Twice in His life Jesus was anointed with very expensive perfume by a woman who loved Him. The second time is recorded in Matt. 26:6-13, Mark 14:1-9 and John 12:1-8. Matthew and Mark simply mention that it was a woman, but John identifies her as Mary [the sister of Lazarus and Martha]. This happened at the end of the ministry of Jesus, just before He faced the Cross.
The first time Jesus was anointed was near the beginning of His ministry shortly after choosing the 12 disciples and the Sermon On The Mount. Luke is the only one who notices this lady and he records her story in Luke 7:36-50. She only identified as a unnamed woman “who lived a sinful life.”
This woman had done many sinful things. She was probably a town prostitute. The fact that she apparently entered the Pharisee’s house with ease would indicate that she was known there and he had probably used her services many times before. [It always saddens me that women are often despised for things that men get away with and even boast of. God’s Law is clear that in sexual sins both parties are equally guilty.]
In any case, this woman was guilty of sin and knew it. It is unlikely she had ever met Jesus personally before but she had definitely heard of the message of God’s great love through Him. Perhaps she had been in the crowds who heard the Sermon On The Mount or seen a miracle [Mary Magdalene being delivered from 7 demons?] or perhaps her information had come second-hand through friends or rumours. However she heard, she had heard and she was genuinely sorry for her lifestyle. She wanted a new life, a new beginning. Was such a thing even possible? She was determined to find out for herself.
Jesus said at the end of the story that this woman had showed “great love” The Greek word used for “love” here is the verb form of the famous “agape” or God love. This woman did not come looking for “friendship” love nor was she seeking the “sexual” love she had given and been abused with many times before. No, this was agape. She came with the full intention of total commitment to Jesus Christ without knowing whether He would accept her or, like all other religious leaders, reject her as filthy and unworthy of His attention.
This is a woman to be admired. Let’s look at how she expressed her great love/commitment.
1. She showed incredible courage just by showing up! She had a reputation. Every local man at that table knew about her. She could be laughed at and thrown out of the house. She could be despised, mocked and perhaps beaten as she was unceremoniously deposited into the dirty street. It was a real risk. Nobody liked her, many used her. How dare she show up and degrade this new Holy Man Who was beginning to gain fame in Galilee. Her very presence could throw a shadow on His reputation. Did she even dare to hope for a kind word? It didn’t matter, she had set her commitment on Him. The risk of dashed hopes - and maybe bones - would not deter her.
Coming to Jesus may very well cost us something or everything. People have lost friends, family, jobs, opportunities and even their lives because of their love for Jesus. Like this woman, we cannot allow fear to hold us back. Those around may mock and reject us, but Jesus never will.
2. She showed wisdom. Nobody came into the presence of a great person without bringing a gift. But what did she have? Her most treasured possession. A jar of perfume. If this was similar to the jar that Mary was later to use, as seems likely, it was worth a year’s wages. She wasn’t measuring how little she could give. Her heart was on pleasing Jesus. Only her best would do.
Christians sometimes struggle with: how much do I have to do, how much do I have to give, how much do I have to…? This shows a life lacking in love and commitment. The question is not “how much do I have to?” but “Is my everything enough?”. Like this lovely lady, we should never consider anything less than our best.
3. She showed genuine repentance. She was really sorry for her lifestyle. There was no self-justification. There was no blaming those who had used her or perhaps pushed her into this lifestyle. She was taking responsibility for her actions. No excuses. She did not beg, manipulate or try to escape consequences. She was ready to show her repentance with action - abandoning her lifestyle even if she was rejected. There would be no going back.
How often when the Holy Spirit convicts us of sin - even as Christians - do we try to argue, self-justify or cover-up? We can always find someone who we consider has done worse. We can always find someone to blame for our actions. The only God-honouring action when we are convicted of sin is to accept responsibility and show genuine sorrow and repentance. Every sin hurts God…and that is something we should never want to do…and never defend.
4. Her repentance led to action. She washed the feet of Jesus with her tears, dried them with her hair, kissed them and anointed them with perfume. Her actions showed her genuine sorrow and her great love.
Real repentance is not just words and emotion. It is backed up by commitment and action. We prove what we really believe by what we do.
5. She showed persistence. As first Jesus did not acknowledge her actions. For all she knew He was ignoring her. He started telling His host a story. But she did not stop. She did not get offended - after all I did for Him - and walk out. She continued showing her love when there was no response she could see.
How often do we give up if don’t get answers right away? Do we stop praying? If we are not acknowledged as we think we should be, do we stop serving? If we are offended, do we just get up and leave the church? If so, our love is small - like the Pharisee - and we need to pay attention to this woman with the great love.
6. She showed great faith. All of her actions above showed her faith. There was no logical reason to think that this new Holy Man on the scene would do anything but reject her. There was no reason to believe that her many sins could be wiped away. There was no earthly reason to think that she could walk away forgiven and free. But she had faith she could and she put her faith into action. And she walked away, forgiven, free and at peace with God.
Sometimes we think we have sinned too deeply, we have failen too far, our actions or lifestyle has been too evil for Jesus to forgive us. That is not true. That would mean that evil is greater than good. That would mean that man is greater than God. That would mean that the blood of Jesus Christ shed for you on the Cross is not enough. Don’t believe it. The love of God is stronger than any other force. The blood of Jesus Christ can forgive you of all sin and give you a fresh, clean start before God. Like this great woman with the great love, have the faith to believe it and act on it! Don’t continue believing lies, believe the Truth.