When I was growing up, my aunt would give our family a puzzle for Christmas every year. That might not sound like much of a present to get year after year, but oh, my, those puzzles. We looked forward to see what she had found each year. These were puzzles that were designed for people who really loved a challenge. We would start them during Christmas vacation from school and continue to work on them throughout the winter. We would have a card table set up in our living room for months. One year the puzzle was round in shape, which eliminated the ability to find the edges so at least you could start with a border. And it was of a picture of a pizza with all the toppings. Now, those of you who order pizza with all the toppings or without any toppings for that matter know that there is nothing to identify one section of pizza from the next, therefore there was no way to determine what piece went where in this puzzle, except to look at and study the shapes very intently and then look for the piece that would fit that shape. It took months to put together. Most of the puzzles did.
I now wonder if Jesus would have enjoyed visiting our home during those long, cold winters while we put together puzzles in the evening. I say this because I have come to realize that the Bible is really one really huge challenging jigsaw puzzle. Most people who read the Bible tend to do it superficially, barely understanding what they are reading. Far fewer are those who not only study it, but who see that there are stories between the lines of Scripture that tell much bigger stories about the people than what is just plainly told straight out. To show what I mean by that, I would like to relate the story of Martha, Mary, and Lazarus. The one you haven't heard before.
We all have heard the simple stories of this group of siblings. The first time we seem to encounter them is when Jesus shows up at the home of Martha.
Luke 10:38-42 “Now it came to pass, as they went, that he entered into a certain village: and a certain woman named Martha received him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, which also sat at Jesus' feet, and heard his word. But Martha was cumbered about much serving, and came to him, and said, Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? bid her therefore that she help me. And Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things: But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.”
From this story we learn some things about the sisters. Martha owns a house. A slightly unusual fact in that day when males inherited everything. She has a sister, Mary, who may or may not live with her, but it seems she might, for she is not as much a guest as expected to do work. Martha was distracted with the busyness of getting a meal together for the large group, while Mary sat at Jesus feet. Martha is put out by her sister's lack of concern to her duties of helping get the dinner, for she has left her duties to instead sit at Jesus feet and listen to Him. The way in which Martha addresses Jesus shows that this is not someone entertaining a man who is creating a real stir in the area for His miracles preaching for the first time, but is welcoming someone to the house who seems to be more like family, for she is not at all polite in her manner of speaking to Him. She is rebuking His indulging Mary when it is obvious that she is needed elsewhere. She even gives him an order – to tell Mary to get back to work. This indeed is a bold way to be speaking to the Lord. This sort of speech from a woman could only indicate that they are on very familiar terms. This would indicate that Jesus has been here before, and probably quite a few times. They are all good friends.
Jesus tells her that she is too full of care and troubled, especially about a meal. She could have made a simpler meal that would have sufficed, but she is someone who needs to uphold a reputation of a certain standard of entertaining, which means that she is probably someone of repute in her village. Mary is less concerned about the proper way of things, of keeping up appearances, and more interested in simply basking in the glow of Christ's company, listening to His Words of wisdom. It seems that Mary loves Jesus very much. Not that Martha doesn't, but their way of showing love is vastly different. Martha does it by works, Mary just wants to be near her Lord and Master. Martha's work is incomplete though, because she doesn't do the work with a joyful spirit. She is complaining.
All of these things are things that can be fairly easily discerned from the story. Most teachers would probably teach these things about Martha and Mary.
The next time we see them is when Lazarus dies.
