The Feast at Simon’s House
Simon of Bethany was accounted a disciple of Jesus. He was one of
the few Pharisees who had openly joined Christ’s followers. He
acknowledged Jesus as a teacher, and hoped that He might be the
Messiah, but he had not accepted Him as a Saviour. His character was
not transformed; his principles were unchanged.
Simon had been healed of the leprosy, and it was this that had drawn
him to Jesus. He desired to show his gratitude, and at Christ’s last visit
to Bethany he made a feast for the Saviour and His disciples. This feast
brought together many of the Jews. There was at this time much excitement
at Jerusalem. Christ and His mission were attracting greater attention
than ever before. Those who had come to the feast closely watched
His movements, and some of them with unfriendly eyes.
The Saviour had reached Bethany only six days before the Passover,
and according to His custom had sought rest at the home of Lazarus.
The crowds of travelers who passed on to the city spread the tidings that
He was on His way to Jerusalem, and that He would rest over the Sabbath
at Bethany. Among the people there was great enthusiasm. Many flocked
to Bethany, some out of sympathy with Jesus, and others from curiosity
to see one who had been raised from the dead.
Many expected to hear from Lazarus a wonderful account of scenes
witnessed after death. They were surprised that he told them nothing.
He had nothing of this kind to tell. Inspiration declares, “The dead
know not anything. . . . Their love, and their hatred, and their envy,
is now perished.” Eccl. 9:5, 6. But Lazarus did have a wonderful testimony
to bear in regard to the work of Christ. He had been raised from
the dead for this purpose. With assurance and power he declared that
Jesus was the Son of God.
The reports carried back to Jerusalem by the visitors to Bethany
increased the excitement. The people were eager to see and hear Jesus. There
was a general inquiry as to whether Lazarus would accompany Him to
Jerusalem, and if the prophet would be crowned king at the Passover. The
priests and rulers saw that their hold upon the people was still weakening,
and their rage against Jesus grew more bitter. They could hardly wait for
the opportunity of removing Him forever from their way. As time passed,
they began to fear that after all He might not come to Jerusalem. They
remembered how often He had baffled their murderous designs, and they
were fearful that He had now read their purposes against Him, and would
remain away. They could ill conceal their anxiety, and questioned among
themselves, “What think ye, that He will not come to the feast?”
A council of the priests and Pharisees was called. Since the raising
of Lazarus the sympathies of the people were so fully with Christ that
it would be dangerous to seize upon Him openly. So the authorities
determined to take Him secretly, and carry on the trial as quietly as
possible. They hoped that when His condemnation became known,
the fickle tide of public opinion would set in their favor.
Thus they proposed to destroy Jesus. But so long as Lazarus lived,
the priests and rabbis knew that they were not secure. The very existence
of a man who had been four days in the grave, and who had been restored
by a word from Jesus, would sooner or later cause a reaction. The people
would be avenged on their leaders for taking the life of One who could
perform such a miracle. The Sanhedrin therefore decided that Lazarus
also must die. To such lengths do envy and prejudice lead their slaves. The
hatred and unbelief of the Jewish leaders had increased until they would
even take the life of one whom infinite power had rescued from the grave.
While this plotting was going on at Jerusalem, Jesus and His friends
were invited to Simon’s feast. At the table the Saviour sat with Simon,
whom He had cured of a loathsome disease, on one side, and Lazarus,
whom He had raised from the dead, on the other. Martha served at the
table, but Mary was earnestly listening to every word from the lips of
Jesus. In His mercy, Jesus had pardoned her sins, He had called forth
her beloved brother from the grave, and Mary’s heart was filled with
gratitude. She had heard Jesus speak of His approaching death, and in
her deep love and sorrow she had longed to show Him honor. At great
personal sacrifice she had purchased an alabaster box of “ointment of
spikenard, very costly,” with which to anoint His body. But now many
were declaring that He was about to be crowned king. Her grief was
turned to joy, and she was eager to be first in honoring her Lord. Breaking
her box of ointment, she poured its contents upon the head and feet
of Jesus; then, as she knelt weeping, moistening them with her tears, she
wiped His feet with her long, flowing hair.
