An Expression of Passion: Tears and Perfume
Here is an excerpt from my sermon last week at Resonate Church.
This story of Mary who anoints Jesus with her tears and costly perfume occurs in each one of the four gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. These were all written by Jewish men who spent a lot of time with Jesus. I have taken these 4 accounts of the same story and compiled them together so you can take all the pieces of evidence and get a clearer picture of what happened on that day.
If you want to look them up individually you can find them here:
Matthew 26:6-13, Mark 14:1-9, Luke 7:36-50, John 12:1-8
Six days before the passover, while Jesus was in Bethany in the home of Simon the Leper where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead, Jesus was reclining at the table. Here a dinner had been given in Jesus’ honor. Martha served while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table. A woman in that town, Mary, who had lived a sinful life came to him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, about a pint of pure nard. As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them (his feet) and on his head. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.
When the disciples saw this, they were indignant. Particularly Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him objected saying, “Why this waste? “This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor.” He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it. And many others rebuked her harshly. The Pharisee who invited him said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is– that she is a sinner.”
Aware of this, Jesus said to them, “Why are you bothering this woman? Leave her alone. She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me. It was intended that she save this perfume for the day of my burial. When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. Truly I tell you, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”
Jesus answered (the man who invited him) saying, “Simon, I have something to tell you.” “Tell me, teacher,” he said. “Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”
Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.” “You have judged correctly,” Jesus said. Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”
Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”The other guests began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?”
Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
Here we have quite the scene! We have a woman, who is unnamed in most of the accounts, but John lets us know that this woman is Mary. It could have been Mary Magdalene who had seven demons driven out of her. Or more probably, it was Mary, Martha and Lazarus’ sister who sat at Jesus’ feet to learn while her sister Martha slaved away serving them. Regardless of which Mary this was, we know that women were very mistreated and looked down upon in those days, particularly among religious men. Men would go to bed at night repeating the phrase, “thank God I am not a dog, a Gentile, or a woman.” So Mary was in the company of people who, by way of their culture, thought themselves superior. We also know that Mary was a prostitute, so that also didn’t do anything for her social status. But when Mary encountered Jesus, she was moved. She was moved beyond the restrictions of her culture. Something stirred inside her. She couldn’t explain it, but she also couldn’t resist it.
You know, I think sometimes we fear our emotions. And for good reason. We know that following our emotions can often get us into trouble. We can fly off the handle in rage or we can be vulnerable with someone and then that someone can hurt us more easily. So, we naturally distrust our emotions. It’s because we’ve had such bad experiences handling them from ourselves and from others.
But the reality about emotions is that they are indicators of what is going on inside. If we learn how to harness our emotions, we can learn to use them to benefit us and others. Instead, we too often try to ignore them or push them aside. I think that we in Western American culture we need to be taught how to celebrate, how to mourn, how to feel. It’s just healthy to feel.
The main thing we need to remember about our emotions is that it is always okay to point our emotions toward God. Have you ever actually read the Psalms? If you haven’t, I challenge you to read it. You can find every emotion known to man expressed in those pages. And you won’t find God editing man’s expression of emotion. I believe that part of the reason these psalms are there is to prove to us that God can handle the range of human emotion. We don’t need to clean up our act in order to open up to him, he takes us as we are.
Expression. We need expression to live. It’s part of being human. It is part of how we were created as worshippers. Remember when Jake talked about how the word for “work” in the garden was also the word for “worship.” And Adam had a creative work to do in his first task of naming all the animals. He was created for expression and so were we.
So, we want to be sure that our expression is right, pure, and holy? How can we be sure? Well, I think that we tend to over think this one. Here is the only scriptural qualification I see for unleashing your expression. That your eyes are focused on God.
It’s not whether you read your bible yet today, it’s not whether you fasted last week, it’s not even that you avoided sinning in the past 5 hours. If, in the moment of your expression, your eyes are truly focused on God, you won’t go wrong.
