It would be
interesting to talk with Simon the leper to see what he thought of this
moniker. Did he wish that people would dispel with the leper part and just call him by his name: Simon? After all, he no
longer had leprosy.
I have also
wondered this about the Old Testament woman Rahab, who had been delivered out
of prostitution. Even into the New Testament some fifteen hundred years after
she lived, this woman is still called “Rahab the harlot” (Hebrews 11:31 James
2:25). Would she have wished these writers would not have included the harlot part when referring to her? Especially
since, not only had she stopped being a prostitute, but also, as the story
turned out, she eventually would be part of the line of heritage from whom
Jesus Christ would be born.
These are among the questions that I want to ask these historical figures when I meet them one day. I wonder if instead of wanting people to drop these words as part of their names, they perhaps instead considered these titles a constant reminder of the conditions from which they were delivered.
Simon was no longer a leper! Rahab was no longer a prostitute! Nevertheless,
the titles were a like a remembrance token to tell others about the source of
their deliverance. Jesus had delivered them out of their past!
the leper’s preference was about his name, whether or not he wanted to be
reminded about his former leprosy, it was to his home where Jesus had been
invited. It seems that several other people had been invited to the house for a
meal, including Lazarus, the man that Jesus had raised from the dead.
In the same line of thought, we might call this man “Lazarus the dead man.” But he was no longer dead! Jesus had again given him life!
Paul the Sinner
The Apostle Paul, long after he had served the Lord many years, still called himself the “foremost” of all sinners (1 Timothy 1:15). One of the reasons that Paul considered himself in this way was because, before he was converted, he was active in persecuting the church (1 Corinthians 15:9). But here are Paul’s full thoughts regarding his own moniker of being “the foremost of sinners:”
I was formerly a
blasphemer, a persecutor, and a violent man; yet because I had acted in
ignorance and unbelief, I was shown mercy. And the grace of our Lord overflowed
to me, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.
This is a trustworthy
saying, worthy of full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save
sinners, of whom I am the worst. But for this very reason I was shown mercy, so
that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display His perfect patience
as an example to those who would believe in Him for eternal life.
Now to the King eternal, immortal, and invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen. (1 Timothy 1:13-17 BSB)
For Paul, the
fact that he still considered himself as the foremost of sinners was not a
symbol of perpetual shame, like the letter “A” on the dress of Hester Prynne (from
Nathaniel Hawthorne’s book, The Scarlet Letter). Indeed, Paul’s reminder
of his past life instead was a demonstration to him of the overwhelming power
of the grace of God. It was a reminder of God’s overwhelming love for him.
as I mentioned, I wonder if it may have been the same for Simon the leper and for
Rahab the harlot. God’s power and grace are greater than all. They wore their
names not in shame, but as a celebration for what God had done for them.
I would like
you to notice, in Paul’s words, that he said that the grace of God overflowed to him. Other translations
say that God’s grace was “more that abundant” (NAS) or that God’s grace “poured
out on me abundantly” (NIV), or that it was “exceedingly abundant” (NKJ).
What Happened at Simon’s House (John 12: 1-8; Matthew 26:6-13; Mark
14:3-9; Luke 7:36-50)
When Jesus was
in the house of Simon the leper and as they were at the table, a woman
approached Jesus with a vial of very costly perfume. The vial was made of
alabaster, which is a soft stone that was often used for sculpture. The perfume
inside was very valuable, probably worth about three hundred denarii. This amount
may not mean a lot to you or me, but one denarius was what a man was often paid
for one day’s work. This made this container of perfume worth nearly a year’s
The woman, it
turns out, was Mary, the brother of Lazarus the dead man. It was Mary who had
fallen at the feet of Jesus after her brother had died and said to him, “Lord,
if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (John 11:32). It was Mary,
who at another time was found again sitting at the feet of Jesus, listening to
his teachings (Luke 10:39).
Jesus and broke the spout on the vial of perfume. This act of breaking the vial
was one of commitment. What she did was not the same as removing a cap so that
she could pour out a measured amount. By breaking the vial, whatever she
intended to do with the perfume, she meant to use all of it.