She had sought to avoid observation, and her movements might have
passed unnoticed, but the ointment filled the room with its fragrance,
and published her act to all present. Judas looked upon this act with
great displeasure. Instead of waiting to hear what Christ would say of
the matter, he began to whisper his complaints to those near him, throwing
reproach upon Christ for suffering such waste. Craftily he made
suggestions that would be likely to cause disaffection.
Judas was treasurer for the disciples, and from their little store he
had secretly drawn for his own use, thus narrowing down their resources
to a meager pittance. He was eager to put into the bag all that he could
obtain. The treasure in the bag was often drawn upon to relieve the
poor; and when something that Judas did not think essential was bought,
he would say, Why is this waste? why was not the cost of this put into
the bag that I carry for the poor? Now the act of Mary was in such
marked contrast to his selfishness that he was put to shame; and according
to his custom, he sought to assign a worthy motive for his objection
to her gift. Turning to the disciples, he asked, “Why was not this ointment
sold for three hundred pence, and given to the poor? This he said,
not that he cared for the poor; but because he was a thief, and had the
bag, and bare what was put therein.” Judas had no heart for the poor.
Had Mary’s ointment been sold, and the proceeds fallen into his possession,
the poor would have received no benefit.
Judas had a high opinion of his own executive ability. As a financier
he thought himself greatly superior to his fellow disciples, and he had led
them to regard him in the same light. He had gained their confidence,
and had a strong influence over them. His professed sympathy for the
poor deceived them, and his artful insinuation caused them to look
distrustfully upon Mary’s devotion. The murmur passed round the table,
“To what purpose is this waste? For this ointment might have been
sold for much, and given to the poor.”
Mary heard the words of criticism. Her heart trembled within her. She
feared that her sister would reproach her for extravagance. The Master,
too, might think her improvident. Without apology or excuse she was
about to shrink away, when the voice of her Lord was heard, “Let her
alone; why trouble ye her?” He saw that she was embarrassed and distressed.
He knew that in this act of service she had expressed her gratitude
for the forgiveness of her sins, and He brought relief to her mind. Lifting
His voice above the murmur of criticism, He said, “She hath wrought a
good work on Me. For ye have the poor with you always, and whensoever
ye will ye may do them good: but Me ye have not always. She hath done
what she could: she is come aforehand to anoint My body to the burying.”
The fragrant gift which Mary had thought to lavish upon the dead
body of the Saviour she 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!
Mary knew not the full significance of her deed of love. She could not
answer her accusers. She could not explain why she had chosen that
occasion for anointing Jesus. The Holy Spirit had planned for her, and
she had obeyed His promptings. Inspiration stoops to give no reason.
An unseen presence, it speaks to mind and soul, and moves the heart to
action. It is its own justification.
Christ told Mary the meaning of her act, and in this He gave her
more than He had received. “In that she hath poured this ointment on
My body,” He said, “she did it for My burial.” As the alabaster box was
broken, and filled the whole house with its fragrance, so Christ was to
die, His body was to be broken; but He was to rise from the tomb, and
the fragrance of His life was to fill the earth. Christ “hath loved us, and
hath given Himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a
sweet-smelling savor.” Eph. 5:2.
“Verily I say unto you,” Christ declared, “Wheresoever this gospel
shall be preached throughout the whole world, this also that she hath
done shall be spoken of for a memorial of her.” Looking into the future,
the Saviour spoke with certainty concerning His gospel. It was to be
preached throughout the world. And as far as the gospel extended,
Mary’s gift would shed its fragrance, and hearts would be blessed through
her unstudied act. Kingdoms would rise and fall; the names of monarchs
and conquerors would be forgotten; but this woman’s deed would be
immortalized upon the pages of sacred history. Until time should be no
more, that broken alabaster box would tell the story of the abundant
love of God for a fallen race.
