Have you had the privilege of attending a banquet as the guest of honor? One might assume this distinction would entitle one to be respected or even admired among the assembly of invited guests, but this evening it is mostly pretense. Much is astir. Between social, political, and religious differences, the food is the only safe topic for conversation. However, some guests are likely multitasking, that is . . . munching while plotting the perfect murder.
Lights go out. The curtain goes up revealing a lavish banquet room, from gleaming floors to glitzy chandeliers. Around each exquisitely set table are seated distinguished guests in their finest attire, each absorbed in polite conversation. At the head table sits the host, and Simon is his name. He is a prominent Pharisee in the Jewish community. This is his elaborate home, and these are his colleagues and friends. Flanking him on either side are his honored guests. To his left is Jesus of Nazareth, who healed him of leprosy, and to his right is Lazarus of Bethany, whom Jesus had recently given a second chance at life. Both are well known in this populated town as well as in the neighboring towns and villages.
Simon taps his dinner knife against his goblet, making a ring tone heard across the room. The guests immediately give Simon their full attention.
Simon stands to his feet. “Greetings again, everyone,” he begins. “I am deeply honored to welcome each of you to my home. Martha, the sister of our honored guest, Lazarus, is the best cook around, and she has prepared the finest food for your pleasure this evening. As our servants present the courses to you, please partake and enjoy yourselves.”
Everyone claps a hearty response. The orchestra begins to play a fine favorite of the day as servants enter the banquet room, bearing trays loaded with warm rolls and side salads.
Behind the Scenes Duo
Abel & Abner
The banquet continues undisturbed with the guests apparently enjoying each course. The orchestra plays quietly in the background as Abel and Abner take their places behind the microphone on center stage. Hopefully no one is confused; well, maybe a few are. Some patrons appear to be intently studying their programs apparently thinking, who are these two and why are they disrupting the play? Shhh. They’re speaking now. Let’s listen.
Abel: Nice banquet. Wish I had been invited. Simon gives them frequently, I understand. Perhaps I should volunteer to help out in the kitchen, then at least I could sample the food. I hear it’s always pretty awesome. But we’d better explain why we’re up here before the “natives get restless” and pelt us with tomatoes!
Abner: You’re right about that! Ladies and gentlemen, we are here to give you some interesting facts to enhance your enjoyment of the play. Most of the invited guests belong to different religious sects, which are basically at odds with each other. But they are unified in one concern: what can be done to stop Jesus? He is stirring things up with His teachings. The people are flocking to hear Him speak. The leaders are defiant. They, alone, are keepers of the truth. They are not about to accept another authority no matter who He claims to be. Moving in on their territory, Jesus is causing them to lose control of the people. Reports of so-called miracles have reached their ears and the leaders are in an uproar. Their exasperation with this troublesome itinerant has reached a fevered pitch. Something must be done!
Abel: And if these concerns were not enough, Jesus created a spectacle in front of a crowd of people when He brought Lazarus back to life! Lazarus is telling his story to whoever will listen, and the authorities want him silenced because it threatens their power and control. Bringing a man back to life is the “straw that broke the camel’s back,” and they are livid. It must be stopped, even if it means hiring a hit man!
Abner: Probably not appropriate table conversation this evening, but I wouldn’t put it past Simon or any of his pals, for that matter. They are so angry; they are probably bold enough to talk about assassination right under the honored guests’ noses over dessert!
Abel: And speaking of dessert, I’ve heard it’s delicious! Someone said that it’s Martha’s classic, warm Apple Cake with Cinnamon Ice Cream. Just picturing it makes my mouth water. We’re done here, so let’s make a beeline for the kitchen. If we’re lucky, maybe there will be some dessert left!
The audience claps as Abel and Abner exit the stage.
The audience has a perfect panoramic view of all the guests seated around the room. All are men. No women were invited, so who is creating a stir among the guests? The audience watches intently as one lone woman appears from behind a partition of velvet draperies. Her feminine beauty and her long flowing hair are a stark contrast to a room full of men, whose eyes are following her every move. Quietly she makes her way to where Jesus is seated. The chatter has silenced. The men’s eyes dart in her direction while their forks freeze in midair. The men look her over then meet each other’s gaze with arched eyebrows and knowing glances. Their nonverbal communication speaks volumes and gives the distinct impression that many attending the banquet know who she is. If one could read the message plastered across their shocked faces, it would be ~ what in the world is a woman of her reputation doing here?
“She heard that Jesus was eating in the Pharisee’s house, so she brought an alabaster jar full of perfume and stood behind Jesus, by his feet, crying and wetting his feet with her tears. Then she dried his feet with her hair, kissed them, and poured the perfume on them”(Luke 7:37, 38).
Jesus feels the warm liquid dribble on His skin, then the fragrance caresses His nostrils. Forgetting His surroundings for a moment, He closes His eyes. He doesn’t turn around and look. He doesn’t need to. He knows who it is and refuses to call more attention to her presence, thus risking her further embarrassment. He feels the caress of her hair on his feet and then the stroke of her cool hands on His temples and hair. She sniffs, trying to hold back tears.
