In this passage both the woman and her act are familiar to us. Jesus said that both would be famous (verse 13). This singular act by a common person will be shared throughout time wherever the Gospel travels. In my mind that is un-get-a-hold-able. To put ourselves in the middle of this passage, and gather in the magnitude of what was being done and said, imagine that Jesus took one of your acts of service to Him and declared that it would be forever known to and remembered by His future followers. Gulp. It is a remarkable scene.
Meanwhile, the chief priests and elders were gathered at “the chief priest’s palace” plotting to kill Jesus (verse 3, note: a good rule of thumb is to avoid any clergy, pastors, or leaders who have “a palace”). While the murder of Jesus was being planned by the elite at a palace, Jesus was settling in at the house of a leper named Simon. Remember that a leper in Jesus’ day was rejected by society and forced to live a hermit’s life, and a life of shame. So, here in the home of this social outcast, reclining at the dinner table was the Lord of the universe and Savior – Jesus of Nazareth. Grace was actually sitting at Simon’s usually vacant and lonely table.
Enter a woman who came to offer to Jesus something that is so humble, intimate, tender, and sacrificial that it is beyond words. In fact, in the original language of the Bible (Greek in the New Testament) it is tricky to translate her act into plain ole’ English. The phrase for what this woman did is rendered by different translations as “good work,” “noble deed,” and my favorite … “beautiful thing.” It is the only time that this phrase is used in this way in the New Testament. How about that? The word for her deed is multi-faceted. It has the idea of beauty, goodness, and nobility. Wait, there’s more; it also has the idea of an outward beauty or goodness being expressed due to inward beauty or goodness. Yahtzee! Are your eyes moistening up now? Mine are.
This lady comes with a “very expensive” ointment — think months of wages – in an alabaster flask, and anoints Jesus’ head with it … in humble adoration and worship. The disciples then go Baptist-like and complain about the cost of the ointment, and its misuse, and even find a reason to justify their opinion on the matter. Sound familiar? Jesus then tells the tight-waded, bone-headed disciples to hush their fussing and learn from her. He says, “for she has done a beautiful thing to me” to prepare for my burial.
Jesus was telling them that it was about time for His death – His death for them, and for us – and they were missing it because their heads and hearts were wrongly focused and loosely vocal. We all suffer from that malady. Picture this whole scene, and let it unfold in your mind, and soul: the inner beauty of this woman’s heart for Christ was expressed through her humble, sacrificial, and worshipful act. Jesus declared it as “beautiful!”
What a thought that we could be and do something for Christ that he would describe as beautiful. Is there anything any better, or more humbling, or soul-satisfying than that?
A follow-up question is: what can we do for Christ that meets that mark? Hold on to your noggin, because the answer is in…
“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Ephesians 2:10
The answer is that to do what this woman did only requires you to be yourself in Christ, for Christ. We do not have to be or do things that are extraordinary to honor Christ and serve Him in ways that are beautiful to Him. Really, we don’t!
Check out three straightforward principles in Ephesians 2:10:
1. God created you.
2. You are “His workmanship.”
3. You are created to do good works – and beautiful ones – for Christ.
The second point deserves some un-packing. In the original language the word for “workmanship” is the Greek work “poiema.” Does that look like the word “poem” to you? Indeed, not a coincidence. The idea of that word is workmanship, or craftsmanship, or a work of art. Here’s the point: God made you as His handiwork out of His perfect artisan wisdom and power. So, your status is one of being His child and poetic workmanship; your role is doing good works unto Him out of that status.
Let’s line this up with Matthew 26:10. The woman’s outward, beautiful service was a reflection of her inward beauty and goodness in Christ. That made her deed “beautiful.” Your good service for Christ is a result of you being God’s workmanship. The poetry of her soul and service were aligned, yours can be too…by design and by the power of the Holy Spirit. So, fulfill your poiema role in life – namely, you being who God created you to be in the fullness of Christ – and let Him take what He has made you to be and cause it cascade into what you do. Beautiful!
You may feel like a dusty, scratched up fiddle in God’s closet. In Christ, you are a Stradivarius ready to be finely tuned, and played for Him, so that the finely created instrument and music match … beautifully!