Mary’s act was in marked contrast with that which Judas was about
to do. What a sharp lesson Christ might have given him who had
dropped the seed of criticism and evil thinking into the minds of the
disciples! How justly the accuser might have been accused! He who
reads the motives of every heart, and understands every action, might
have opened before those at the feast dark chapters in the experience of
Judas. The hollow pretense on which the traitor based his words might
have been laid bare; for, instead of sympathizing with the poor, he was
robbing them of the money intended for their relief. Indignation might
have been excited against him for his oppression of the widow, the orphan,
and the hireling. But had Christ unmasked Judas, this would have been
urged as a reason for the betrayal. And though charged with being a
thief, Judas would have gained sympathy, even among the disciples.
The Saviour reproached him not, and thus avoided giving him an excuse
for his treachery.
But the look which Jesus cast upon Judas convinced him that the
Saviour penetrated his hypocrisy, and read his base, contemptible character.
And in commending Mary’s action, which had been so severely
condemned, Christ had rebuked Judas. Prior to this, the Saviour had
never given him a direct rebuke. Now the reproof rankled in his heart.
He determined to be revenged. From the supper he went directly to
the palace of the high priest, where he found the council assembled,
and he offered to betray Jesus into their hands.
The priests were greatly rejoiced. These leaders of Israel had been
given the privilege of receiving Christ as their Saviour, without money
and without price. But they refused the precious gift offered them in
the most tender spirit of constraining love. They refused to accept that
salvation which is of more value than gold, and bought their Lord for
thirty pieces of silver.
Judas had indulged avarice until it overpowered every good trait of
his character. He grudged the offering made to Jesus. His heart burned
with envy that the Saviour should be the recipient of a gift suitable for
the monarchs of the earth. For a sum far less than the box of ointment
cost, he betrayed his Lord.
The disciples were not like Judas. They loved the Saviour. But
they did not rightly appreciate His exalted character. Had they realized
what He had done for them, they would have felt that nothing bestowed
upon Him was wasted. The wise men from the East, who knew so little
of Jesus, had shown a truer appreciation of the honor due Him. They
brought precious gifts to the Saviour, and bowed in homage before Him
when He was but a babe, and cradled in a manger.
Christ values acts of heartfelt courtesy. When anyone did Him a
favor, with heavenly politeness He blessed the actor. He did not refuse
the simplest flower plucked by the hand of a child, and offered to Him
in love. He accepted the offerings of children, and blessed the givers,
inscribing their names in the book of life. In the Scriptures, Mary’s
anointing of Jesus is mentioned as distinguishing her from the other
Marys. Acts of love and reverence for Jesus are an evidence of faith
in Him as the Son of God. And the Holy Spirit mentions, as evidences
of woman’s loyalty to Christ: “If she have washed the saints’ feet, if
she have relieved the afflicted, if she have diligently followed every
good work.” 1 Tim. 5:10.
Christ delighted in the earnest desire of Mary to do the will of her
Lord. He accepted the wealth of pure affection which His disciples
did not, would not, understand. The desire that Mary had to do this
service for her Lord was of more value to Christ than all the precious
ointment in the world, because it expressed her appreciation of the world’s
Redeemer. It was the love of Christ that constrained her. The matchless
excellence of the character of Christ filled her soul. That ointment was
a symbol of the heart of the giver. It was the outward demonstration of
a love fed by heavenly streams until it overflowed.
The work of Mary was just the lesson the disciples needed to show
them that the expression of their love for Him would be pleasing to
Christ. He had been everything to them, and they did not realize that
soon they would be deprived of His presence, that soon they could offer
Him no token of their gratitude for His great love. The loneliness of
Christ, separated from the heavenly courts, living the life of humanity, was
never understood or appreciated by the disciples as it should have been. He
was often grieved because His disciples did not give Him that which He
should have received from them. He knew that if they were under the
influence of the heavenly angels that accompanied Him, they too would
think no offering of sufficient value to declare the heart’s spiritual
Their afterknowledge gave them a true sense of the many things
they might have done for Jesus expressive of the love and gratitude
of their hearts, while they were near Him. When Jesus was no longer
with them, and they felt indeed as sheep without a shepherd, they began
to see how they might have shown Him attentions that would have
brought gladness to His heart. They no longer cast blame upon Mary,
but upon themselves. Oh, if they could have taken back their censuring,
their presenting the poor as more worthy of the gift than was Christ!
