Jesus made only a few prophesies about future events. He made even fewer prophesies about people. On one occasion, Jesus made a curious prophesy about the woman who anointed him with expensive perfume during a dinner party.
Now one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, so he went to the Pharisees house and reclined at the table. When a woman who had lived a sinful life in that town learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisees house, she brought an alabaster jar of perfume, 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.
When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is that she is a sinner.”
Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.”
“Tell me, teacher, he said.”
“Two men owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he canceled the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”
Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt canceled.”
“You have judged correctly, Jesus said.”
Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.”
Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”
The other guests began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?”
Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
Matthew’s account of this event adds the following information:
Matt 26:13 – “Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”
Did History Repeat?
Now, the narrative of this event differs slightly in each Gospel. In Matthew, Mark and John, this touching event occurs with certainty, in the last week of Jesus’ life and focuses mainly on the disciple’s reactions regarding the behavior of the woman. In Luke, the focus is on the host of the banquet, Simon the Pharisee, and the event seems to occur much earlier in Jesus’ ministry; leading many people to believe that an anointing like this happened to Jesus at least twice.
Did this dramatic action happen to Jesus more than once? I don’t think so.
If Jesus’ prophesy about this woman is to be accurate, then this must be the same singular event, mentioned in all four Gospels… in other words, “wherever the Gospel is preached.”
I think Luke’s account is simply out of order, and for a fascinating reason which we will discuss later.
Here are the references to this momentous event. You can find this story in: Matthew 26:6, Mark 14:1, Luke 7:36 and John 12:1.
A Woman with Secrets
With Luke as our narrator, this is how the story opens. We meet a woman with some secrets! The first secret… she is probably a prostitute!
This woman appears to be quite bold. Perhaps her boldness comes not just from her love for Jesus but from her illicit experiences. We know from the story, “she had lived a sinful life in that town.” She is apparently known by everyone at the party.
Simon the Pharisee is disgusted by her presence and her outpouring of affection. She invades the dinner party… his dinner party. She lets down her hair; something a woman simply ought not do except for her husband, and begins to minister to the Lord in dramatic fashion, filling the air with a fantastic fragrance.
Her first secret may be confirmed when we consider the price of this perfume. With little imagination, one can guess how this woman might afford such an expensive balm. Perfume of this type, was not produced except in the Far East. It would have been imported at great cost. It was so expensive, the years wages of an ordinary person could not buy it. Yet, a woman with certain talents might have obtained it in just one evening.
How she obtained it is not known but I suspect it bothers us to think that a woman of ill repute could be so closely associated with Jesus, performing such an outrageous act, or that Jesus even tolerates this. Why would we feel this way? Perhaps there is a little more of Simon the Pharisee in us than we care to admit.
As we glean additional details from this story from the other Gospels, it may become even more disturbing. What we have called boldness may not be boldness at all. It may simply be that she was very comfortable around Jesus. In fact, this behavior might just be heartfelt affection for a very close friend!
Might it disturb us to discover; this woman is actually Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus? This is our beloved Mary, who’s love and listening to the Lord we adore in other passages. How do we know this? John tells us! In John 11:2, the Bible says:
John 11:2 “This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair”
John tells us specifically who is pouring perfume on the Lord. And by the way, he also identifies her as “the one” not “one” of the women who did this to Jesus.
Now Mary is not the only one with secrets, there’s more to the story!
The Pharisee with a Secret
Simon the Pharisee also has a secret!
Simon has a very interesting history. When we tune in, we find him hosting a dinner party in Jesus honor. He is hosting this banquet at his own house. He seems to be motivated by some form of gratitude to Jesus. For what, we do not yet know. When this woman demonstrates an over the top display of her gratitude, Simon becomes quite indignant. He is offended.
What happens next is amazing. We don’t want to miss this. In response to Simon’s thoughts to himself… in the privacy of his own mind; Jesus crafts a customized parable, comparing the gratitude of two debtors. Jesus knows what Simon is thinking. Simon never said anything out loud!
Jesus delivers the parable. One debtor had a large debt, one a small. When Jesus questions him, Simon concludes that the debtor with the greater debt should show greater gratitude. Jesus commends Simon for his wisdom and then delivers a scathing rebuke for Simon’s lack of real gratitude!
Jesus knows Simon’s secret, but it has nothing to do with reading Simon’s mind! Jesus knows Simon is only offering “token gratitude” for something that has happened between them.
Why was Jesus so rough on Simon? Why did Jesus invent this parable about gratitude? What was Simon’s secret? To find out, we must harmonize the Gospel accounts of this story.
One Event, Four Views
As I have stated, I believe all four accounts refer to one single event which is included in all four Gospels, in fulfillment of Jesus’ prophesy. Luke’s account, for that reason we will discuss in a bit, is simply not in chronological order. But, if we allow theses stories to harmonize, something extraordinary becomes clear about Simon.
