Please note that Podcast Garden have recently changed their backup location. If you think there should be a podcast (only for sermons from 2014 onwards) and there is not, you can still listen by clicking here
This was an informal service, just a few of us, on holiday in the German Alps. I didn't record it.
This story, of the anointing of Jesus, is
incredibly familiar. It’s one of the few stories which appears in
all four Gospels, although in slightly different versions, which
reflects the fact that those who made the gospels wrote down what was
said and taught in their particular fellowships, and from their
particular collections of "The sayings of Jesus", or
whatever unofficial manuscripts were floating around their church.
Matthew's and Mark's stories are the most similar.
They set the episode in Bethany, at the house of Simon the Leper. A
woman wanders in off the street, pours the ointment over Jesus' head
and, for all we know, wanders straight out again. The disciples and
others gathered there go: "Oh, what a waste! If she didn't want
it we could have sold it and given the money to the poor."
Jesus tells them to be quiet, because the woman
was anointing his body for burial and what she did would be
remembered for ever. As, indeed, it has been.
In John's gospel, the story is still set in
Bethany, but John says that Jesus was staying with his friends Mary,
Martha and Lazarus, and that it was Mary who upended the ointment all
over his feet.
Luke’s version, the one we have just heard,
might possibly be talking about a different episode, because his
version takes place in a Pharisee's house, although said Pharisee is
also called Simon, and the woman is known to be a hooker, and she
pours the stuff all over his feet, and Jesus said that only goes to
show how much she knows God has forgiven her.
Putting the stories together we know that Simon
lived in the village of Bethany, where Martha, Mary and Lazarus lived
some commentators have even suggested that Simon
was Martha's husband, which is possible, but not explicitly stated
It's also possible that the woman who comes in
with the alabaster jar of ointment is actually Mary –
in John's gospel we're told that she did anoint
On the other hand, that could have been two
we don't know and it isn't quite clear. The Bible
isn’t even clear whether this woman, Mary Magdalen and Mary of
Bethany are one, two or three different people!
Anyway, it doesn't really matter, although it's
fun to speculate.
But the point is that Simon has asked Jesus to
but he obviously thinks he's being terribly
broad-minded doing so.
It was a public dinner, probably held in the yard
in front of the house,
so everybody could see what Simon was doing.
The public were rather expected to come and gawp,
rather like we do at film stars going into
premières and so on today.
But, according to Jesus, Simon is really an
appallingly bad host –
he didn't offer Jesus any of the usual courtesies
of the day.
I wonder whether he even spoke to him during the
meal, or whether he had sat him as far away as possible.
"I might ask him to dinner, but that doesn't
mean I have to be friends with him!"
And then this woman wanders in, this street woman.
From the context, it's clear that she has lived a
probably as a prostitute.
Although we don't know why she became one,
probably not by her own choice.
Sometimes, in that time and place, it was that or
But she had one possession that stood between her
and utter destitution –
her alabaster box of ointment.
These were incredibly precious –
you may remember that in most versions of the
the disciples, and especially Judas, chunter about
how she could have sold it and given the money to the poor,
it would have been less of a waste.
Luke doesn't mention that;
what he does mention is that Simon gets impossibly
uptight about all this,
and wants to have the woman thrown out, but Jesus
And first of all, he tells Simon a little story:
Suppose there were two men, and one owed you a
vast fortune, and the other owed just a couple of days' pay, and you
let them both off, said it was a gift.
Which one do you reckon would love you most?
And Simon, quite rightly, suggests it would be the
one who had owed the fortune.
And Jesus then points out to him that her actions,
which incidentally have more than made up for his, Simon's
deficiencies as a host, show how much she has been forgiven, and
tells the woman that she has been forgiven, and that her faith has
Which, of course, leads to chuntering about who on
earth was Jesus to say that sort of thing..... poor man couldn't win,
But what’s it all about, and what does it say to
I think it’s partly about extravagance. Those
alabaster jars were incredibly precious. If you were lucky enough to
have one, it was your most precious thing and you guarded it with
your life, practically. It could only be opened by breaking it, so
it couldn't ever be used again. You didn't go pouring the contents
all over the head of passing prophets, no matter how charismatic.