They felt the reproof keenly as they took from the cross the bruised
body of their Lord.
The same want is evident in our world today. But few appreciate
all that Christ is to them. If they did, the great love of Mary would
be expressed, the anointing would be freely bestowed. The expensive
ointment would not be called a waste. Nothing would be thought too
costly to give for Christ, no self-denial or self-sacrifice too great to be
endured for His sake.
The words spoken in indignation, “To what purpose is this waste?”
brought vividly before Christ the greatest sacrifice ever made,—the gift
of Himself as the propitiation for a lost world. The Lord would be
so bountiful to His human family that it could not be said of Him that
He could do more. In the gift of Jesus, God gave all heaven. From a
human point of view, such a sacrifice was a wanton waste. To human
reasoning the whole plan of salvation is a waste of mercies and resources.
Self-denial and wholehearted sacrifice meet us everywhere. Well may
the heavenly host look with amazement upon the human family who
refuse to be uplifted and enriched with the boundless love expressed in
Christ. Well may they exclaim, Why this great waste?
But the atonement for a lost world was to be full, abundant, and
complete. Christ’s offering was exceedingly abundant to reach every
soul that God had created. It could not be restricted so as not to exceed
the number who would accept the great Gift. All men are not saved;
yet the plan of redemption is not a waste because it does not accomplish
all that its liberality has provided for. There must be enough and to spare.
Simon the host had been influenced by the criticism of Judas upon
Mary’s gift, and he was surprised at the conduct of Jesus. His Pharisaic
pride was offended. He knew that many of his guests were looking upon
Christ with distrust and displeasure. Simon said in his heart, “This
Man, if He were a prophet, would have known who and what manner
of woman this is that toucheth Him: for she is a sinner.”
By curing Simon of leprosy, Christ had saved him from a living death.
But now Simon questioned whether the Saviour were a prophet. Because
Christ allowed this woman to approach Him, because He did not indignantly
spurn her as one whose sins were too great to be forgiven,
because He did not show that He realized she had fallen, Simon was
tempted to think that He was not a prophet. Jesus knows nothing of
this woman who is so free in her demonstrations, he thought, or He
would not allow her to touch Him.
But it was Simon’s ignorance of God and of Christ that led him to
think as he did. He did not realize that God’s Son must act in God’s
way, with compassion, tenderness, and mercy. Simon’s way was to
take no notice of Mary’s penitent service. Her act of kissing Christ’s
feet and anointing them with ointment was exasperating to his
hardheartedness. He thought that if Christ were a prophet, He would
recognize sinners and rebuke them.
To this unspoken thought the Saviour answered: “Simon, I have
somewhat to say unto thee. . . . There was a certain creditor which
had two debtors: the one owed five hundred pence, and the other fifty.
And when they had nothing to pay, he frankly forgave them both.
Tell Me therefore, which of them will love him most? Simon answered
and said, I suppose that he, to whom he forgave most. And He said
unto him, Thou hast rightly judged.”
As did Nathan with David, Christ concealed His home thrust under
the veil of a parable. He threw upon His host the burden of pronouncing
sentence upon himself. Simon had led into sin the woman he now
despised. She had been deeply wronged by him. By the two debtors
of the parable, Simon and the woman were represented. Jesus did not
design to teach that different degrees of obligation should be felt by the
two persons, for each owed a debt of gratitude that never could be repaid.
But Simon felt himself more righteous than Mary, and Jesus desired
him to see how great his guilt really was. He would show him that
his sin was greater than hers, as much greater as a debt of five hundred
pence exceeds a debt of fifty pence.
