6 While Jesus was in Bethany in the home of a man known as Simon the Leper, 7 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. 8 When the disciples saw this, they were indignant. “Why this waste?” they asked. 9 “This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor.” 10 Aware of this, Jesus said to them, “Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me. 11 The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me. 12 When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. 13 I tell you the truth, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.” (Matthew 26)

At a time when money was hard to come by, this story is notable for the apparent wastage of money. Mark’s gospel explains that the money was equivalent to a year’s wages. The indignation evoked and the subsequent rebuking of the woman by the disciples is not surprising. But Jesus not only appreciated what was done, he placed the highest value on that act of discipleship and immortalized it. Let us try to understand why.

The account by Luke indicates that the woman’s act was borne out of repentance.

37 When a woman who had lived a sinful life in that town learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, she brought an alabaster jar of perfume, 38 and as she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them. (Luke 7)

As she poured perfume on him, she wet Jesus feet with her tears flowing out from a repentant heart. Repentance is that one act by man, which gains the highest appreciation by God. It is a moment when man looks at his life and sees himself as he truly is- utterly sinful and worthless. It is a moment when the blindfolds are taken away and the façade of accomplishments, pride, possessions and genealogy are torn down and man comes face to face with the holy God. Recognizing his helplessness, man turns in submission to God and recaptures the original essence of the intended relationship between man and his maker. Repentance is at the heart of the gospel and this woman understood it.

Jesus was an advocate for the poor like no other and his followers have far exceeded any other group of people in acts of charity and compassionate giving. Yet in this story, Jesus allows a lavish display of worship in preference to equitable distribution of money. John’s gospel reminds us that Judas’ criticism to the act was borne out of his desire to fill the money bag so that he could help himself to some of it.

6 He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it. (John 12)

It is easy to understand that Judas desire to steal was worthy of condemnation, but what about the objection of the other disciples who might have felt that the poor might have benefitted from the money?

The answer lies in the fact that for a Christian worship precedes charity, in fact worship precedes all else. Those who make obtaining money the primary goal of their life are in a way no different from those who make money the primary decision-maker in their life- money is god to both. That is why communism with its self-righteous proclamation of equitable distribution of money fails the test of a Christian, because money takes the place of God. And so every decision in life- whether to save or spend or distribute should be made on the sole basis of whether the will of God is being done.

In the woman’s act, was also seen the symbolic preparation of Jesus’ unblemished body for sacrifice and burial that would soon follow. No jar of perfume could have been too expensive for that act- we recognize it now that we see how Jesus worked out the plan of salvation. But at that point of time, when the disciples and the rest of the world did not appreciate how precious, valuable and holy the physical presence of Christ was, this woman stood out from the crowd because she saw Jesus as he truly is- one who is worthy to be worshipped, above all else.


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