Day 14, Chapter 14: The Offering
Like most of you, I’ve had my share of awkward moments, like forgetting names, clothing malfunctions, and worse, which shall remain unrevealed.
Jesus, too, had some awkward moments - at least the situations would have created awkwardness for most of us. In His inimitable style, He didn’t seem to be bothered by them. One of the worst had to be the uninvited attention He received from a prostitute.
Jesus had been invited to dinner at the house of a Pharisee (Luke 7:37–50). As the religious elites of their day, the Pharisees were proud, legalistic, and condescending to the common man. Christ, always willing to point out their hypocrisy, had more than one run-in with members of their sect. It was this group, in fact, that led the movement to crucify him. This Pharisee was obviously not a believer in Christ’s messiahship, but merely a curious skeptic trying to disprove the Lord’s credentials. With their critical spirit and skeptical mindset, the Pharisees were notorious for this.
As they were eating, a woman described simply as a “sinner” showed up unannounced and uninvited. The margin note in my Bible calls her “an immoral woman,” and most scholars believe she was actually a prostitute. You can imagine the shock and indignation of this self-righteous Pharisee when a “hooker” walked into his home – the text makes it clear he knew her lifestyle. But his indignation went to another level when she proceeded with her intentions.
And behold, there was a woman in the city who was a sinner;
and when she learned that He was reclining at the table in the Pharisee’s house, she brought an alabaster vial of perfume, and standing behind Him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet His
feet with her tears, and kept wiping them with the hair of her
head, and kissing His feet and anointing them with the perfume.
(Luke 7: 37-38)
I’m not sure how embarrassed I would be if a known prostitute showed up at dinner and, in front of a roomful of people, began bathing and kissing my feet, then drying them with her hair. I’m sure I would stop her very quickly and assure everyone that I had never met this person. Concern for my reputation would outweigh my compassion.
Jesus, however, didn’t seem to mind. He was not embarrassed by this extravagant display of affection from a desperate woman of the streets. It seems, in fact, that He welcomed and was moved by her actions, seeing them as repentance and a cry for help - not an inappropriate proposition. And He was alway moved by a sincere, hungry heart. After a short dialogue with the pious Pharisee, Jesus pronounced him rude and the prostitute forgiven; her pure, him defiled. That would infuriate the average pharisaical heart, wouldn’t it? The Lord didn’t care. The worship of a penitent prostitute was far more fulfilling to Him than a meal with a patronizing Pharisee.
The perfume used by this woman was myrrh, a very aromatic and costly oil used for important occasions. Jesus, for example, was given myrrh by the magi, sometimes called wise men, at His birth. The aroma of myrrh was strong enough that Christ would have carried the fragrance of the woman’s act of worship with Him as He went on His way. I’m sure it brought the Savior great pleasure. Every time He caught the scent He smelled a changed life, a restored purpose, and a new member of His heavenly family.
Perhaps Christ thought of Psalm 45, which foretells His marriage to the church, His bride. He certainly would have been familiar with it. Verse 8 of this psalm says His wedding garments will carry the fragrance of myrrh. The Song of Solomon, which most Christian scholars agree is an allegory picturing Christ and His bride, also speaks much of the fragrance of myrrh in the bedchamber (see Song of Solomon 5:1, 5, 13).
Could it be that this prostitute, who probably used myrrh in her “trade,” was acquainted with these popular portions of Scripture? Were her penitent tears, mixed with the fragrant myrrh, the passionate cry of a shame-filled sinner wondering if she could ever be accepted as part of His eternal bride? I like to think so.
And the response of the Bridegroom? “I still want you. Your defilement is gone, your sins forgiven, and your shame removed. You are beautiful to me.” The former harlot left the house betrothed to the Savior, while the satisfied Pharisee left the occasion still playing the harlot with the religious system he was in bed with.
Jesus responds to love, not religion; to hunger, not curiosity. He is looking for those who want the pleasure of His company, not the entertainment of His company. His heart was moved, not by a sumptuous meal with a curious stranger but by the hungry heart of a common sinner. The curious may sow a meal, but the desperate will sow their hearts… and, of course, costly perfume.