Jesus knows all about this woman. He has forgiven her of her sins many times. Many times she has sat at His feet, listening, learning, and growing in her devotion to Him and to His Father. They have developed a relationship . . . a close, loving friendship. Mary adores her Lord. Even a room full of men, attending by invitation only, cannot keep her away.
Simon suddenly catches a whiff . . . and the woodsy scent transports him back to many a night in the arms of a fragrant fair maiden. Quickly he brushes those stimulating thoughts aside and thinks to himself . . . it’s shameful and embarrassing the way she boldly crashes MY dinner party. “If this man really were a prophet, he would know who this woman is who is touching him; he would know what kind of sinful life she lives!”(v 39).
Judas, one of Jesus’ disciples in attendance, sniffs the scent and thinks . . . it smells like money. Wasted money. Surely the poor could have benefited from its profits instead of pouring the expensive perfume all over dirty feet! (It is unlikely the poor would have benefited from the money. Judas was a thief. Put in charge of the disciples’ slush fund, he habitually stole a portion from each collection for his own personal use.)
The fragrance is carried softly aloft throughout the theater. The audience catches whiffs of the powerful, yet delicate, perfume, enjoying the lovely scent. Those who attended the Broadway play, “My Man, Job,” couldn’t help but make a comparison. (See blog archives for this play.)
Behind the Scenes Duo
Abel and Abner make their way to the microphone. This time they want to share a few facts about Mary, and what might drive her to “crash” an all-male banquet.
Abel: Now you have met Mary. Her quiet appearance has stirred the men, as you have noticed. Mary has been forgiven much by her friend Jesus. She paid attention to His words, especially when He told of His impending death. She longs to show Him how much she loves Him. She has made a good living as a prostitute. In fact, it was Uncle Simon who got her started in the business. Mary has saved most of the money she has made, and the idea came to her: why not put her wages to good use? She would buy an expensive alabaster jar of perfume. When the time was right, she would anoint Jesus’ body, she assumed, for his burial. He was worth every denarius. No amount of money could match her love for her Master.
Abner: Then the word on the street came to Mary’s ears. Jesus was to be crowned king! Was it true? Her Friend, a King? Now was her chance to honor Him while He was still alive! Even though this was a gathering for men only, and a woman should be shunned for making an appearance, she didn’t care. She knew the town gossips would gobble up the headlines, but she didn’t care about that either. Even if no one noticed as she quietly slipped into the room, her secret would be out as soon as she broke the bottle’s seal, and the fragrance was released to fill the room.
Abel and Abner exit as the audience claps.
“Jesus looks up and meets Simon’s gaze and says, “Simon, I have something to tell you.”
“Yes, Teacher,” he said, “tell me.”
“There were two men who owed money to a moneylender,” Jesus began. “One owed him five hundred silver coins, and the other owed him fifty. Neither of them could pay him back, so he canceled the debts of both. Which one, then, will love him more?”
“I suppose,” answered Simon, “that it would be the one who was forgiven more” (vs 40-43).
“You are right,” said Jesus. Then he turned to the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your home, and you gave me no water for my feet, but she has washed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. You did not welcome me with a kiss, but she has not stopped kissing my feet since I came. You provided no olive oil for my head, but she has covered my feet with perfume. I tell you, then, the great love she has shown proves that her many sins have been forgiven. But whoever has been forgiven little shows only a little love” (vs 43-47).
It could have been Mary’s brother whom Jesus brought back to life. Scholars don’t necessarily agree that it was this Mary who was related to Lazarus, but more importantly, it was this Jesus who healed them both. I cannot read this story without longing for my own son to be brought back to life. I’m certain you long for your son or daughter to live in your presence again. But we must wait. It’s hard to wait, but it won’t be long. We will have our “Lazarus moment”. Jesus has promised, and He’s never lied.
The audience clapped their appreciation when the play ended, but they seemed hushed, subdued while filing out, as if what they had observed changed them in some way. Perhaps they were thinking about Mary, who gave the perfect example to carry with them long after the play had ended.
We were created for intimacy. Mary received it in her relationship with Jesus. Many of us have been shaken to our very core with horrific loss, which is something we don’t expect to ever get over. But perhaps having a relationship with Jesus is like being given a second chance; the chance to have an intimate relationship with Him . . . this very same Jesus Mary fell in love with.
Wherever love stories are told, we add Mary’s story, for its fragrance remains sweet. Perhaps it’s my overactive imagination, but when I remember Jesus in this story, I imagine the scent of spikenard . . . still lingers in His hair.
“Then Jesus said to her, ‘Your sins have been forgiven. Your faith has saved you. Go in peace!'” Luke 7:48, 50.
Sweet words. Healing words. Words of blessing that broken hearts long to hear. Mary heard Him say them to her face. We have the same promise written in His Word. Accepted by faith, it is just as sweet.
Story is shared from the Good News Translation (GNT)