From what we know about this woman Mary, she had a bad reputation. She was not exactly someone they’d have asked to teach the Sunday School class or serve on the PTA. But, here’s what Jesus noticed about her… her eyes were pointed in the right direction. She saw what no one else saw, she expressed what no one else felt. She was overcome and began to weep, she took her jar and broke it like the sweet smelling brokenness of her soul. Jesus didn’t appreciate her in spite of her brokenness, he appreciated her because of her brokenness. Her brokenness before him was what made her beautiful to him.
As he delighted in her brokenness, he also delights in ours. All around her were people who by all worldly standards were better than her. Even by moral standards, they were superior. But when Jesus saw what had happened, he shut their mouths. See, they may have had their ducks in a row, but there was one thing missing. In that moment, their eyes were not fixed on Him. Okay, maybe their physical eyes were fixed on him, but they did not see him the way that she did.
You have a voice, an expression to unleash on the world. But you will face distractions that will try to keep you from fixing your eyes on Jesus as Mary did. So here are…3 Distractions to Passionate Expression.
1. The Demands of Practicality
When these guys saw Mary pouring out expensive perfume on Jesus, dollar signs went up in their eyes. They didn’t see Jesus as a worthy use of her resources. They pointed to all the need and suffering in the world as a reason not to lavish Jesus with so much love, with so much ‘waste.’
I have seen this same kind of poverty mentality in the church. Let’s not ‘waste’ our money on lighting equipment or “waste” our time practicing music when there are so many people in need of Jesus. This kind of thinking ends in mediocre churches, mediocre kingdom advancement, mediocre blessing. Admittedly, we are being extravagant. But when Mary looked at Jesus, she saw he was worth the extravagance. That he was worth her best and nothing less. Jesus is worth my best, he is worth your best and nothing less.
There is a burning deep inside of us to express our best. But some of you have shut off these desires because of worshipping practicality. I know I have.
– Maybe you have a desire to learn a musical instrument and you’re in your fifties and you think its not practical to spend your time doing that.
– Maybe you have just been wanting to give an old friend a call and you reason you haven’t is that you don’t want to “bother” them.
– Maybe you have a burning desire to write a very large check and give it away, but you can’t justify it in your mind.
Some of these desires God has put within you are for a single moment and some may last your entire life. This was an act of passion in Mary’s moment. Little did she know, it was an act that put her in four of the the greatest history books of all time. You never know how big or important it is to “waste” your life on Jesus until you do it.
You see, when we extravagantly invest in things that God has placed upon our hearts, it can open the windows of heaven over our lives in ways we will never understand.
I have this dear artist friend and her name is Joy Lynn. She kept talking to me about how she needed to get paid for what she did or it wasn’t worth it to her. I challenged her on this point and said. Is the value of what you do or who you are based on the price people are willing to pay for what you do? Well, in our practical world, yes, that is exactly how things our valued. But, by God’s standards, our value was established by what Jesus Christ was willing to pay on the cross. Joy Lynn began to realize that her art was valuable whether or not a single person wanted to buy it. She began creating from a place of extravagance, lavishing her love on God while she did it. As soon as she set her mind to “wasting” it all on him, God began blessing her with financial opportunities beyond her wildest dreams. But one thing she had to get straight. God is worth every second, every resource that I have on him.
Are you willing to waste your life away on Jesus? Whatever that may look like? Even if it doesn’t make practical sense? That is a kind of life that God cannot wait to defend, to validate, and to honor.
The second distraction to expressing our passion is this:
2. The Confines of Culture
The important men who were in the room with Mary were spiritually nearsighted. Spiritually, they could not see beyond their own experiences with Jesus. It’s hard to understand why someone would worship Jesus so passionately when you yourself have never experienced Jesus that way. Just because you don’t understand someone else’s relationship with Jesus, don’t discount it.