John 11:1-54 “Now a certain man was sick, named Lazarus, of Bethany, the town of Mary and her sister Martha. (It was that Mary which anointed the Lord with ointment, and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick.) Therefore his sisters sent unto him, saying, Lord, behold, he whom thou lovest is sick. When Jesus heard that, he said, This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby. Now Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus. When he had heard therefore that he was sick, he abode two days still in the same place where he was. Then after that saith he to his disciples, Let us go into Judaea again. His disciples say unto him, Master, the Jews of late sought to stone thee; and goest thou thither again? Jesus answered, Are there not twelve hours in the day? If any man walk in the day, he stumbleth not, because he seeth the light of this world. But if a man walk in the night, he stumbleth, because there is no light in him. These things said he: and after that he saith unto them, Our friend Lazarus sleepeth; but I go, that I may awake him out of sleep. Then said his disciples, Lord, if he sleep, he shall do well. Howbeit Jesus spake of his death: but they thought that he had spoken of taking of rest in sleep. Then said Jesus unto them plainly, Lazarus is dead. And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, to the intent ye may believe; nevertheless let us go unto him. Then said Thomas, which is called Didymus, unto his fellowdisciples, Let us also go, that we may die with him. Then when Jesus came, he found that he had lain in the grave four days already. Now Bethany was nigh unto Jerusalem, about fifteen furlongs off: And many of the Jews came to Martha and Mary, to comfort them concerning their brother. Then Martha, as soon as she heard that Jesus was coming, went and met him: but Mary sat still in the house. Then said Martha unto Jesus, Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died. But I know, that even now, whatsoever thou wilt ask of God, God will give it thee. Jesus saith unto her, Thy brother shall rise again. Martha saith unto him, I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day. Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this? She saith unto him, Yea, Lord: I believe that thou art the Christ, the Son of God, which should come into the world. And when she had so said, she went her way, and called Mary her sister secretly, saying, The Master is come, and calleth for thee. As soon as she heard that, she arose quickly, and came unto him. Now Jesus was not yet come into the town, but was in that place where Martha met him. The Jews then which were with her in the house, and comforted her, when they saw Mary, that she rose up hastily and went out, followed her, saying, She goeth unto the grave to weep there. Then when Mary was come where Jesus was, and saw him, she fell down at his feet, saying unto him, Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died. When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews also weeping which came with her, he groaned in the spirit, and was troubled, And said, Where have ye laid him? They said unto him, Lord, come and see. Jesus wept. Then said the Jews, Behold how he loved him! And some of them said, Could not this man, which opened the eyes of the blind, have caused that even this man should not have died? Jesus therefore again groaning in himself cometh to the grave. It was a cave, and a stone lay upon it. Jesus said, Take ye away the stone. Martha, the sister of him that was dead, saith unto him, Lord, by this time he stinketh: for he hath been dead four days. Jesus saith unto her, Said I not unto thee, that, if thou wouldest believe, thou shouldest see the glory of God? Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead was laid. And Jesus lifted up his eyes, and said, Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me. And I knew that thou hearest me always: but because of the people which stand by I said it, that they may believe that thou hast sent me. And when he thus had spoken, he cried with a loud voice, Lazarus, come forth. And he that was dead came forth, bound hand and foot with graveclothes: and his face was bound about with a napkin. Jesus saith unto them, Loose him, and let him go. Then many of the Jews which came to Mary, and had seen the things which Jesus did, believed on him. But some of them went their ways to the Pharisees, and told them what things Jesus had done. Then gathered the chief priests and the Pharisees a council, and said, What do we? for this man doeth many miracles. If we let him thus alone, all men will believe on him: and the Romans shall come and take away both our place and nation. And one of them, named Caiaphas, being the high priest that same year, said unto them, Ye know nothing at all, Nor consider that it is expedient for us, that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not. And this spake he not of himself: but being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus should die for that nation; And not for that nation only, but that also he should gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad. Then from that day forth they took counsel together for to put him to death. Jesus therefore walked no more openly among the Jews; but went thence unto a country near to the wilderness, into a city called Ephraim, and there continued with his disciples.”
The first thing new that we learn is that the “certain village” where Martha and her sister lived was Bethany. Then we learn that there is a brother, Lazarus. And Lazarus is sick. Very sick. Now we learn another thing that sends us on a hunt for another piece of the puzzle. John tells us that is was Mary who anointed the Lord with oil and wiped His feet with her hair. There is only one place where this story is told other than the time before the Passover, which John has yet to relate, but we will get back to it a little later. The sisters send word to Jesus not just that their brother is sick, but that “he whom thou lovest” is sick. As the siblings when mentioned tend to be mentioned in an order that leaves Lazarus at the end, and Martha seems to be the matriarch, it would seem to lead to the conclusion that Lazarus is the youngest. And just as John, who was a teenager when he was a disciple was the one whom Jesus loved, and we know that Jesus had a special place in His heart for young people and children, it would seem that this way of referring to Lazarus, when they send word, indicates that Lazarus may possibly be a teenager or maybe even slightly younger. There is no way to be certain, but given these other clues, it is a possibility. He is usually portrayed as an adult, but that does not necessarily hold true. It is Mary and Martha who are burying him, not his parents. So he is apparently living with them, which would be highly unusual for a man of marriageable age. He normally would be married and living in a house of his own if an adult. This too points to him being younger than marriageable age, but most probably orphaned.