So when the disciples
said, "What a waste!" they seriously meant it. The jar was
broken, it was no use any more. The ointment was poured out, and
that in itself was costly enough. The woman, Mary or whoever she
was, had given her most precious thing to Jesus, and from everyone
else's point of view, it looked like a terrible waste. They couldn't
even make use of the gift by selling it and giving the money to
charity. It was all gone. What a waste.
But – how like God.
You see, Mary was frantically extravagant and wasteful. But so often,
God's like that.
Think of the story of
the wedding at Cana, right at the beginning of Jesus' ministry. When
they ran out of wine, towards the end of the festivities, Jesus
provided some more. But he provided far more wine than anyone could
drink. I worked it out once that the six stone jars he had filled
would hold about eight hundred bottles of wine. You could open a
young off-licence with that.
Or think of the story
of the feeding of the five thousand. Actually, one of the gospels,
Matthew, I think, says that the five thousand was only the men, and
didn't count the women and children, which would have made it more
like thirty-five thousand. Anyway, when Jesus provided lunch for
them, and he certainly did count the women and children, even if
nobody else bothered, it wasn't as though there was only just enough
to go round; there were twelve huge basketfuls left over. Enough for
each disciple to take one home to Mum.
Or what about our natural world? Look at the
beauty of the Alps all around us.... not just the scenery, though,
but all the flowers and the grasses and so on. And think of all the
houses and towns and villages between home and here, and yet God
knows and loves the inhabitants of each and every one of them!
It’s about extravagance – the woman knew she
had been forgiven so very much, and responded in her turn with a
gesture of extravagance.
Simon, on the other hand, couldn’t see it at
all. He really shouldn't have asked Jesus to dinner if he wasn't
prepared to accept him for who he was.
Holding him at arms' length, failing to
offer him more than the most rudimentary hospitality, you wonder why
He might have wanted to show how
broad-minded he was, inviting this itinerant preacher that none of
the other Pharisees would dream of inviting.
Or maybe he was curious about what
Jesus had to say –
but his curiosity didn't extend far
enough to actually welcoming him, and certainly not to welcoming
someone that Jesus wanted to see but he didn't.
For Simon, allowing a street woman into
his grounds was quite beyond the pale, totally not done!
It looks as though Simon missed the
whole point of Jesus altogether.
At that stage, Jesus was teaching about
the Kingdom of God, and the kind of person that was part of the
we know from the various collections of
Jesus' teachings and stories that have come down to us what sort of a
person that is.
And basically, Simon wasn't it!
He was judgemental, he put people down
in the worst kind of way, he wasn't open to new ideas....
as for loving his enemies, well, I
highly doubt he would have thought that
proper behaviour for a good, upright Pharisee like himself!
don't think, did accept that he was wrong.
hear what he replied to Jesus, but maybe he just said, "Yes,
yes", but didn't let what Jesus said get to him.
that's not the case, but too often it happens.
really let God's word into us and change us the way the woman did.
She knew she
was all wrong.
know why she went wrong –
was her only option if she was to feed her babies.
someone like Simon, perhaps even Simon himself, had abused her and
then cast her out into the street like so much litter.
repented, and demonstrated her repentance by giving Jesus her most
precious possession, anointing him with very precious ointment,
weeping over him.
could have stopped her descent into prostitution by selling the
ointment and its jar.
We do know,
though, that she thought Jesus was worth all of it.
It's quite scary, isn't it? There are so many issues about world
poverty and so on that the very word "extravagance" seems
to sit oddly on Christian lips. Yet we only have to look at so many
of the stories of God and God's people to see that it isn't a word
that is out of place when it comes to God.
We can be
desperately hard on ourselves, far harder than God ever is. Even
this holiday week – it’s can be quite difficult to escape the
notion that it’s wrong to enjoy ourselves, or to realise that God
wants us to enjoy ourselves, and to enjoy the holiday in and through
us! Our God is an extravagant God, and we need to rejoice in that!
Welcome! I am a Methodist Local Preacher, and preach roughly once a month, or thereabouts. If you wish to take a RSS feed, or become a follower, so that you know when a new sermon has been uploaded, please feel free to do so.
Please comment if the sermons have met with you where you are!