it on the feet of Jesus and wipes it with her hair. It's a very submissive act, a gentle thing, a sign of great admiration and love, and perhaps longing and regret and grief. Jesus is not going to be with them much longer. Does she know this? I suspect so, some part of her is aware that time is short. She's been saving this perfume for a long time and perhaps she has asked herself, "what am I saving this for?" We do that with our nice things, tuck them away for a special occasion. This is perfume that could have been used for a burial, an attempt to show your honor and respect for somebody you loved that has passed on, but how sad if she had waited. Why should we not pay tribute to the living, let them know how much they mean to us, fill the air with the fragrance of our love?
Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me.
The telling of the tale really reveals some things about the nature of men and women, about how we relate to each other, about the different ways we perceive the world. Each version of the event tells you a little bit about what's in the heart of each of those disciples. Matthew and Mark report the disciples were indignant about the woman's act. Luke wants everyone to know she was a sinful woman, a woman in that town who lived a sinful life. Some report she anointed Christ's head, some report His feet, most likely she did both.
John tells us about Judas Iscariot who is particularly peeved, on account of the fact that he has been dipping into the money bag and helping himself. Judas, who would later betray Jesus, is quick to point fingers and condemn this woman. In his eyes, she's just wasted the equivalent of a years wages, precisely his own sin. He himself has been siphoning off money, wasting it so to speak.
That is the teaching that really resonates with me in the re-telling of this event, the way we tend to judge others through the eyes of our own sin. We do like to project our own flaws and faults onto other people, almost as if they were mirror images of our own selves, and when we see our own selves reflected in another, we are often rather horrified by what we see.
"...whoever has been forgiven little, loves little."
Judas sees waste in this woman and thievery. Luke sees her alleged sinful past, likely of a sexual nature. John is amusing, he wants us to know that Martha was busy serving, while this woman apparently was not. But Martha is doing all the work, while this other woman is getting all the attention!
What Christ sees is incredibly profound. He sees everything, each of them attempting to project their own sin upon this woman. He also sees the beauty at his feet, the tribute she is paying to Him, the love she is showing. He knows what is in her heart too, and He does not let the disciples make ugly what she has done.
That taking of what is beautiful and attempting to make it ugly is such a typical and rather unpleasant characteristic of human beings. Jesus tells Luke, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown...whoever has been forgiven little, loves little."
She loves greatly, deeply, passionately, because she knows her own self, she knows her own sins, and she understands the depth and the power of Christ's love, the true meaning and value of forgiveness and acceptance and mercy.
Those who do not are simply caught in a pride trap, carrying a burden far too heavy for us to carry alone, so we are compelled to try and share the misery with others. The sad thing about that is that even if other people try to lay beauty at your feet, you cannot see it, because all you can see is your own self down there, looking back at you with eyes full of condemnation and judgement.
Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.