Jesus assures His disciples that the sickness is not going to cost Lazarus his life, that it has been allowed by God so that He may be glorified through Christ. Jesus knew what was coming, and that Lazarus would not stay in the grave. He loved the three siblings, but He also knew what was supposed to happen and so instead of getting up and leaving right then to prevent Lazarus' death, He stayed another two days where He was, (someplace outside of Judea) knowing full well what was going on in Bethany. After two days, when He knew that they would get there well after Lazarus had died, He told His disciples that it was time to go, so they headed to Bethany.
Now the disciples were not keen on Jesus going to Bethany, for His last visit had resulted in the Jews wanting to stone Him. They did not want Him to return and be threatened like that again. They couldn't understand why He would want to go back, in spite of His being summoned by Martha and Mary. Jesus then says something that might sound confusing to some. He asks whether they are not twelve hours in a day. And He says that if a man walks in the day he won't stumble, but he will at night because there is no light. This is sort of a reference back to what He had said to them earlier in John 9:4 “I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” Jesus knew He had a limited time to do His ministry and He couldn't afford to worry about threats, as He knew He wouldn't be taken until it was time, and when it was time, He would have to allow it to happen. He who is the light of the world had to do work while it was day, or while He was there to do it, for night (when He would no longer be there) was coming on when His disciples would have to go on without Him.
Jesus then tells them that Lazarus “is sleeping” and that He has to go and “wake” him, by which He meant that Lazarus had died and He was going to raise him. They don't understand the euphemism, and think He actually means that Lazarus is sleeping, which is a healing process when one is sick, so they think He ought to just leave him alone. As they were not anxious to go back, they were possibly deliberately misunderstanding Him also. So Jesus quits being oblique and says straight out that Lazarus is dead.
Christ also tells them that He is glad they weren't there to prevent Lazarus death, for in what they are about to see, it will strengthen their faith and belief. Then He invites them to go along with Him. Thomas says to the rest of the disciples that if Jesus is going, then they should go too, even though it will probably mean that they will be stoned with Him.
When they get near town, they find out that Lazarus had already been in the grave four days. Given that Jesus waited two days, then arrived four days after Lazarus died, it must have been a several day journey and it may be possible that by the time Jesus got the message, it is possible that Lazarus was already dead, given that it would have taken a couple days for Him to get the message after the sisters sent it. Possibly that is why He didn't see any reason to hurry. He might have known that Lazarus was already dead when the message reached Him.
We are told how close Bethany was to Jerusalem. Fifteen furlongs is a little less than two miles. As it was not that far from Jerusalem, and it seems that the family was a well-known and respected one, many Jews came to pay their respects to the family. In getting word from someone that Jesus was on His way, Martha ran out to meet Him before He got to town. She did this because these Jews were not all believers the way she and her siblings were. It was these very Jews that the disciples were worried would stone Jesus, and apparently Martha was little worried about it also, for she ran out to prevent Him from coming to the house. Mary on the other hand stayed at the house. In spite of her grief, Martha had her wits about her and was more concerned with Jesus safety at this point, than her own grief. Martha was practical. Mary was less so. It would seem they were the first version of Sense and Sensibility.
