Some of us may have "snapshots" of Jesus stored securely in the photo album of our memory.
By Jonathan Futch
If we have ever heard the name of Jesus, or have ever been presented with any information about him, then a mental picture of him has been formed and stored away in our mind. Some of us, perhaps, may have many such "snapshots" of Jesus stored securely in the photo album of our memory. Look in your memory, now, and see if you can find your most recent picture of him.
Have you found the picture you're looking for? If so, bring out your memory's photo album and take a good look at the picture you've found. What does Jesus look like in your picture?
Does he look like a king, wearing a crown and royal robes? Or, does he look like a shepherd leading his flock of sheep into green pastures? Maybe your picture shows him healing the sick, raising the dead, calming the storm or blessing small children in his arms. Some of you may see him in your picture as the miracle worker walking on the water or feeding thousands with just a few fish and loaves of bread. In your picture, is Jesus teaching in the temple or perhaps chasing those out of the temple that tried to make money and conduct business matters there? Many of you probably see him riding on a donkey into Jerusalem, washing his disciples feet at the Last Supper, praying in agony in the garden, dying painfully on the cross, rising triumphantly from the dead or ascending from the mountain top back to the glory of his father in heaven.
You may have many pictures of Jesus in your memory, but in any of these pictures do you see Jesus eating? Maybe in the mind's eye you see him breaking the bread or passing the cup at the Last Supper. What a beautiful memory that is! But, do you have any other pictures of Jesus enjoying a meal as a guest or with friends?
Sharing meals with others was one of Jesus' favorite pastimes. There are only a few occasions recorded about Jesus worshipping at the temple in Jerusalem or participating in a local synagogue meeting. I'm sure that he worshipped in the temple and met in the synagogue often, but for the most part the details of his worship experiences have not been shared with us. We can read, however, about the enjoyment he found in sharing meals with others.
Jesus often ate meals together with his friends, like Martha, Mary and Lazarus. He was often an invited guest to meals at the homes of others, and sometimes even invited himself over to someone else's home to eat, as was the case with Zacchaeus. He never seemed to turn down an offer to eat with anyone (except once outside the Samaritan village of Sychar). Apparently, Jesus really enjoyed relaxing and having fellowship over a good meal.
In the Jewish and Palestinian cultures of two thousand years ago, meals were very segregated events. Men ate with men, while the women and children ate in a separate part of the house. Generally, women were allowed to enter the area where men were eating only when serving food and drink or for entertainment purposes. The Greek and Roman cultures at that time encouraged men to include women during meal times for both of these purposes, particularly for sexual entertainment. But, those ideas had not yet entered into the mainstream of Middle Eastern culture during Jesus' time, nor would he have taken part in these lust-filled events. He always treated both men and women with equal respect and, although he might not have personally chosen to have the men and women eat separately, he would never have demeaned the women by having them present for any lustful or ulterior reasons.
And so, it was quite shocking and unusual that on two occasions in the same city women entered uninvited into the area where Jesus and other men were eating. The city was Bethany, a village located just a short distance from Jerusalem. One of the occasions was at the house of Simon, a leading Pharisee and religious leader, and is recorded in the New Testament gospel stories of Matthew, Mark and Luke. The other occasion is recorded in the gospel story written by John, and was at the home of Jesus' friends Martha, Mary and Lazarus.
On both occasions, a woman entered the area where the men were eating carrying a very expensive alabaster vase filled with fragrant and exotic spices. Each time, the woman (in John's story it was Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus) broke the expensive vase and poured out its entire contents on Jesus. And, on both occasions, some of the other men who were there eating with Jesus became very angry because of what the woman had done. Simon even became more angry because of who this uninvited woman was that had entered his house and invaded his dinner party.
Why were these men angry? Well, we need to remember that in those days an expensive alabaster vase filled with fragrant and exotic spices was worth at least a year's earnings for a common laborer. In today's money, it would be worth $20,000 or more! A young, unmarried woman would save an expensive alabaster vase of spices like that to be used as her wedding dowry. Otherwise, these exotic spices were kept in the family for the purpose of anointing the bodies of the dead in preparation for burial.
In each case, the men accused the woman of being extravagant. Why was she wasting something so expensive on someone for no apparent reason? If she was going to give it away so thoughtlessly, she could at least have sold the vase with its contents and given the money obtained to the poor people in the area.
Both times, the women broke the exquisite alabaster vase, destroying it along with the complete loss of its expensive contents. Both times, the women poured the spices only on Jesus. They did this to give him publicly, personally and unashamedly their highest honor, worship and commitment (anointing his head) and their deepest love, adoration and sacrifice (anointing his feet). Jesus said that they did it to show their love for him, because of the great love he had personally shown to them, and to anoint him beforehand in preparation for his upcoming death and burial. Because of his extravagant kindness and love for them, these women were willing to be humbled and broken before their accusers to show their love for Jesus.
But the men, even his disciples, didn't see anything so special about Jesus. The dinner at the home of Martha, Mary and Lazarus occurred sometime after Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead. Yet, although his miraculous power was undeniable, Jesus was not thought of as anyone who was very important--at least not important enough to have an expensive vase of spices poured over him for no apparent reason.
Jesus said that wherever the good news of his love was told the story of what the woman (at each dinner) had done must also be told. The gospel of Jesus Christ is not full or complete unless she is remembered, as well. Why? Perhaps it’s because that without seeing her, we can’t really see him. Our image of Jesus will be blurred, unless she too is in focus. The woman is not who we’re looking for; but, unless we see her, this man of no reputation will continue to go unnoticed (see Matthew 25).
Take out your picture of Jesus, again. Can you see him clearly? Do you see an ordinary man with extraordinary kindness? Do you see a humble man sitting in a common seat, with common people, wearing common clothes, and doing common things with uncommon love? Is that the Jesus in your picture? If it is, then when you share his picture and story with others, it becomes your picture and story, too. Rather than just a shadow in your memory, Jesus will become a brilliant reality in your life. The vase will be broken again, the contents poured out, and the extravagance of his love revealed for all to see…perfectly.
Jonathan Futch is the director of Mercy Cares Ministries, a network of churches and ministries around the world specializing persecuted peoples.