Mary lifted the
vial over Jesus and began to pour it onto his head. This may not necessarily seem
like a pleasant thing to you. Actually, I also might not think that that would
be pleasant. We have all seen the coach of a football team getting doused with
the Gatorade cooler after they won the superbowl. The players do this in
celebration, but I sometimes find myself wondering if the victory was worth all
of the sticky mess.
But what Mary did was not the same as that.
This was done worshipfully. It was an act of great devotion. And she did not
douse Jesus like a cooler of Gatorade, but poured the perfume slowly over his
head, and even on to his feet. Then, once again, Mary was at the feet of Jesus,
this time wiping his feet with her hair.
In that time and culture, much more than in our own, the person who tended the feet of a guest would have been the servant of the house. In those days of dusty roads and sandaled feet, the washing of the feet was a task that was both relieving and necessary. Do you remember that this was something that Jesus also demonstrated at the Last Supper when he washed the feet of the disciples? He was making the point that in the Kingdom of God, the master is not one who expects to be served by others, but rather one who serves.
Some of the Disciples Take
This was what
Mary was also doing, and she was doing it in an extravagant way. The perfume
that she used to anoint Jesus was worth a lot of money—almost a year’s wages. This
particular fact did not set well with some of the disciples, and least of all
“Why was this
perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and given to poor people?” he
complained (John 12:5).
John tells us
that the motivation of Judas in saying this was not that he was necessarily concerned
for the poor, but because Judas was a thief. Judas was also the one who carried
around the money bag for the disciples, and he apparently used to pilfer some
of the money for himself.
putting all of this aside for the moment; if I had been in that group of
disciples on that day, I wonder if I would not have been among those who would
have said that the money indeed could have been given to the poor people. Why
simply pour out a year’s worth of salary? It seems impractical and even
If so, Jesus would have answered me as he did the disciples, “Leave her alone. She has kept this perfume in preparation for the day of My burial. For you always have the poor with you, but you do not always have Me.” (John 12:7-8)
Words About the Poor People
notion that some might have in response to the statement of Jesus, and one which
I would like to dispel, is that his words seem like a general disregard for the
poor people of this world. They are not.
Jesus is not
saying, “Don’t worry about the poor! Lavish gifts on me instead and don’t
bother yourself with the poor people!”
First of all,
even a cursory glance at the life of Jesus shows us that the poor people were
among the first of his concerns. It was a main interest in the ministry of
Jesus to feed the hungry and to heal those who were sick and who had no other
this short answer of Jesus, we should not imply a dismissal of the poor. This
statement about the poor was actually an allusion to an Old Testament
declaration by God which in full reads: “For the poor will never cease to be in
the land. Therefore, open your hand to your brother, to your needy and poor in
your land” (Deuteronomy 15:11).
Instead of being a reason to dismiss them from our concerns, the fact that there will always be poor people should instead be the very reason that we continue to try and help them. Jesus said at another time, “When you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind” (Luke 12:13).
A Pure and Full Worship
The concern for
the poor was apparent all throughout the ministry and life of Jesus. What Mary
did by anointing his feet was not a dismissal of the needs of the poor, but an
act of pure devotion to Christ. The act went beyond what even Mary, or any
other the others present, understood. Unknown to them at the time, what Mary
did was an act of worship in preparation for the crucifixion of Jesus.
Jesus answered the objection of the disciples, “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” (Matthew 26:10-12).
The Economics of Worship
When one acts
out of pure and full love, the economy of the matter plays a small role. This
is a difficult concept for us in the frugal Midwest to understand. In my own
experience, growing up on a farm, we were always taught that we needed to be careful
with our money. I still think that thriftiness is a virtue, as all of you no
doubt would agree.
I would say
that the disciples were also thrifty. All of the disciples, with the exception
of Judas (who planned on pilfering the money), intended on using it to help
poor people. They were, as we usually are, merely thinking in terms of the money.
What could they do with the money? How much food would that amount buy? If we
would invest it in some way, perhaps we could use the interest it made for
We are trained
to think in those terms. It is the way that the world operates. We think in
terms of how to make the best use of available funds.
I do not say
that this is a bad thing, but when it comes to our worship to God, we must
learn to separate ourselves from thinking in these terms. Mary poured out the entire
contents of the vial upon Jesus. There was no calculation as to what would be a
proper amount, or what could be considered an acceptable amount. She did not
stop pouring when she thought she had given about one tenth of it to Jesus.