When Martha sees Jesus, she falls down at His feet. Just as Mary spent time at Jesus feet, Martha had her times at His feet also. She demonstrates her faith in Him by calling Him Lord and stating that had He been there, He could have miraculously healed her brother. And then she goes one step further. She states that she knows that even now with Lazarus dead, she knows that Jesus can ask anything of God and God will give it to Him. What a statement of faith. Everyone always remarks on Mary's love for Jesus, but Martha was a woman of great faith. She seems to understand who Jesus is even when possibly His disciples aren't quite sure. Jesus then tells her that Lazarus will rise. She answers that she knows without a doubt that he will rise on the last day (this statement has great importance when one is studying the timing of the resurrection), for she is not quite sure at this point what Christ is meaning. She stated that she knew that even now, meaning after Lazarus was dead, that if Jesus asked anything (meaning letting Lazarus come back to life) that God would give it to Him. She is hoping for Lazarus to be raised, but she's not sure that is what Christ means when He assures her that Lazarus will rise again.
Jesus then makes one of those statements that reveals exactly who and what He is. He states that HE is the resurrection and the life. That the person who believes this, even though dead, will live and that whoever lives and believes in Him will never die (meaning spiritually). It is through Jesus that we have our resurrection and eternal life. There is no other through whom this can come. He asks Martha if she believes this. Martha makes three affirmative statements. She says 1) that He is the Christ, meaning the anointed and chosen one of God, 2) that He is the Son of God, He is not just some prophet - she acknowledges His divinity and 3) that He is the one who was to come into the world, the Messiah sent to save them. Between her first words to Him, and these affirmative statements it is clear that Martha knows exactly who He is, and believes in Him. By asking her the question, and her stating her faith, she understands that He is going to reward her faith.
Martha then runs to her sister and privately tells her that Jesus is outside of town, for she doesn't want the Jews, who would stone Him, to know He is in the vicinity. She tells Mary that Jesus wants to see her. So Mary gets up and immediately goes to Him outside of town where Martha had met Him. The Jews that had assembled in the house to comfort and grieve with them saw Mary take off to go see Jesus and assumed that she was heading to the grave to mourn there. Because their purpose was to comfort the sisters, it made no sense for them to stay in the house if the sisters were up at the grave, so they decide to follow Mary.
When Mary reaches Jesus, she does exactly what Martha did and says exactly what Martha said. She falls at His feet and complains that if the Lord had come when they sent for Him, He could have healed Lazarus and he wouldn't have died. Mary is weeping greatly, and the Jews that are with her are weeping and wailing too. But it is the custom in that culture to put on a great show of weeping, even if one really isn't deeply grieving. When Jesus sees them all weeping He groaned in His spirit and was troubled. There are several ways to perceive what this means. Christ may have simply been moved by Mary's and their grief and groaned in compassion, but it also says that He was troubled. What troubled Him. Was it their lack of belief? Was it their hypocrisy? Was it the fact that He had to perform this miracle to garner belief from them, that it wasn't enough for Him to preach and teach. That they had to have the signs and miracles also. He then asks where they have put Lazarus.
They lead Jesus to the grave and then we have the shortest verse in the Bible. Jesus wept. Why did Jesus weep, when He knew that He was about to raise Lazarus from the dead? What would be the point of grieving when happiness was just around the corner. Jesus may have wept, because He wanted to show us that even when we know that we will be with our loved ones again in the resurrection, it is painful to watch someone die and be separated from them. While we rejoice that they are with the Lord, they are no longer with us, and that is very painful. We feel the loss deeply, and I think Christ wanted us to know that even with the knowledge of the resurrection, it is perfectly understandable and acceptable for us to grieve their loss. He loved Lazarus very much. Knowing that he had suffered unto death, Christ feels sorrow, for He does not get pleasure from our suffering. He feels bad that Lazarus had to suffer in order that God might be glorified. Added to that might be the fact that He knew that many of His people (Israel) would not be in the resurrection, for many would not believe. That would grieve Him even more. The Jews notice how Christ weeps, and it makes an impression upon them, for while their grieving might be merely for cultural show, His was real and deep for several reasons.
Then the questions begin. They wonder why, if this is the man was able to miraculously heal people, didn't He come and heal Lazarus? They have a problem with that. This questioning and attitude makes Jesus groan in His spirit again. These are not believers, they are the ones who probably would have stoned Him, had this not been the situation it was.
