by Gene Van Shaar (& assoc.)
Gene Van Shaar
May 27, 2020
The first anointing of Christ in the New Testament is recorded in the book of Luke. Let’s carefully read the account and then review and discuss it.
And one of the Pharisees desired him that he would eat with him. And he went into the Pharisee’s house, and sat down to meat. And, behold, a woman in the city, which was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at meat in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster box of ointment, And stood at his feet behind him weeping, and began to wash his feet with tears, and did wipe them with the hairs of her head, and kissed his feet, and anointed them with the ointment.
Now when the Pharisee which had bidden him saw it, he spake within himself, saying, 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. And Jesus answering said unto him, Simon, I have somewhat to say unto thee. And he saith, Master, say on. 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.
And he turned to the woman, and said unto Simon, Seest thou this woman? I entered into thine house, thou gavest me no water for my feet: but she hath washed my feet with tears, and wiped them with the hairs of her head. Thou gavest me no kiss: but this woman since the time I came in hath not ceased to kiss my feet. My head with oil thou didst not anoint: but this woman hath anointed my feet with ointment. Wherefore 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. And he said unto her, Thy sins are forgiven. And they that sat at meat with him began to say within themselves, Who is this that forgiveth sins also? And he said to the woman, Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace. (Luke 7:36-50)
In his books Doctrinal New Testament Commentary and The Mortal Messiah, Bruce R. McConkie emphatically affirms that this woman was, “Not Mary Magdalene and not Mary of Bethany, both of whom were righteous women of good character.” (DNTC, 1:264-265; MM, 2:207, Note 4)
Let’s refer back to Luke 7:36: “And one of the Pharisees desired him that he would eat with him and he went to the Pharisee’s house and sat down to meat.” That’s very significant. Up to this point in Christ’s ministry, the Pharisees have been his enemies. They have not been interested in what he has to say. They’re only interested in opposing him and killing him. This is the only time in the New Testament when Jesus was invited to eat at a Pharisee’s house. If Simon was sincere, this could have been a great breakthrough.
James E. Talmage wrote: "It was a custom of the times to treat a distinguished guest with marked attention, to receive him with a kiss of welcome, to provide water to wash the dust from his feet, and oil for the anointing of the hair of the head and the beard. All these courteous attentions were omitted by Simon. (Jesus the Christ, 261) Simon had not treated Jesus as an honored guest. In short, Simon treated him insolently.
“Jesus took his place, probably on one of the divans or couches on which it was usual to partly sit, partly recline, while eating. Such an attitude would place the feet of the person outward from the table.” (Jesus the Christ, 261) They leaned on their left arms and ate with their right hands, because the right hand was considered to be the clean hand.
Verse 37 introduces another visitor to Simon’s house, “And behold, a woman in the city, which was a sinner.” What kind of sins would she have committed that she would be commonly known as a sinner? One possibility is that she was a thief. Another possibility is adultery. Because of her status, she would not be welcome at the synagogue or at a Pharisee’s house. By entering his house she might have been exposing herself to a flogging. But she went in anyway. “When she knew that Jesus sat at meat in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster box of ointment.” (Luke 7:37) Most anointings in those days were done with olive oil. This anointing was done with expensive ointment
She “stood at his feet behind him weeping and began to wash his feet with tears and did wipe them with the hairs of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment.” (Luke 7:38) The woman washed his feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. Then she rubbed ointment on his feet. Our culture is different than theirs but this is still something more intimate than would be expected between strangers.
“Now when the Pharisee which had bidden him saw it, he spake within himself, saying, 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.” (Luke 7:39) You see, Simon has latched on to something that he thinks proves Jesus is not a prophet or holy man. Note here that Simon is very judgmental of the woman, and of Jesus.
Jesus answers what Simon is thinking by saying, “Simon, I have somewhat to say unto thee. And he saith, Master, say on. 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?” (Luke 7:40-42)
Notice that Jesus easily established himself as the master who was asking the student a question which requires a response. The roles have been reversed. Simon started out thinking that he was the master and Jesus was a fraud. In just a few words, Jesus has completely turned the tables. Simon did not want to look stupid so he tried to give the best answer he could. “Simon answered and said, I suppose that he to whom he forgave the most.” And Jesus says, “Thou hast judged rightly.” (Luke 7:43)
Let’s review the circumstances. Jesus was the guest of a man who was in a position of power, influence, and wealth. The woman was not considered significant or worthy to even be in Simon’s house. If you were in Jesus’ position you might be tempted to appease the man at the expense of the woman, but that is not what he did. Jesus looked at the woman and spoke to Simon saying, "Simon, Seest thou this woman? I entered into thine house, thou gavest me no water for my feet: but she hath washed my feet with tears, and wiped them with the hairs of her head. Thou gavest me no kiss: but this woman since the time I came in hath not ceased to kiss my feet. My head with oil thou didst not anoint: but this woman hath anointed my feet with ointment. Wherefore 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." (Luke 7:44-47)
In other words, “Simon, the woman you consider to be unworthy loves much and is forgiven, and you are rude, judgmental, and remain unforgiven.” Jesus concludes the discussion by saying to the woman, “Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace.” (Luke 7:50)
I would like to ask you to imagine yourself in the roles of Jesus, Simon the Pharisee, and the woman. When doing so, what do you think? How do you feel? Symbolically speaking, every one of us has been in the place of Simon the Pharisee. Every one of us has sometimes been too judgmental when we should have been loving and forgiving. Each one of us should ask ourselves, “Do I really want to be like Simon the Pharisee?”
