The feast was going well, just as Simon had planned it. Jesus of Nazareth, the famed Healer and Teacher, was staying in the town of Bethany, a village close to Jerusalem. Simon was hosting this dinner party in Jesus’ honor, and many, many people attended. The crowds that filled his house were a testimony to the importance of Jesus. And Simon loved being in the midst of it all, sharing the head of the table with the two most famous people in the country: the resurrected Lazarus, and the Jesus who raised him from the dead.
The food was good, the company was high-profile, the conversation was pleasant. The party was a great success! Until.
came in. No one invited her to the table, this improper woman. She snuck in, clutching a vase to her chest and tip-toeing over to the head of the table where Jesus was reclining and eating, speaking to Simon himself. But if this intruder thought that she could go unnoticed, it didn’t last for long. The jar she held was made of alabaster—an expensive material. And inside of that alabaster jar was a very expensive perfume, an ointment made of pure nard, fragrant and rich.
So when this woman broke the jar, it was not the sound that arrested the attention of the room. It was not the sound of the breaking jar, but the fragrance of spilled perfume. Without a word she poured the perfume over the hair of Jesus, anointing His head with the priciest fragrance that could be purchased. As the disciple John would later write in his Gospel retelling, “the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.” The trespassing woman was weeping at Jesus’ feet, anointing His feet with the perfume, with her tears, and wiping those feet with her hair. This was a scandalous thing to do. And in public! and to the prophet Jesus! and at Simon’s dinner party!
Ugh. Simon had long been called Simon the Leper until Jesus had healed him, and in gratitude Simon threw this party. But Jesus was ruining it! Why was he letting this woman cross the boundaries of decency?! Was Jesus a prophet after all? Didn’t He know what kind of a woman was touching Him like this? It was gross. It was offensive. As Simon murmured in his heart, others began murmuring with their lips.
* * * *
The jar was broken, the perfume poured out, the house full of its fragrance, the room was silent— silent except for the sound of the woman weeping softly at Jesus’ feet. Then the sound of disgust could be heard. It was Judas Iscariot, shocked at this inappropriate display of affection. “What a waste!” He was talking with the other eleven disciples. “That perfume was worth a year’s wages and she ruined it. Why wasn’t it sold? Why wasn’t the money given to the poor? A wasted extravagance.”
The other disciples were nodding in agreement. Yes, that was a lot of money she just poured out. What a waste. Some others in the room felt the rising indignation. “Why this waste of perfume?” they asked. So they rebuked her harshly, chastising her for what she had done. Had she no decency?!
* * * *
No one expected to hear what Jesus said next.
“Leave her alone.”
What? She should be leaving YOU alone. She should be leaving US alone. She should be leaving!
"Leave her alone. Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor? The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have Me. She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for My burial. I tell you the truth: wherever the Gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will be spoken of in memory of her.”
People are stunned into silence. His words linger in the air with the fragrance of pure nard. This gift of hers, he says, is Gospel. It is the preparation for My burial.
His feet are soon to be pierced with Roman nails. His head soon to be crowned with mocking thorns. His death was coming and she honored Him with the most extravagant gift she could give. Her gift, His death—
this was the Gospel
. Until they could see that, they didn’t understand the Kingdom of God.
by Aaron Watt