Toward the end of Christ’s ministry, another worshipper poured costly perfume on the head and feet of Jesus (John 12:1-8). It was very expensive, worth a year’s wages based on the average income of the day. This was done by the same Mary who sat at His feet, mesmerized by His words, in Luke 10:38-42. She was the sister of Martha and Lazarus, whom Jesus raised from the dead.
The timing of Mary’s offering was just days before His death, and Jesus said she was anointing Him for His burial. Whether Mary had grasped the reality of His words about His imminent death and resurrection, or whether Jesus was simply accepting the offering in that light is unclear. Two things we do know: It was a very costly offering from Mary – and it was precious to the Lord. “Wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done shall be spoken of in memory of her,” He stated (Matthew 26:13).
Did the fragrance lingering in His hair help sustain Him as He agonized in Gethsemane. Perhaps the sweet aroma comforted Him through the tortuous six hours on the Cross.
Never underestimate the fragrance of worship.
Others in the room thought Mary’s offering was a waste. Some scolded her. I know the feeling. When I canceled all other activities for three months in our church in Colorado Springs, lavishing ninety days of 24/7 worship on the Lord, I, too, was criticized. One well-known Christian leader scolded and rebuked me severely, calling the ninety days of worship “a complete waste of time.”
It’s fascinating how different perspectives can be. For me, those three months remain the best three months of my life. They were my alabaster box of costly perfume, the greatest offering I’ve had the pleasure of giving Christ. For the man who rebuked me, it was a complete waste of time. Never let the lack of revelation in others cheapen your offering. Don’t water down your perfume, either, just to save a little money, or substitute your best “myrrh” with some cheap off-brand. Give Him your best.
Others may mock your sacrifice of time, but go ahead and “waste” it on Him. Some will scold you, calling your passionate praise radical, but pour out your offering in spite of their ridicule. Still others will label your extravagant worship as excessive religious zeal. Don’t let their misguided criticism deter you - pour out your costly perfume!
The list of Christ’s followers in the room that day as Mary anointed Him is almost mind-boggling. The twelve disciples were there. You’d think they would have understood the offering, but they were too practical: “It should have been given to the poor,” was their protest. Christ’s thoughts? “Go ahead and anoint Me; I’ll be the offering for the poor.”
Simon the leper (or should we say, “former leper”?) was present. They were actually in his home. You might think his new skin, replaced appendages, and restored life would merit the “wasting” of some costly perfume on Jesus. Evidently not. At least he didn’t come to Mary’s defense. And then there was Lazarus, Mary’s brother, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. Surely he would see the validity of his sister’s sacrifice. But no, he didn’t come to her defense, either.
Could it be that the others’ familiarity with Christ had lessened His worth? We don’t know. We do know that only one worshiper that day had the fullness of revelation necessary to anoint the Savior. How sadly typical. Most miss the opportunity. It is not uncommon for me to see worshipers waste opportunities to break their alabaster box of love and pour it onto the Master. They’ve been around Him so much, sang so many songs, and prayed so many prayers that the experience isn’t worth quite what it used to be. So they give Him token praise and watered-down worship. Cheap perfume. I doubt if the fragrance makes it past Sunday lunch.
So while the others that day wasted an opportunity to comfort God, Mary “wasted” her perfume. Its fragrance sustained Him through the beatings, mocking, spittle, spikes, and thorns.
Don’t allow another day to go by without becoming one of the “fragrance creators.” Let nothing deter you. Your alabaster box is your heart, your love and worship is the perfume. Break it open and pour it out. At the scent of your offering, He’ll come. And He’ll cherish yours, just as He did Mary’s.
Pray with me:
Thank You, Jesus, for receiving and cherishing our time, talents, devotion and hearts as our alabaster jar of perfume. May we pour out every ounce of our lives as a lavish display of adoration, an aroma that’s pleasing to You.
We refuse to allow others’ lack of revelation cheapen our offerings. You are worthy of the best. We break open our hearts of passionate worship; refusing to offer You watered-down substitutes. At the end of our days may it be said of our generation: “When it looked like America was lost and the world was without hope, a radical generation of God-lovers poured themselves out at His feet, and the stench of death was finally overcome.”
We love You, Jesus. Amen.
Today’s post was taken from my book The Pleasure of His Company.
Dutch Sheets, The Pleasure of His Company (Grand Rapids, MI: Bethany House Publishers, 2014), pp 115-122.
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