Every one of us in one way or another has also been in the place of the woman. We have all committed sins and need forgiveness. It takes courage and faith to confront sin in your own life. All of us can learn from the example of this woman. If she could have that kind of faith and courage, we can too.
The most important thing we need to do is come to Christ. We have to rely on the Atonement. We need to come to him humbly, on bended knee, setting our pride aside, asking for forgiveness. When we feel and ask it deeply enough, there will be tears. Sometimes there’s not enough depth of feeling in our repentance because we take it too lightly.
When I asked the students of one class to imagine themselves in Jesus’ place, feeling what he felt, Brooke answered, “I think that he felt grateful. I think he felt compassion for her.”
I am sure Jesus felt gratitude, compassion, and love. When you approach the Lord, or his servants, with faith and courage, trying to repent, the response will be gratitude, compassion, love, and forgiveness.
But what about the Pharisee? Jesus loves the Pharisee too. He gave the Pharisee exactly what he needed at that time. We don’t know how the Pharisee responded to what Jesus said. If I was in Simon’s place, I would have felt humbled. I hope I would have said, “Oh my goodness! I’m on the wrong track,” and turned around in a big hurry. Most of the Pharisees did not change, but a few did.
Reading and understanding this account has made a difference in my life. It has changed the way I feel about the Lord and has made a difference in the way I feel about and treat other people. I hope and pray that it will make a difference in you. Here is link to a four minute video of this event that inspires me every time I see it: Anointing-1.
Now let’s read and discuss another anointing as recorded by John, Matthew, and Mark.
John's account: "Then Jesus six days before the passover came to Bethany, where Lazarus was which had been dead, whom he raised from the dead. There they made him a supper; and Martha served: but Lazarus was one of them that sat at the table with him. Then took Mary a pound of ointment of spikenard, very costly, and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped his feet with her hair: and the house was filled with the odour of the ointment. Then saith one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, which should betray him, 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. Then said Jesus, Let her alone: against the day of my burying hath she kept this. For the poor always ye have with you; but me ye have not always." (John 12:2-8)
Matthew's account: "Now when Jesus was in Bethany, in the house of Simon the leper, There came unto him a woman having an alabaster box of very precious ointment, and poured it on his head, as he sat at meat. But when his disciples saw it, they had indignation, saying, To what purpose is this waste? For this ointment might have been sold for much, and given to the poor. When Jesus understood it, he said unto them, Why trouble ye the woman? for she hath wrought a good work upon me. For ye have the poor always with you; but me ye have not always. For in that she hath poured this ointment on my body, she did it for my burial. Verily I say unto you, Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached in the whole world, there shall also this, that this woman hath done, be told for a memorial of her. Then one of the twelve, called Judas Iscariot, went unto the chief priests, And said unto them, What will ye give me, and I will deliver him unto you? And they covenanted with him for thirty pieces of silver. And from that time he sought opportunity to betray him." (Matthew 26:6-16)
Mark's account: "And being in Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he sat at meat, there came a woman having an alabaster box of ointment of spikenard very precious; and she brake the box, and poured it on his head. And there were some that had indignation within themselves, and said, Why was this waste of the ointment made? For it might have been sold for more than three hundred pence, and have been given to the poor. And they murmured against her. And Jesus said, Let her alone; why trouble ye her? 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. Verily I say unto you, 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. And Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve, went unto the chief priests, to betray him unto them." (Mark 14:3-10)
As recounted in the introduction of my book, Concise Harmony of the Four Gospels "The [Gospel] authors were different individuals, writing from their own perspectives [and] remembrances…[and they] were not infallible nor flawless…But they were authentic witnesses." One of the ways of knowing if eyewitness accounts are true is if they have differences, representing different points of view. Generally speaking, if accounts match perfectly, they are made up.
The three accounts cited above have differences, but they have at least six common elements. It is approximately the same time and the same place. Most of the same people seem to be there. Each account describes an anointing. The same objection to the anointing is brought up in each account. Each time the objector is rebuked by Jesus in the same way. The possibility that these three accounts describe more than one event is extremely remote. However, it is obvious that this is a different anointing than the one described by Luke in Galilee more than a year previous
Note that the Bethany anointing is what pushed Judas over the edge. The very next thing reported is that Judas, “Went unto the chief priests, And said unto them, What will ye give me, and I will deliver him unto you… And from that time he sought opportunity to betray him. (Matthew 26:14-16) Judas did not understand or have reverence for what was sacred and tried to belittle it by saying that it would have been better to give to the poor. Not only that, but his motive was tainted because, “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.” (John 12:6)
First Judas failed to comprehend, then he sought to belittle, then he began to betray. Judas is not the only one to follow this tragic course. In fact, a great many people have said something like this, “It is a waste of money for the Church to build and maintain beautiful temples. The Church should use that money to help the poor.” After thus belittling the temple and ordinances, which they do not comprehend, they often proceed to oppose or betray the Savior and those who are devoted to him. At the same time they hypocritically ignore the fact the Church does more for the poor than they do.
We must be careful to avoid making the same mistakes Judas did: ignorance, desecration, betrayal. We must also be careful to avoid the mistakes of Simon the Pharisee: pride, lack of love, failure to repent.
Copyright © 2020 by Gene Van Shaar