Mary broke the vial so that she could pour it all out in worship.
something about pure and true worship that is simply uncalculating. By saying
uncalculating, I do not mean it as if to say, that if your worship is true, you
are generous with your money. It is not the same thing. By saying
uncalculating, I also do not mean it as a sly way of indicating that if you are
sincere about your relationship with God, you should give a lot of money to the
Can we manage to get it into our heads that true and pure worship actually has absolutely nothing to do with money? The economics of currency is the system of the kingdom of this world. It is not so in the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God operates on a different system.
The Economics of the Kingdom of God
But if money is
not the economic system of the kingdom of God, then what is?
We have some
indications of this in the Scriptures, for it was not only Mary who knew how to
pour out everything without holding anything back. God has also done this for
Paul tells us
that “The love of God has been poured out
within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Romans 5:5).
There is no calculating
in the giving of God’s love for us. He has poured it out on us.
grace? As we read before, “The grace of
our Lord was more than abundant (it
is poured out), with the faith and love which are found in Christ Jesus.” (1
Our own salvation is “not by the righteous deeds we had done, but according to His mercy, through the washing of new birth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. This is the Spirit He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior” (Titus 3:5-6).
The Currencies of Heaven
The love of God,
the grace of God, and the mercy of God – these are some of the currencies of
the kingdom of heaven. These are the currencies by which the kingdom of heaven
operates. There is no consideration of denarii or of dollars.
We need to get the
currency of this world out of our thinking. We will see that in the final
analysis, money has absolutely nothing to do with worship. If you want to know
the truth, God does not actually want your money as an indication of your
worship. He wants you!
It is just that
the currency of the world often gets in the way. It is an obstacle. We need to
learn to loosen our grip on it so that we can take hold of God!
That is why Jesus teaches us, “No one can serve two masters: Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money” (Matthew 6:24).
Poured Out for Our Sakes
You may have
noticed that in the verses that I just quoted speaking of God’s love, his mercy
and his grace, when God gives these things to us, he does not just give us what
is passable. He does not open the cap and give us just enough love to get by,
not just enough grace to meet the need, not only a bit of mercy.
this, he breaks the vial! His love is “poured out” on us! His grace is “more than
abundant!” Our own salvation based on his mercy and given through the Holy
Spirit is also “poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior!”
God has spent himself for our sake!
Dealing in the Currencies of Heaven
What should be our
response to this great pouring out of the currencies of God? Here is what the
Apostle Paul said of his life: “I am being poured out as a drink offering upon
the sacrifice and service of your faith, I rejoice and share my joy with you
all” (Philippians 2:17).
Even as he was
soon to die, Paul wrote to his young friend Timothy, “For I am already being
poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come” (2
For Paul, the
“foremost of sinners,” his life was worship. His time, his energies, his
resources—these were all worship. He did not merely do what was expected. Rather,
the entire sum of his life was poured out on the head and the feet of Jesus.
He wrote to the church in Rome, “I urge you, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship (Romans 12:1).
The Currencies of Our Worship
How is your own
life of worship? Are you calculating in your giving of yourself? Do you say to yourself,
“This much of my life is given to God, and this much I am keeping for myself.”
You may think,
as you are doing your very careful calculations about the giving of your life
to the Lord, that you are being very generous. You have opened the lid and
given a very large portion of your life to God. You have tipped the vessel of
your life and let some of it come out. Then you have even tipped it a little more to
let even more come out.
of me!” you say to yourself. “Very generous indeed!”
What! You have opened the lid?? You have opened it only?? Like Paul, why not break the vial
of all that God has put within you, and pour it all out as an offering to him? Do
not hold back.
Anoint the head
of Jesus with your praise! Wash the feet of Jesus with your worship! Expend your
love in service to Jesus!
It is a possibility that there were more than one such anointing of Jesus by
two different women. However, if this is true, then the similarities between
the two events are very strong. Thus, for simplicity, I have chosen to simply
consider them the same event. There is much information about the events of the
anointing(s) that we are not given, so it is impossible to say for certain if
these were really one or two occasions.