A Beautiful Thing
While Jesus was in Bethany in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on his head as he was reclining at the table.
When the disciples saw this, they were indignant. “Why this waste?” they asked.“This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor.”
Aware of this, Jesus said to them, “Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me. When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. Truly I tell you, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.
(Matthew 26:6–13, NIV)
Let’s take a moment to imagine this scenario. A sinful woman. A woman abused by men, shunned by women, banished from the temple, trapped in a life full of ugliness. Tainted. Dirty. Disgraceful. What was she even doing among the Pharisees and disciples at this dinner gathering? For certain, a woman of her situation would never have been invited to approach these holy men of the clergy. No doubt the Pharisees turned away from her in disgust as she made her way to the great teacher. Even the disciples, upon recognizing her, would have held her in contempt as she approached their beloved leader. Who was she to approach the King of the World?
She embraces her alabaster jar close to her chest, shielding it from the disapproving men she brushes past. Her most treasured possession. An heirloom she hoped to one day pass to her daughter. The smell follows her as she pushes deeper into the crowd of men surrounding the dinner table.
Suddenly, the crowd seems to part and she catches a glimpse of him. Him! Yeshua! Jesus! Nervous and trembling, she weaves in and out until she finds herself standing before the Light of the World. He looks at her with a look no other man has ever given her. A look not only of respect and recognition, but of love. In that instant, she knows he’s the one she’s been waiting for. Overwhelmed, she begins to weep as she loosens her grip on all she holds dear and opens her precious jar of perfume.
Immediately, an overpowering aroma fills the room. Everyone turns to see the sinful woman falling to her knees in worship. Hands shaking, she pours the perfume over Jesus’ head. As she watches it run down his hair, she is overcome with emotion. Unaware of the increasingly hostile looks around her, she falls at Jesus’ feet yet again as her sobs continue to fill the dining hall. Years of frustration, failure, bondage, hopelessness, and fear, flood the room as she lays there, gently washing the feet of Jesus.
The disciples are deeply embarrassed by the scene this woman is causing. Already feeling out of place in the religious dignitaries’ home, they see this incident as nothing short of disgraceful! How dare this woman barge into their dinner party uninvited! How dare she expose her sin at the feet of their king! Doesn’t Jesus know what kind of woman she is? Doesn’t he know how degrading this is? They argue amongst themselves about how to bring dignity back to this situation. Judas, trying to save face, leans over to Peter and loudly whispers, “Why this waste? This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor.” He smiles to himself. The Pharisees will surely think me a wise man for being so disgusted by this woman and suggesting such an efficient alternative.
Judas’ small moment of victory is interrupted by a stern word from Jesus, “Why are you bothering this woman?” Caught off guard, Judas and the disciples grow silent. All ears are on the great teacher. “She has done a beautiful thing to me.”
I can’t tell you how I much I want to have this woman’s courage. She knew who she was. She knew she had no business being in the presence of Jesus. She knew the customs and laws of the Sanhedrin. She knew the punishment for a sinful woman who approached a holy man was death by stoning. But she also knew she had to meet Jesus, the one with power to heal her. This desperation for Jesus’ power far outweighed any punishment she would face. For a moment at his feet, she was willing to break the rules, to act outside of the proper decorum, and even to disgrace herself in the eyes of people she looked up to.
Her act of courage is now celebrated wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world. But she isn’t celebrated purely for her boldness or even because she gave such an extravagant gift. Her story still impacts lives today because of how Jesus responded to her worship. He didn’t see her as a sinner acting out of line. Instead, he looked at her heart, gave her dignity, and called her worship beautiful. It was this response that turned the sinful woman’s story into a sweet foreshadowing of the gospel message. A lowly sinner. A great gift. A perfect savior. A beautiful thing.