Checking out Matthew 26:6, we discover Simon’s secret; what Jesus had done for him, why he was giving the banquet, and why Jesus specifically devised such a delicious parable about gratitude! Listen to this.
While Jesus was in Bethany in the home of a man known as Simon the Leper, a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume…”
Whoah! Did you see that? Simon has another title! Not Simon the Pharisee… but Simon the Leper! This Pharisee is a healed leper!
A leper, even a pharisee who has leprosy, cannot host a banquet (or even offer a snack for that matter) if he had not been healed! Something had indeed happened in Simon’s life for which he should be extremely grateful. This is why Jesus parable is so poignant.
Simon should have recognized that he had just as big a debt of gratitude, to Jesus, as the so called, “Sinful Woman.” In fact, Simon’s banquet is probably the token of appreciation for what Jesus had done for him. After all, the Pharisees were not known for their Jesus honoring banquets so, the fact that this Pharisee was giving a banquet in Jesus’ honor is really significant.
Real gratitude often springs from an event which humbles us and helps us see that we are all just beggars in need of help which is so far beyond our reach. Real gratitude teaches us that we desperately need God! If Simon really understood his healing, if he had the type of gratitude which makes us fall on our face before our creator, do you think he would have had so callus an attitude toward the woman?
When we see the entire picture of what was really happening, we are once again astonished at Jesus wisdom and skill in choosing just the right story to help Simon see the error of his ways. He should have the same gratitude as Mary!
Reasons to Believe
So, if we harmonizing this story, we need to ask, Did an event like this happen to Jesus more than once?
There are three compelling reasons to believe all Gospel accounts point to a single event.
First, there are just two many similarities. Matthew, Mark and Luke tell us this event happened at the home of a man named Simon. All four Gospel narratives are very similar in their timing and the way they unfold. There are similarities in the reactions of the guests in all four accounts. The woman, the perfume, the jar, the price, the tears, the hair, the feet… its all similar.
Second, we must consider Jesus’ own claim, “This story will be told wherever the Gospel is preached.” Why would he say this and then not include it in all four Gospels?
Finally, in Mark 14:8, Jesus states the specific purpose for the woman’s behavior, it was to “prepare him for his burial.” This purpose would have to be the same in all four Gospels so it would make no sense if this event occurred early in Jesus ministry, as it appears to be in the Luke account. Therefore, Lukes account is simply out of place chronologically.
So, why the confusion? Why would God allow the Bible to be put together out of chronological order? I believe this is deliberate. Before we talk about the reason, let’s lay some ground work. Let’s talk for a moment about parables and recall Jesus’ explanation for the purpose of parables.
Parables in Persepctive
We understand the parables because we have the perspective of 2000 years of New Testament history. The people of Jesus time did not have this perspective. It is important for us, in our era, to understand that the parables were never offered by Jesus to make the Gospel message clearer for the people to whom he preached. On the contrary, parables were given to hide the truth from unbelievers, listen!
Matthew 13:10-11 The disciples came to him and asked, “Why do you speak to the people in parables?”
He replied, “The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them.”
Also, remember in A Faith that Obeys Podcast 004, we talked about God deliberately hiding things remember this scripture?
At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure.”
That was Matthew 11:25-26 and provides a frightening insight into how God hides things from the wise and learned, the people who think they have it all together, but reveals things to the humble.
So, on this side of the cross, we understand the meaning of parables and they make things clearer for us, but during Jesus ministry the parables were used to sift hearts. We also see that God withholds understanding at times.
God Still Obscures Truth!
I think God still works this way today. I think he still obscures the truth when we are not humble and willing to dig into the scriptures to gain deeper understanding. I think this is especially true if we are super set in our religious ways, unwilling to even consider the possibility that we could be wrong about something spiritual and even outright reject that God might be trying to teach us something new.
The Gospel account in Luke, being out of order, may be one of God’s efforts to obscure. People will argue and disagree whether or not this is two separate events but if we humbly allow all of them to harmonize, we see things we would not have otherwise seen and gain a much richer insight into Jesus’ wisdom and his heart.
Like many stories, The anointing of Jesus is, on the surface, just another fun and interesting story which is easy to understand. But, if we dig a little bit deeper, the real meaning with its’ challenges and soul convicting truths become visible.
It reveals an amazing picture of Jesus’ mercy, power, love and wisdom. I believe this story is one account fulfilled in all four Gospels in stunning fashion, revealing a depth of God’s wisdom the casual reader most certainly misses.
Let’s be like Mary. Not only was Mary an awesome listener, but her soft heart allowed her to be so full of that special kind of gratitude. It is this type of gratitude which leads us to A Faith that Obeys!