A Study in Personalities— Mary, Judas, Simon, and Jesus

How Jesus affected the life of these individuals

R. A. ANDERSON, Secretary, Ministerial Association, General Conference

An air of expectancy filled Jerusalem as crowds began to gather for the great Passover festival. Because news of the resurrection of Lazarus had spread far and wide, the Master's name was on every tongue. "What think ye? Will He come to the feast?"

Some had attended the Feast of Taber­nacles six months earlier and had listened to Jesus teaching in the Temple. They were hoping they might hear Him again. Oth­ers who had never heard Him were eager to catch a glimpse of this new Prophet who could even raise the dead. Still others were hoping that during the Passover, Jesus would proclaim Himself King.

The leaders who had plotted His death were determined that if He should come to the feast He would be resisted at all costs. "It is expedient for us, that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not," was the way the high priest had expressed it (John 11:50). In fact, "the chief priests and the Phari­sees had given a commandment, that, if any man knew where he were, he should shew it, that they might take him" (verse 57).

Knowing that a price was upon His head, Jesus might well have stayed away from Jerusalem, but the will of God was more precious to Him than life itself. So we read that "Jesus six days before the passover came to Bethany" (John 12:1). This was the town where Lazarus lived, a small community, and everybody there had heard about Jesus.

An Important Social Supper

Among the higher-class citizens of Beth­any was a wealthy man, "Simon the leper." Jesus had healed him and for this he was grateful. He was one of the few Pharisees who had become not only an admirer but also a follower of the Great Teacher. Like many others he cherished the hope that Jesus might be the Messiah.

While Simon had been healed of lep­rosy, his character was not transformed. De­siring to show his gratitude for the bless­ing of health, however, he made a feast for Jesus and His disciples. Martha, a near neighbor and prominent woman in the community, was one of those that served. But Lazarus, her brother, reclined at the table with the guests.

Houses of the well to do were often built around an open courtyard, and when a distinguished person was invited to a meal it was not uncommon for people to crowd into the courtyard, hoping to catch a distant view and a little of the table talk. Hearing that Jesus was to be thus honored, many from the community and some from out of town crowded in to see Him. They were eager also to see Lazarus, who a short time before had been resurrected.

Mary, the younger sister of Martha and Lazarus, was also there. In the middle of the meal and with no thought of attracting attention, she quietly opened an alabaster box filled with costly ointment. The women of Palestine often wore around their necks a little phial of perfume, which was so sparingly used that it would last for many years. But Mary came with a box of this precious perfume, and breaking it open, emptied the whole of it on the head and feet of Jesus.

Why Mary Broke the Box

It was customary in the East for a wealthy host, when serving a meal to a distinguished personality, to take the goblet from which that person had drunk and break it, so that never might it be touched by lesser lips. Out of respect for her Lord, Mary broke the alabaster box; but Jesus saw in this act something far more signifi­cant.

Her act was evidently unobserved until the aroma began to fill the place. And who could mistake that fragrance? This was no ordinary act, for as Bruce says, "An alabas­ter of nard (murou) was a present for a king." Cambyses sent such a gift to the king of Ethiopia. It truly was a royal gift, and that was how Mary regarded it.

Reaction soon set in, however, for avari­cious Judas began to remark that this was needless extravagance. He said this per­fume could have been sold for three hun­dred pence and the proceeds given to the poor. Why this waste? Just sentimental ex­travagance! was the way he regarded it.

A Costly Gift

Three hundred pence may not seem a large sum, but according to the parable of the vineyard, a penny (denarius) was equal to a day's wage. So Mary's gift equaled almost a year's wages! Two hun­dred denarius would be sufficient to feed five thousand, Philip had observed. But here was even greater value—enough to buy a meal for more than five thousand hungry people—and yet it was being wasted on one Man! Such was the cold, calculat­ing attitude of the one who carried the bag.

Overhearing the comments, Mary suf­fered real embarrassment. Then with out­ward self-possession Simon began to whis­per to those close to him that if Jesus knew what kind of woman this was He would re­buke her, for she was a sinner. Simon had reason to know, for not only was he a near neighbor but he it was who had led her into sin (see The Desire of Ages, p. 566).

Jesus was equal to the occasion, however. First of all, He set Mary's heart at ease; in fact, He gave an even fuller meaning to what she had done. "She hath poured this ointment on my body," He said, "and she did it for my burial."

"Preparation for My burial is the idea here. . . . She had saved this money to use in preparing His body for burial. She is giving Him the flowers before the funeral." —A. T. ROBINSON, Word Pictures in the New Testament.

