Yesterday during our gathering, I shared the text from Matthew 26:6-13 about Jesus being anointed by Mary. Below you'll find the message and the discussion questions we used for our time of unpacking of the Scripture. This week is our next to last week looking at what a disciple of Jesus looks like through the lens of the gospel/book of Matthew. Next week we finish this series and take a week off for the End of the Summer Picnic, and then on September 9 start a new series called unChristian, looking at the perceptions that younger Americans have of Christians. Look at the postcards on your table about this series, and if someone comes to mind that you can invite that this series would connect with, take a postcard or three and invite some people.
As I said we have been looking at what it means to be a disciple of Jesus through the lens of the New Testament book of Matthew for the last several weeks. When we started this part of the series we began by looking at the story of the woman who was hemorrhaging for 12 years, touched the robe of Jesus and was healed. We talked about the boldness of the woman and how she had basically ignored social rules and norms (as she was “unclean”) to go into a crowd and talked about how disciples of Jesus need to be bold and sometimes ignore social rules and norms to follow Jesus.
We then talked about the parable of the sower and talked about how as disciples of Jesus we have two roles, one as a sower of the seed of the Kingdom of God, and the other to be the receptive soil for the seed of the Kingdom of God to fall into. We can’t be either the sower or the soil as a disciple. We have to both give and receive.
We then talked about Matthew 14:22-32 about Jesus spending time on the mountain with his heavenly Father, then coming out on the lake, and having Peter come walking on the water, only to sink when he took his eyes off Jesus. We talked about how Peter was the only disciple to get out of the boat and how following Jesus means taking risks and sometimes stepping out of the comfortable and known to embrace the risky, uncomfortable, and the unknown.
Then we talked about Jesus call for those who want to follow Him to deny themselves, take up their cross and follow him. The radical call of following Jesus, to die to yourself, and raise to new life, his new life living in you.
And finally last week we talked about another radical call that Jesus had to the rich young ruler, to give all that he had to the poor and then to follow him. And we talked about the idea that we all need to figure out what is holding our hearts from truly following after Jesus.
This week we encounter the story of a woman who was all out in her worship of Jesus, the response of those around her, and what Jesus is calling us to through the act of this woman.
So let’s look at Matthew 26:6-13 and see what we might learn about being a disciple of Jesus through this story. “While Jesus was in Bethany in the home of Simon the Leper, 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. When the disciples saw this, they were indignant. “Why this waste?” they asked. “This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor.” Aware of this, Jesus said to them, “Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me. When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. Truly I tell you, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”
Let’s spend sometime unpacking this text and see what it might say to us about what it looks like to follow Jesus. So the first thing we see is that Jesus is in Bethany at the home of Simon the Leper. Now Bethany is also home to Mary, Martha and Lazarus (whom Jesus’ raised from the dead). So Jesus is in the home of Simon the Leper, who was probably a well known victim of leprosy who had been healed by Jesus. And probably as a means of thanking Jesus for restoring him to his family, his community, and restoring his health, Simon invites Jesus and his disciples over for dinner while they are in town.
Into this setting comes a woman, which we find out in other texts, to be Mary, sister of Martha and Mary. She takes an alabaster jar full of very expensive perfume and pours the whole jar out on the head of Jesus. Now this is a lavish display of worship from Mary to Jesus. It was costly perfume, in other texts it was called Nard. There was probably enough nard in the container that it probably was valued around a years wages. But this isn’t the only reason why her act of worship was so costly. There are other reasons why this act of worship is radical, convicting, and subversive to the way we follow Jesus.
Let’s take a look at the alabaster jar and what exactly that jar was all about, and what it symbolized in the time of Jesus in Israel. In the days Jesus was on earth, when a young woman reached the age of availability for marriage, her family would purchase an alabaster box for her and fill it with precious ointment. The size of the box and the value of the ointment would parallel her family’s wealth. This alabaster box would be part of her dowry. When a young man came to ask for her in marriage, she would respond by taking the alabaster box and breaking it at his feet. The gesture of anointing his feet showed him honor. Perhaps this story takes on a new meaning. Mary’s perfume was very valuable, worth a year’s wages. But what stands out to me is that Mary didn’t save this special gift for her earthly bridegroom. She chose to use it on Jesus. I think the word of Mary’s actions spread rapidly. First, Mary was a woman. In that day, that fact alone held expectations. 2nd, the Bible says, I tell you the truth, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her. In this part of Jesus’ story, everyone knew of Him, and although there were no phones, I am sure they had a way of spreading any news of Jesus quickly. He was the biggest celebrity. 3rd, what Mary did could have totally killed her chances for every marrying. I think that is very noteworthy. You can find plenty of women out there who never marry, but I think there are few out there who willingly say: “I choose Jesus over a man.” or “I don’t want to marry. I just want Jesus.” We sometimes call those women crazy, or that they are giving up on something that they are going to regret. I say: “Way to choose Jesus first!” and I think Mary of Bethany would say the same thing. She realized that no man would be better then her Jesus. When she broke that alabaster jar and poured her expensive perfume over Jesus in front of a room of men, she was giving up a portion of her dowry, her reputation, and most importantly her heart. The question is, could we do that today? In Jesus day, it was a big deal for a woman to turn down marriage, because that was how she was provided for, taken care of, watched over. And by breaking the alabaster jar over the head of Jesus, she was basically giving her whole life and self, her future, her provisions, her everything to Jesus.
The response to this all out worship, devotion, and giving of her whole life to Jesus, from Jesus’ own disciples was “Why this waste? This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor.” His own disciples failed to see the beauty behind this act of worship. His own disciples called it a waste. They were looking purely at the financial cost and they also weren’t truly caring about the poor. In other texts of this account we see Judas being the head complainer as he held the money bag, and many times would help himself.
So I believe it is quite possible for us to live in such a way, giving ourselves to the Kingdom of God and to the King of the Kingdom, and still be looked at by other “Christians” as living a life that can be seen as a waste. To be spending ourselves on behalf of the world, to be a blessing, to confront the status quo inside and outside the church, and be marginalized from the church and “good Christians” As I mentioned before we went to see Shane Claiborne on Wednesday and I believe many Christians probably look at his life and say “What a waste.” So let’s unpack what this text looks like on the ground, lived out in the everyday life that we live. What do we sense God speaking to us about and what are we going to do about it?
1. What thoughts, comments, insights, questions, push back, etc.. do you have regarding the message and the Scripture?
2. What is God saying to you? What is God saying to us as a community?
3. What are you going to do about it? What are we going to do about it?