And when Jesus was in Bethany at the house of Simon the leper, a woman came to Him having an alabaster flask of very costly fragrant oil, and she poured it on His head as He sat at the table. But when His disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, "Why this waste? For this fragrant oil might have been sold for much and given to the poor." But when Jesus was aware of it, He said to them, "Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a good work for Me. For you have the poor with you always, but Me you do not have always. For in pouring this fragrant oil on My body, she did it for My burial. Assuredly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be told as a memorial to her." (Matthew 26:6-13)
What was it about the woman in Bethany that was so significant to the Son of God that He would say, "Wherever this gospel is preached, what this woman has done will be told as a memorial to her"? Certainly she gave all she had, even her most precious possession, in overflowing appreciation and love for Him. Was it because her unabashed display of devotion to Him was so exceptional -- something she did more than all others? What did honoring her have to do with preaching the Good News of the Kingdom?
You would think that the whole message of the gospel was summed up in what Yahshua did on the cross. One could hardly imagine a greater act of self-sacrificing love than Yahshua willingly laying down His life for us. Not only did He endure the cross unto physical death, but after dying He endured the "agony of death" for us, for as the Apostle Peter said on the Day of Pentecost,1 it was the resurrection that put an end to the agony of death, not His death on the cross. He went into Death,2 that "place of torment" described in the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus,3 in our place.
But, it is noteworthy that the woman in Bethany made this profound outpouring of love, pouring out all she had on His body, even before He gave Himself as a ransom for her. For He acknowledged, "In that she poured this ointment upon my body, she did it to prepare me for burial." How do we understand that?
Obviously there was something in Yahshua that touched this woman in a profound way. Was it His life and character, His unfailing love and tender mercy? He must have been like God to her, for she sacrificed her most precious possession upon His body. It seemed to be such a selfless act, yet she gained the greatest possession of all. She had Him. For in giving Him all she had, she made Him her only possession.
Could she have known the words He had spoken earlier to His disciples? He had told them, "After two days is the Passover, and the Son of Man will be delivered up to be crucified."4 It seems these words hardly registered with His own disciples. Could she have known that He was the Passover Lamb, provided by God to pay for the sins of His people? What was she responding to when she poured all she had upon His body? What was going on in the heart of this remarkable woman?
There is a striking contrast in the story between Yahshua's deep appreciation for what this woman had done and the indignant response of His disciples: "Why this waste? For this fragrant oil might have been sold for much and given to the poor." This seemingly genuine concern for the poor could have been very persuasive. Yet Yahshua discerned something very precious in this woman's spirit, causing Him to say, "Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a good work for Me." Then He went on to say, "Assuredly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be told as a memorial to her."
The man Yahshua was facing the final moments of His life, probably within just a few days of His brutal execution. The woman poured out the fragrant oil as a sacrifice, to gain something that was of even greater value -- Him. In the same way, Yahshua would pour out His very life's blood as a sacrifice and a sin offering in order to gain what was of surpassing value -- the heart of man. How much courage it must have given Him to see her response to His love and the words of life He had spoken to her! She would be a type of those in the future who would also pour out all they had in response to His love, and in response to this same gospel that would be preached by those who believed in Him.5
Seemingly Judas had a different gospel than "this gospel" which Yahshua said this woman in Bethany exemplified. Judas, presuming to be wiser than Yahshua, thought it would have been better to sell the fragrant oil and give the proceeds to the poor. It is one thing to give from your surplus to those less fortunate (as even the Pharisees did), but it is another thing to give all that you have in absolute trust and dependence. In the example of the widow who gave her two mites, Yahshua said she gave more than the wealthy who gave from their abundance, for she gave her whole livelihood.6
Was Judas really so concerned for the poor? We learn later that Judas, who was entrusted with the common purse, was actually a thief and wanted the money for himself.7 With his offended heart, and probably feeling quite justified, Judas went to the chief priests and received money from them to betray Yahshua. Later, when He realized how his hidden motives had led him into great error, he threw the money into the temple and hanged himself.
But what about Yahshua? Wasn't He concerned for the needs of the poor? Certainly in His life He seemed to take identity with the poor and afflicted among the people. He Himself was penniless and "had nowhere to lay His head."8 Yet, His needs were met, along with those who were with Him, through the common purse they shared.9 The Teacher had no advantage over His students. He made Himself poor for the sake of others.
But what about this woman and her needs? For now she too would be among the poor, since she poured out all she had upon Yahshua's body. Soon He would be taken and crucified, and what would she do? Where would she go? What about the others who had left everything to follow Yahshua?
The Scriptures tell the story of what became of Yahshua's disciples after His death and resurrection. Surely the woman of Bethany was among them. Acts 2:44 says, "All those who believed were together and all things in common." And again in Acts 4,
Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and one soul; neither did anyone say that any of the things he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common ... And great grace was upon them all. Nor was there anyone among them who lacked; for all who were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of the things that were sold, and laid them at the apostles' feet; and they distributed to each as anyone had need. (Acts 4:32-35)
That was the phenomenal response to "this gospel," as demonstrated that day by the woman in Bethany, as all the disciples poured out all they had on Yahshua's body of believers. Peter evidently preached the very same gospel as Yahshua, because it produced the very same response. All those who believed in His atoning sacrifice were washed of their sin and delivered out of that wicked and corrupt generation.10 They were delivered from the society of those who had crucified their long-awaited Messiah.11 God's love was poured out in their hearts through the Holy Spirit.12 That love caused them to pour out all they had to care for one another. His Spirit in their hearts bound them together in love and unity as His corporate Body -- a new social order of priests of a new covenant, established through Yahshua's sacrifice.13
And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come. (Matthew 24:14)
For the next 40 years or so the early believers continued as a witness -- a living demonstration of the good news of the kingdom that Yahshua proclaimed and lived Himself. This was the remarkable thing the woman of Bethany had done -- giving all she had in absolute trust and devotion. It wasn't an effort on her part to earn His acceptance, but a sincere and appropriate response to the good news He preached. As He said, "He who is forgiven much loves much." She did just what He did, and what all who believed in Him would do -- wholeheartedly giving up all they had for the sake of love.
God's unfailing, self-sacrificing love (as exemplified by Yahshua and His disciples) creates community -- common unity, a total sharing of all that you have and all that you are. This is true koinonia, a very rich Greek word which means contribution, distribution, communication, and joint participation. It is the tangible expression of the Body of Messiah. This always has been and always will be the very nature of the kingdom of God.14 That is why Yahshua said, "Wherever this gospel is preached, what this woman has done will be told as a memorial to her."
He was not saying that her particular story was a necessary ingredient of the gospel, as if one could not be saved apart from hearing her personal story. He was emphasizing that the good news demands a response -- a corresponding sacrifice. This means nothing less than giving all we have in absolute trust and devotion to the One who gave all He had for us. And this corresponding sacrifice (His and ours) binds us together in the New Covenant, which He established in His blood. This call to total surrender was consistent with the gospel Yahshua preached throughout all Judea.15 Nothing less will bring the kingdom of heaven to the earth. That is why Yahshua said in Matthew 22:37-40,
"You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind." This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets. (Matthew 22:37-40)
Those who love Him and serve Him where He is16 -- where all who believe live together and share all things in common;17 no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf.18 Their prayer and their purpose is to see His kingdom come and His will be done on earth19 -- to proclaim the good news of His kingdom as a living demonstration to the ends of the earth, in order that the end could come and He could return and set up His eternal kingdom.