The fragrant gift which Mary had thought to lavish upon the dead body of the Saviour she had poured upon His living form. At the burial its sweetness could only have pervaded the tomb; now it gladdened His heart with the assurance of her faith and love. Joseph of Arimathaea and Nicode­mus offered not their gift of love to Jesus in His life. With bitter tears they brought their costly spices for His cold, unconscious form. The women who bore spices to the tomb found their errand in vain, for He had risen. But Mary, pouring out her love upon the Saviour while He was conscious of her devotion, was anointing Him for the burial. And as He went down into the darkness of His great trial, He carried with Him the memory of that deed, an earnest of the love that would be His from His redeemed ones forever.

Many there are who bring their precious gifts for the dead. As they stand about the cold, silent form, words of love are freely spoken. Tenderness, appreciation, devotion, all are lavished upon one who sees not nor hears. Had these words been spoken when the weary spirit needed them so much, when the ear could hear and the heart could feel, how precious would have been their fragrance!—The Desire of Ages, p. 560.

Love Never Counts the Cast

The bodies of the beloved dead in Pales­tine were first bathed, then anointed with perfume, after which the flask which had contained the perfume was broken and the fragments laid in the tomb with the body. The Master, knowing that death awaited Him within the next few days, saw in this a definite foreshadowing of His sacrifice. That is why He said, "She hath wrought a good work on me." True, it was costly, but real love never counts the cost.

The perfume Mary used she could have expended on herself, and taking one tiny drop at a time it would have lasted a life­time. But in this moment of utter devotion she gave it all. This was one of the great moments in the life of our Lord; a moment that could never come again. Her act was a reflection of divine love, which poured out everything in one gift.

The importance of the incident is shown by the fact that all four Gospel writers re­cord it. But even more, Jesus declared that wherever the gospel would be preached throughout the whole world this would be spoken of as a memorial for her. Thus she unconsciously erected a memorial for her­self. Not what is planned, but often what is spontaneous becomes the thing the world remembers.

Significance of Anointing

In the Old Testament three groups of men were anointed—priests, prophets, and kings (see Ex. 29:7; 1 Kings 19:16; I Sam. 9:16). In accepting this at Mary's hand, could it be that Jesus was declaring Him­self Israel's Prophet, Priest, and King? True, He was anointed by the Holy Spirit at His baptism (Acts 10:38). And He was to receive the heavenly anointing after His resurrection and ascension (Heb. 1:8). But Jesus was emphasizing particularly that this was in preparation for His bur­ial. He well knew what awaited Him and that the only arms stretched out in wel­come for Him in Jerusalem were the arms of the cross.

Someone has said that this was "like an island of love in a sea of hate." Like a ray of light it pierced the darkening shadows of the coming passion, and this fragrant act of love has blessed all the centuries since that time. How much Mary knew of the immediate future we cannot tell. Doubtless her delicate womanly intuition enabled her to understand some things the apostles failed to grasp, although Jesus had told them plainly and repeatedly. Eager to alleviate His sufferings and show her utter devotion, Mary gave her all. It was a gift for a King, and was prompted by that love which defies arithmetical calculation. What we keep we lose; what we give to Chrst we keep.

Jesus Reads the Minds of Men

The cutting criticism of Judas was in sharp contrast with her devotion. Under the mask of charity he sought to give the impression of sympathy, yet he was actually furthering his own ends. He was a crass materialist, blinded by self-interest and ambition. To such as he, all spiritual in­vestments appear as waste.

Judas, however, was not the only one whose life was an open book to Jesus. The thoughts of Simon were also clearly dis­cerned by Jesus. So He gave a meaningful parable just for His host. "'Once upon a time, there were two men in debt to the same moneylender. One owed him fifty dol­lars and the other five. And since they were unable to pay, he generously canceled both of their debts. Now, which one of them do you suppose will love him more?'" (Luke 7:41, 42, Phillips).*

This was a well-directed question, and Simon answered correctly: "I suppose it will be the one who has been more gen­erously treated" (Phillips). Then making the application, Jesus said to him: "Seest thou this woman? I entered into thine house, thou gayest me no water for my feet: but she hath washed my feet with tears, and wiped them with the hairs of her head" (verse 44). Jesus was not blind to Mary's past, yet He told Simon that she had been forgiven. She loved much because she had been forgiven much. And that lesson went home.

Simon realized that he had never asked forgiveness. In fact, Pharisee that he was, he did not feel his need of spiritual help. Outwardly religious he was inwardly cor­rupt. Mary was a sinner pardoned; Simon was a sinner unpardoned. Our Lord's kind approach did not expose him to his guests, but through the parable Jesus touched his heart. What a wonderful workman Jesus was! Having won the heart of Simon, Jesus then turned to Mary and said: "Thy sins are forgiven. . .. Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace" (verses 48-50).

What a study in contrasts these personali­ties afford—Mary, Judas, Simon, and Jesus!

(To be continued)

* From The New Testament in Modern English by J. B. Phillips. Used by permission of The Macmillan Company.


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R. A. ANDERSON, Secretary, Ministerial Association, General Conference

July 1962

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