PERFUME - Week of February 21st

By Judy Nichols

February 21, 2016

When my mother was a little girl in the early nineteen hundreds, women didn’t wash their hair nearly as often as we do today. She knew people who only washed their hair once a month and I have read that this was about the average.

In the seventh chapter of his gospel, Luke tells the story of a woman who anointed Jesus’ feet with perfume, wept on them, and wiped them with her hair (Luke 7:36-50). Judging from the parable Jesus told in response to his host’s reaction, He viewed this – and received it -- as an act of grateful, loving worship.

The thought occurred to me today that in wiping His feet with her hair, she took the scent of the perfume home with her where it may have lingered for many days, reminding her of her encounter with Jesus.

She is described as an immoral woman. Evidently her lifestyle choices were weighing heavily on her, and she felt drawn to the itinerant Rabbi. Perhaps she had heard the preaching of John the Baptist. Whether she had or not, she seemed desirous of repentance. Her extravagant demonstration of devotion spoke to Jesus of the depth of her spiritual readiness.

Her boldness to crash the Pharisee’s party and interrupt the dinner in order to meet Jesus strikes me. When I am convicted of sin, I want to come before Him privately to express my repentance and seek His forgiveness. Perhaps she felt she had nothing left to risk – her reputation evidently was already in tatters, and what people thought of her was inconsequential. It mattered little to her that Jesus’ parable indicted the Pharisee for his lack of hospitality, or that the dinner guests seemed offended that Jesus had the audacity to forgive her sins. She came to Jesus; she gave what she had brought to Jesus, and she received what her heart most desired from Him, an intimate experience of forgiveness of her sins and the blessing to go in peace. The perfume in her hair rested upon her like Jesus’ blessing.

In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus taught that we should do our acts of kindness and our praying in secret, so as not to receive any reward other than from God (see Matt. 6:1-6). No such advocacy of secrecy regarding repentance is to be found. Should we conclude, therefore, that repentance should be a public matter?

This is a scary prospect, and I leave it to you to decide for yourself. But if we view our repentance in light of this story and the truth of the Scripture, we may change our minds. First, repentance is an act of worship. It is an interaction with God that brings Him great pleasure because it restores us to a place of fellowship with Him. Second, our reputation, like this woman’s, is in tatters, if not worse. We have no reputation, no standing before God on our own merits.

And third, if God is foremost in our lives, then what others think of us really should be inconsequential. What God thinks of us is vastly more important. Likewise, how He deals with others should not matter to us. Our one and only goal should be the offering of ourselves to Him and receiving what He offers. When we offer to Him our brokenness, He receives worship, we receive forgiveness, and the fragrance of the intimate interaction clings to us, goes with us, and lingers long after the event.

There is a similar story in John’s gospel, with the added notation that the fragrance of the perfume filled the whole house (John 12:1-3). When we risk repentance and breaking open our deepest needs before our brothers and sisters as well as the Lord, we release a powerful aroma of Him in that whole place. Then the perfume is not only on my own hair, but also on everyone else’s.

Contemporary standards of hygiene notwithstanding, may the sweet fragrance of intimacy with Jesus linger long, as we risk what we do not have before people whose opinions do not matter, in order to gain what our hearts most desire and God most willingly gives.

© J.H.Nichols 2006

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