During and after Holy Week, I had the great benefit of sitting under some outstanding bible teachers and prophets in London. While I was worshipping Jesus with Catch the Fire and My Church Windsor, the Lord gave me a glimpse of some of the emotions he felt before and during being anointed at Bethany (Luke 7:36-50, John 12:1-11, Matthew 26:6-13, Mark 14:1-11). I’m sharing that revelation now so that his Ekklesia will honor him even more greatly for his sacrifice.
Tenderness for Torture
Each of the four gospels shares a scene that in the minds of many Christians, has become a living symbol of what the Church in intimacy with Jesus can look like. A sinful woman comes close to Jesus and opens a jar of costly perfume. She weeps over his feet, wipes them with her hair, and begins to anoint them with perfume. In John’s gospel, the woman is Mary of Bethany, who displays her love for Jesus while eating at a table with family and friends, as community. In Luke, she is a woman who has been forgiven an incredible debt, who has been taken from the margins and forgiven by God. In Matthew, she does “a beautiful thing” to Jesus by preparing him for his burial. In Mark, her cost is misunderstood by Judas, who goes off in search of material gain.
In each of these accounts, the details that most stand out to me are sensory. The arm strength required to break open the vial of nard. The accusatory tones carried in the voices of at least several in the audience. The sensation of tears dropping off your face and the visual of them mixing with the dirt on his feet. The softness of strands of a woman’s hair against your skin. The perfume that would have still been clinging to his skin, comforting him as he was crucified and waited to be restored to his right place.
In the versions in Matthew and Mark, Jesus indicates that, “Wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.” Jesus indicates to his followers the importance of her action as well as his will that it be commemorated, but why?
Her actions were not just a demonstration of intimacy with the Trinity, however beautiful.
Her actions were not just full recognition of her own sins and an act of incredible kindness, however commendable.
I believe that her actions mark her as the only member of the audience to perceive and rightly honor Jesus before he was tortured.
God moved her heart to honor him through tenderness that would have been the exact opposite of the gruesome death he was to experience.
With her tears, she washed the dirty feet that in bringing good news to many, would be pierced to bring life to many more.
Her perfume became a scent that would linger, even as his closest friends left.
Seeing eternity, he had denied his right to marriage while on the Earth, yet another act of isolation. The softness of her hair would have reminded him of his Bride, whose future beauty would have lingered in his mind as he allowed himself to die.
Like someone staring you in the eyes in recognition, like a gentle word while receiving death threats, like a place of refuge after being doxxed, Jesus was so honored by the tenderness of her actions that he indicated to his disciples that they must include it in his story. We do not know whether she consciously knew what would happen to Jesus or whether she felt the unction to do this and allowed herself to be carried along by her spirit. Either way, Jesus clearly valued her actions.
And it isn’t hard to understand why. For weeks (maybe months), Jesus had been explaining his plans to his friends. He entrusted himself and his disciples over to God not just in the moment he gave up his Spirit but many times, especially in their lack of understanding. He prepared their hearts even as they did not understand what he was doing. Taking their proximity to him for granted, they assumed, “surely if there was something important to share, surely he would have told us.” They didn’t realize that he already had.
He would have hoped that his torture would ultimately mean something to them. That they wouldn’t just catch the greater meaning of his death and resurrection, but that they would value it. In worshipping tears that shared his grief, here was a morsel of bread for a starving man, deprived of honor.
While modern Christians love to criticize the political and religious leaders’ rejection of Jesus, he faced his greatest betrayals among his friends, and from within his own home. His friends and family were the most offended by him, not the Religious or the Romans!
For a moment, allow yourself to imagine their disappointment, even contempt:
“How could this man who has the power to raise the dead even consider allowing himself to die? How can you think about leaving? We trusted in you! How could you betray us like this?”
We know that the vast majority of his disciples (except for select women and John) were entirely scattered. Can you feel the accusation in their choice of flight? “We didn’t sign up for this.”
According to the Gospel of John, the same woman who had once accused Jesus of betraying their relationship by allowing her brother to die was now weeping at his feet. Whether she knew or the Holy Spirit knew, this time the burden of performing a resurrection was not on Jesus, but on the Father he trusted.
And yet, in spite of family pressure, Jesus was willing to betray their preconceived ideas of how he would save them. He was willing to be tortured for true salvation. If he cared most about being understood, he could have responded to their faithlessness in plain language. And yet, wouldn’t they have tried to stop him? In silence, he simply did what the Father asked, trusting the Spirit’s work in them to make up the difference.
Following Mary of Bethany, we as Christians must reckon with the full extent of Christ’s torture. We cannot see his death as mere kindness or as forgiveness, but we MUST see it through the lens of cost!
I hear the Spirit of the Lord say, along Psalm 69, Psalm 51, and Psalm 49,
“Would you let my sacrifice matter? Would you let it define your WHOLE life?”
To truly honor Jesus, we as his Ekklesia must value his cost.
Our Right Response is Worship
We tell his story because we value the torture he endured and will not let his sacrifice for us go to waste. We resist the fear and comfort that would rush us away from his wounds. We resist the excessive, heavy dourness that would keep us bound by them. We know that only by understanding the full scope of his wounds can we recognize the full scope of our liberation.
In the beginning was worship, before all creation,
And we will worship him eternally until the end:
He will hear all the nations worshipping in all languages as we go from Praise to Praise.