Matthew 26:6 Now while Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, 7 a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very costly ointment, and she poured it on his head as he sat at the table. 8 But when the disciples saw it, they were angry and said, “Why this waste? 9 For this ointment could have been sold for a large sum, and the money given to the poor.” 10 But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you trouble the woman? She has performed a good service for me. 11 For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me. 12 By pouring this ointment on my body she has prepared me for burial. 13 Truly I tell you, wherever this good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.”
Jesus has been explaining to his disciples that he would be “handed over to be crucified”. And now, to emphasize that point, Matthew tells us this story. An unnamed woman pours expensive ointment on Jesus’ head, as if preparing Jesus for burial. His disciples object, noting the expensive ointment could be sold and used to feed the poor. Fair enough.
What gets my attention this morning is that Jesus was “at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper”. Lepers were considered ritually unclean. And to be fair, leprosy was (and is) a horrible disease. It eats away at flesh, particularly at the extremities of hands, feet, nose, and so on. In keeping with the theology of the ancient near East, anyone so afflicted would have been understood as being punished by God for this sins. Simon, therefore, wasn’t only a sufferer of a horrible disease, but was a sinner getting what he deserved.
So imagine the shock when Jesus chose Simon the leper’s house as the place to stay while in the town of Bethany. A holy man of God was NOT supposed to do such a thing. Lepers were to be avoided, not embraced. But this is the kind of thing Jesus did over and over. Rather than rejecting the outcasts – he loved them. Affirmed them. Included them in the Kingdom of God.
I’m trying to think of a cultural parallel in our day for a leper in ancient times. How about a convicted rapist. Or a confessed terrorist. Or an unapologetic white supremacist. Or, how about Dr. Larry Nassar. You may have heard of him. That’s his picture attached to this blog post. Dr. Nassar was convicted of molesting 256 young gymnasts while serving as a doctor for the US Olympic gymnastics team over many years. He will serve 40-75 years in prison, which is effectively a life sentence. He is a vile and despicable human being – but he might be the sort of person Jesus would have approached during his travels. Seriously. Especially now that he has been exposed, convicted, laid low.
Anyway, this morning I’m wondering what “vile” people I tend to avoid or reject. How might Jesus approach such people differently than I do?
Lord, it’s hard for us to comprehend the radical nature of your love and compassion for people – especially the rejected, convicted, marginalized ones. Give us grace to reflect your love for all people, even those who’ve made a mess for themselves and others. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.