Jesus perceived what was really going on. He perceived even beyond what she may have perceived. He was so spiritually aware that he interpreted her actions as a prophetic statement. He told them that she was preparing his body for burial. Jesus knew what would happen to him, people were seeking his life while they spoke. When he smelled the perfume, he could also smell his death coming in just a little while.
What kept these other so-called “spiritual” men from seeing the prophetic statement she was making? Their sense of cultural propriety was offended, which rendered them ignorant of the spiritual meaning. Sometimes God will intentionally do things that don’t make sense to baffle us, to get a gut reaction from us, to see if we will be offended or accept what he is doing in faith. When he does this, he brings hidden sin to light.
I have read that even the act of letting down her hair would have been viewed as suggestive and improper for a woman to do in front of a man. It was a big cultural no no. All those religious men were offended on many levels. Judas’ selfish heart was revealed. Simon’s pride was revealed. But Jesus didn’t see her with the eyes of his culture. He saw into the purity of her soul.
When you step out and do something that God puts in your spirit, it can offend others. We don’t go seeking to offend, but we have to accept the fact that it’s gonna happen.
When we step out into what God wants us to do, people will react very differently. The sin of some may be exposed and that is hard. But we have to have faith that there will always be good fruit from it. Whether you know it or not, your very life can be a prophetic statement to the world, just like Mary’s was.
The third distraction in expressing our passion is:
3. Preoccupation with Shame
The gospel of Luke points out that Mary had a sincere and greater measure of love than any of the others in that room. And she had that love because she was forgiven much. Jesus pointed out how the others in the room did not even show him the simplest acts of love and hospitality but how her gifts of tears and perfume far surpassed the party they threw for him. It was her best and it came from her heart.
By contrast here’s our host, Simon, said to himself, “If Jesus was really a prophet, he would know that this is a sinful woman.” Simon’s heart revealed that he didn’t really believe that Jesus was who he claimed to be. Simon was a mere “fan” of Jesus, not a follower. I’m sure if Jesus had a Facebook page, he would have “liked” it and he would have subscribed to his blog, but he was not willing to really invest personally in Jesus.
Mary gave her tears, the product of emotions that were completely wrapped up in love. She gave him her resource. Now this resource was probably offensive in and of itself. I mean she was a prostitute, remember? This bottle of perfume was probably payment from one of her “regular customers.” When she poured this perfume on his head and his feet, it was proclaiming that Jesus had turned her sinful life into a life of beauty.
Another thing we need to see is that the cost of this sacrifice was immense for her. If she was leaving her life of prostitution, how else was she going to make money to live? It’s not like in our day where she could get a job at the corner drug store. This sacrificial move was also an act of faith that God would provide for her needs even if she left her life of sin.
Those of you who have been around the block and lived a life of sin sometimes steer clear of church and God, thinking that your sin disqualifies you. When in fact, it is the exact opposite. Your sin and the magnitude of the forgiveness you have experienced gives you a doctorate level ability to love God. You know better than anyone the extent he went to love you.
I love what Jesus says, “She has done a beautiful thing to me.” Don’t you want Jesus saying that about your life? When everyone might mock or criticize you… Don’t you want Jesus to say, “Leave him alone. He has done a beautiful thing to me.” I care that Jesus declares my life beautiful, not what others declare about me.
After all the uproar, Jesus prophecied over the legacy of her life from here on out saying this: “Truly I tell you, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will be told, in memory of her.”
What an honor to have Jesus say that! This woman would no longer be known as Mary the Prostitute, but as Mary the Lover of God, Mary the one who loved him with such a beautiful extravagance that all four of the gospel writers felt compelled to mention her. And 2,000 years later, across the globe in a country she never heard of, here we are talking about her, honoring her.
Notice Jesus first defended her, then he validated what she was doing, then he honored her for all history. If you are unafraid to let your voice and expression out, he will do the same thing for you: he will defend you, validate you, and then honor you among many.
What will be the legacy of your life?
Which distractions do you most struggle with: the Demands of Practicality, the Confines of your Culture, or your Preoccupation with your Shame?