Luke 7:36 narrates one of the most remarkable examples of extravagant worship in the Bible. It was not one of the poetic songs of David or a member of the Levites leading the choir around the tabernacle. It was a scene that occurred around a table in an obscure town called Bethany. A woman entered a room full of men without an invitation and the atmosphere was suddenly permeated with perfume. In a middle-eastern society of the first century such an act was not welcomed.
Some suggest that the woman in the story is Mary Magdalene, others believe the woman of this story is Mary of Bethany. We can’t with certainty point to either one, so it is best to leave the woman of this story in anonymity. What we know for a fact is that the woman does not fit in this dinner party. Women endured great prejudice in the society of the time. To compound the shock of the self-righteous host, the woman’s label as a “sinner” is a euphemism for prostitute.
It was customary of the time of Jesus in Israel that whenever a rich person hosted a dinner or celebration, poor people would congregate outside the house and waited for a piece of bread or a morsel to eat at the host’s generosity. Waiting among them, you can see this woman in search of something. She lived with a hunger that bread could not satisfy. Reluctantly she carries her shame through the stares of the poor and makes her way into the room looking down. Silence is ominous as the eyes of men in the room turn to her. She looks for Jesus--the rabbi that speaks words of life. A strange thing happened inside of her the last time she heard him speak from afar. The Rabbi… no eye contact, she goes down to Jesus’ feet. No words are spoken as the muffled sound of years of pain and wasted youth surface in tears.
Simon questions the divinity of Jesus. “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him…” Oh, he knows, and he sees. He sees deeper than the eye can see. He sees an extravagant display of worship. The senses of all those present are suddenly awakened to something beyond their logic. An exquisite aroma has filled the room and the perfume has become a distraction that shifts the attention away from the condition of the woman. Brokenness. A well of tears had watered Jesus’ feet. With nothing at hand, her loosened hair and lips wipe off the offending tears. She wonders, could the most expensive ointment remove any trace her mundane humanity touching the rabbi’s feet? She pours the last drop of it.
Such a display is disgraceful and a waste for some of the self-righteous men in the presence, but for the Master, it’s a symbol of a heart that has surrendered to love.
Jesus responded to her unspoken plea: “Your sins are forgiven…go in peace”
As I ponder on the power of such display, I feel a sense of reverence. Jesus is sitting right beside me. He does not condemn me for my faults, he is able to see right trough my inadequacies and still invites me to fellowship. Is there a way to offer a gift like Mary’s to the Lord? Is my life a living sacrifice? Is my worship a genuine reflection of a humble heart? How can I truly demonstrate my passion for the Lord? Have I-- as Simon failed to treat Jesus as an honored guest and surrender to his Lordship? As I contemplate Jesus in silence, I realize that he expects nothing but a broken heart from me. He is the one that has given me a kiss to heal the wounds of my soul. He gave me his Word to wash the sinful grime of my mind and has also poured the Spirit’s oil to empower me live for Him.