Simon now began to see himself in a new light. He saw how Mary
was regarded by One who was more than a prophet. He saw that with
keen prophetic eye Christ read her heart of love and devotion. Shame
seized upon him, and he realized that he was in the presence of One
superior to himself.
“I entered into thine house,” Christ continued, “thou gavest Me no
water for My feet;” but with tears of repentance, prompted by love, Mary
hath washed My feet, and wiped them with the hair of her head. “Thou
gavest Me no kiss: but this woman,” whom you despise, “since the time I
came in hath not ceased to kiss My feet.” Christ recounted the opportunities
Simon had had to show his love for his Lord, and his appreciation of
what had been done for him. Plainly, yet with delicate politeness, the
Saviour assured His disciples that His heart is grieved when His children
neglect to show their gratitude to Him by words and deeds of love.
The Heart Searcher read the motive that led to Mary’s action, and
He saw also the spirit that prompted Simon’s words. “Seest thou this
woman?” He said to him. She is a sinner. “I say unto thee, Her sins,
which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little
is forgiven, the same loveth little.”
Simon’s coldness and neglect toward the Saviour showed how little he
appreciated the mercy he had received. He had thought he honored Jesus
by inviting Him to his house. But he now saw himself as he really was.
While he thought himself reading his Guest, his Guest had been reading
him. He saw how true Christ’s judgment of him was. His religion had
been a robe of Pharisaism. He had despised the compassion of Jesus.
He had not recognized Him as the representative of God. While Mary
was a sinner pardoned, he was a sinner unpardoned. The rigid rule of
justice he had desired to enforce against her condemned him.
Simon was touched by the kindness of Jesus in not openly rebuking
him before the guests. He had not been treated as he desired Mary to
be treated. He saw that Jesus did not wish to expose his guilt to others,
but sought by a true statement of the case to convince his mind, and by
pitying kindness to subdue his heart. Stern denunciation would have
hardened Simon against repentance, but patient admonition convinced
him of his error. He saw the magnitude of the debt which he owed his
Lord. His pride was humbled, he repented, and the proud Pharisee
became a lowly, self-sacrificing disciple.
Mary had been looked upon as a great sinner, but Christ knew the
circumstances that had shaped her life. He might have extinguished
every spark of hope in her soul, but He did not. It was He who had
lifted her from despair and ruin. Seven times she had heard His rebuke
of the demons that controlled her heart and mind. She had heard His
strong cries to the Father in her behalf. She knew how offensive is sin
to His unsullied purity, and in His strength she had overcome.
When to human eyes her case appeared hopeless, Christ saw in Mary
capabilities for good. He saw the better traits of her character. The plan
of redemption has invested humanity with great possibilities, and in Mary
these possibilities were to be realized. Through His grace she became
a partaker of the divine nature. The one who had fallen, and whose
mind had been a habitation of demons, was brought very near to the
Saviour in fellowship and ministry. It was Mary who sat at His feet and
learned of Him. It was Mary who poured upon His head the precious
anointing oil, and bathed His feet with her tears. Mary stood beside the
cross, and followed Him to the sepulcher. Mary was first at the tomb
after His resurrection. It was Mary who first proclaimed a risen Saviour.
Jesus knows the circumstances of every soul. You may say, I am
sinful, very sinful. You may be; but the worse you are, the more you
need Jesus. He turns no weeping, contrite one away. He does not tell
to any all that He might reveal, but He bids every trembling soul take
courage. Freely will He pardon all who come to Him for forgiveness
Christ might commission the angels of heaven to pour out the vials
of His wrath on our world, to destroy those who are filled with hatred
of God. He might wipe this dark spot from His universe. But He does
not do this. He is today standing at the altar of incense, presenting
before God the prayers of those who desire His help.
The souls that turn to Him for refuge, Jesus lifts above the accusing
and the strife of tongues. No man or evil angel can impeach these souls.
Christ unites them to His own divine-human nature. They stand beside
the great Sin Bearer, in the light proceeding from the throne of God.
“Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that
justifieth. Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea
rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who
also maketh intercession for us.” Rom. 8:33, 34.
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