January 18, 2013 by Chris French
All four Gospels record the event of the woman washing Jesus’ feet before His death. When we read all four accounts we get to watch as these inspired writers paint a picture of one of Jesus’ last meals. This story is found in Matthew 26.6-13, Mark 14.3-9, Luke 7.36-50 and John 12.1-8 if you want to read it for yourself. Here I’ll try to recreate the event from what the Gospel writers tell us of it.
“It’s almost time” thought Jesus.
The Father’s Son, the Gem of Heaven was going to die. The cross was less than a week away now, only six days (John 12.1). He was staying in Bethany, 2 short miles from Jerusalem where He was destined to die, at the house of Lazarus. The Pharisees had been looking for an opportunity to kill Lazarus since He had raised him from the dead. Jesus knew that they wanted Lazarus dead because so many of the Jews were finally starting to believe in Him now. Still, it was good to be able to spend time with this family that He loved so much. It was a good way to spend your last week.
For the next four days He had these people that He cared deeply for around Him and was able to teach them without distractions. The time passed too quickly. All of a sudden Passover was only 2 days away (Mark 14.1). Tonite He would go to the house of Simon (Matthew 26.6) the Pharisee for supper (Luke7.36). Simon was related to Lazarus and had wanted to have a banquet in Jesus’ honor for healing him of his leprosy. Simon had stayed away from everyone since he had contracted the disease just as the Mosaical Law demanded (Lev. 13.45-46), but now that he had been cured he was ready to reenter society with a bang. He threw a huge feast, inviting many people from Bethany and the nearby Jerusalem.
When Jesus and the other guests arrived at Simon’s house one of the servants let them in, but where was the bowl to wash their feet? Simon was seated already, but did not rise to greet them with the customary kiss (Luke 7.44-45). The disciples were highly offended, but it didn’t seem to bother Jesus.
“Oh no” thought Thaddeus.
He had not been the only one to notice James and John muttering about bringing lightning from Heaven because of the offense. People had started moving away from them and glancing nervously toward the sky outside. Martha, as usual, was in the kitchen with the other women preparing to bring the food out, (John 12.2), but Mary wasn’t focused on the delicious aromas that were coming from the other room. Since her illicit sexual relationship (Luke 7.39, 47) a few months prior had spread around the small village she had noticed people smirking at her. And those were the nice ones! She had lost count how many times someone had left the room when she entered or the times they crossed the road to have a barrier between her and them, not to mention the cruel words her “friends” had said to her and about her to others. She felt so alone. She had caught Jesus’ eye when He walked thru the door. He knew. That broke her heart even more. She was being crushed beneath the guilt as she slipped out the back door and headed to Jerusalem resolved to make it right.
Mary may have slipped out without being noticed, but everyone saw her when she came back in. Her eyes were red and puffy and her hair was unkempt from running back to Bethany. As she entered Simon sneered at her, but she didn’t even notice him. She rushed over to Jesus and knelt by Him thinking about the speech she had prepared to give to Him on the way back. She had shamed herself and her family. She had allowed Satan to trick her. She had brought dishonor on her God. She didn’t deserve to live! She couldn’t seem to get any of those words past the lump in her throat. All she could manage was staggered breathing between her sobs. Between her tears she noticed Jesus’ dusty feet. Several of her tears had made dark spots on them. This Man who was God, who had decided to walk around with dirty humans, hadn’t even been shown the graciousness of having His feet washed. She bent further over so all of her tears would wet his feet and kissed them (Luke 7.38), hugging His feet with her cheek plastered against them. She held on to Him as if He were a tree in the middle of a storm. He was.
She quickly let down her hair so she could dry off Jesus’ feet. She heard the gasp. Women did NOT let their hair down in front of men who weren’t their husbands, but how else was she going to try Jesus’ feet? After they were dry she brought out the alabaster flask she’d gone to Jerusalem to buy. It had nearly taken all her money, almost a year’s worth of wages, but it was worth it. She broke the thin neck on the bottle and slowly poured the expensive spikenard on Jesus’ feet.
Everyone in the room was looking at her, except Judas. He was eyeing the flask. He stood up indignantly, tipping his chair over, as she broke it and as she was pouring it out he demanded, “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” (John 12.5) Mary hadn’t thought of that! She was so concerned with Jesus forgiving her that she had defrauded the poor! She couldn’t do anything right! No, wait. Jesus’ glare wasn’t directed at her, but Judas. He said, “Leave her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of my burial. For the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me.” (John 12.7) “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 26.13)
His burial! thought Mary. She stood and walked behind Him. She didn’t know what He was talking about, but He was a King and worthy of every honor she could bestow on Him. She poured the remainder of the spikenard on His head and watched it flow down his hair and onto His shoulders just like it had on the kings of old.
Since the moment Mary knelt next to Jesus Simon had been thinking, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.” (Luke 7.39). Jesus finally took his eyes off of Mary and looked at Simon.
“Simon, I have something to say to you” He said. (Luke 7.40)
“Say it, Teacher” said Simon quickly.
“A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” (Luke 7.41)
Simon looked around the room to make sure it wasn’t a trick question. He said, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.”
Jesus nodded and said, “You have judged rightly” (Luke 7.43). He turned toward Mary as if showing her to Simon. He said, “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 from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven – for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.”
His piercing gaze left Simon and returned to the woman. “Your sins are forgiven. Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
The people around the table were so confounded by his last statement that no one saw Judas leave house and enter the night (Matthew 26.14).
Obviously some of this story is me trying to fill in the blanks Scripture left for us, but I think it is an accurate portrayal of the events that night. The only thing I’m a little uncertain of is the Luke 7 passage. Though if that passage doesn’t refer to the same event there are a LOT of coincidences! Jesus just happens to be having a group dinner at a house belonging to a man named Simon when a woman walks up to Him with an alabaster flask full of expensive oil to put on his feet? I don’t think so. It seems to me that all four passages tell of the same incident. It does seem that Luke places this story earlier in Jesus’ ministry while the others place it very near the end, but Luke may not have been writing his Gospel chronologically.