In Matthew 26:6-13, we read of one woman’s extravagant act of devotion. As a crowd is gathered with Jesus at the house of Simon the leper, this unnamed woman comes in and anoints Jesus’ head with a flask of very expensive ointment. It would have been customary for a host to anoint the head of a guest, but this woman’s use of very expensive ointment goes far beyond what was standard. Matthew notes that the disciples were indignant with the woman for wasting the ointment in this way. After all, they reasonably conclude, the ointment could have been sold and the profit could have been used to care for the poor. I would venture to guess many of us would have shared this view had we been in the room that day.
Jesus assesses the woman’s act of devotion much differently. Instead of scolding the woman, Jesus says that she has done a beautiful thing that will be remembered wherever the gospel is proclaimed. Matthew’s inclusion of this beautiful, extravagant act of devotion serves as a reminder and challenge to all of us who call ourselves disciples of Jesus. First, it is a reminder that we should be wary of second guessing the motives of those who offer Jesus acts of devotion that seem outlandish to us. It may be that Jesus would wholeheartedly approve of gifts we would deem wasteful. Second, it is a challenge for us to consider whether we are ever so moved by the grace God has lavished on us through Jesus Christ that we feel compelled to offer Christ an act of worship some would describe as extravagant.
Matthew 26:1-35 (ESV):
When Jesus had finished all these sayings, he said to his disciples,2 “You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of Man will be delivered up to be crucified.”
3 Then the chief priests and the elders of the people gathered in the palace of the high priest, whose name was Caiaphas, 4 and plotted together in order to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him. 5 But they said, “Not during the feast, lest there be an uproar among the people.”
6 Now when Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, 7 a woman came up to him with an alabaster flask of very expensive ointment, and she poured it on his head as he reclined at table. 8 And when the disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, “Why this waste?9 For this could have been sold for a large sum and given to the poor.”10 But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a beautiful thing to me. 11 For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me. 12 In pouring this ointment on my body, she has done it to prepare me for burial.13 Truly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.”
14 Then one of the twelve, whose name was Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests 15 and said, “What will you give me if I deliver him over to you?” And they paid him thirty pieces of silver. 16 And from that moment he sought an opportunity to betray him.
17 Now on the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Where will you have us prepare for you to eat the Passover?”18 He said, “Go into the city to a certain man and say to him, ‘The Teacher says, My time is at hand. I will keep the Passover at your house with my disciples.’” 19 And the disciples did as Jesus had directed them, and they prepared the Passover.
20 When it was evening, he reclined at table with the twelve. 21 And as they were eating, he said, “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” 22 And they were very sorrowful and began to say to him one after another, “Is it I, Lord?” 23 He answered, “He who has dipped his hand in the dish with me will betray me. 24 The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.” 25 Judas, who would betray him, answered, “Is it I, Rabbi?” He said to him, “You have said so.”
26 Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.”27 And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, 28 for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29 I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom.”
30 And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. 31 Then Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away because of me this night. For it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ 32 But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.” 33 Peter answered him, “Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away.” 34 Jesus said to him, “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” 35 Peter said to him, “Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you!” And all the disciples said the same.