Jesus then goes to the grave and gives the command for the stone to be rolled away from the cave. This was the normal mode of burial in that day. Rather than put them in the ground as we do today, they laid them in caves and put big boulders over the entrances. Martha tries to stop this by informing Him that Lazarus has been dead four days, so by now the body is probably pretty ripe, as they say. Interestingly, while there is no Scripture for this belief, there was and still may be the belief that the soul lingers around the body for three days after death in a confused state before moving on. It is almost as if Jesus is addressing that belief by having waited four days. By their belief system, they would believe that the soul had already moved on, thus the raising of Lazarus being even more of a miracle, for his soul would no longer be hanging around the body looking to get back in it. It would have moved on to the afterlife.
Jesus response to Martha is to ask her if she didn't remember what He had just said to her a short while ago, that if she believed, she would see God be glorified through this. She has expressed doubt, after having given such a confirmation of her belief earlier. We all have moments of doubt, even though we believe. Sometimes the doubt comes just when the answer is about to be given to us.
The stone is removed from the tomb and Jesus lifts up His eyes toward heaven and thanks God for hearing Him and already answering His prayer before He sees the evidence that His prayer had been answered. He then adds that He knows God always hears Him, for the Father and Son are always in communion, but so that the people there might realize that Christ has a special relationship with God that they do not have, and that it is God who is the author of the miracle and who has sent Christ, He says the prayer aloud. This shows us that we should sometimes start thanking God for the answers to our prayers before they are answered, to show our faith that God does hear us and will answer. When Jesus healed it was because of people's faith. Without faith, God cannot do anything for the person, for He wants the thanks and glory when He does answer our prayer.
Jesus then tells Lazarus to come forth, and he immediately does. This must have been a little difficult on Lazarus's part, as he was bound hand and foot and had a napkin over his face. I'm sure he was more than a little confused and feeling pretty strange, and movement would have been seriously limited, the way they wrapped the graveclothes, yet come out of the grave he did. Christ then tells them to take the wrappings off. Oddly enough, we never hear anything more on Lazarus at this event. Nothing about what he did, whether he ran to the Lord or what transpired. The only thing we are told is that many of the Jews which came to Mary there at the grave, saw what happened and believed. However many still did not believe. They ran to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. They gathered a conclave to discuss the problem, for they were worried about the repercussions of what Jesus was doing. They realized if they left Him alone, many more people would believe, because of the miracles, and then the Romans would come and take away their positions and power and even the nation, as it would seem a threat to the Roman Empire with so many following Jesus.
Now Caiaphas was the high priest that year. There is some historical evidence that during this time towards the end of the second temple, the high priest, which was supposed to be a life-time position, was made to be an annual appointment by the king. It was more of a political position that could be purchased, and kept in families, not unlike our political families in the U.S. Caiaphas was not concerned about who Jesus was. He was concerned about the nation and his position. The first thing he does is to basically call the rest of them idiots, because they are even bothering to discuss who He is and what He is doing. These things bear no consideration at all, as far as he is concerned. The only expedient thing is to save the nation and quickly. It has come to such a crisis that the choice is between the nation and the man. And that means that the man has to die. What Caiaphas did not realize was that he was prophesying what was about to happen with Jesus. His death would indeed save (spiritually) the nation, but not only that nation of Israel, but all the nations. He would gather all believers of all nations together under Himself, even those who were of Israel and scattered abroad. From that day forward, they plotted as to how they might kill Him, for they knew there would be an outcry from among those who were His followers, and that group was growing. So Jesus no longer went openly among the Jews, but went to a place called Ephraim which was near the wilderness and away from Jerusalem. He continued to teach people there.
Instead of continuing on with the narrative in John, which now goes forward to the time right before the Passover, it is necessary to backtrack to that little aside that John included in narrative of Lazarus death. John 11:2 “(It was that Mary which anointed the Lord with ointment, and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick.)”
There is only one place in Scripture other than the event which John and the others describe as occurring just before Jesus rides into Jerusalem, where a woman anoints Jesus and wipes his feet with her hair. That event is found in Luke 7:30-50 “But the Pharisees and lawyers rejected the counsel of God against themselves, being not baptized of him. And the Lord said, Whereunto then shall I liken the men of this generation? and to what are they like? They are like unto children sitting in the marketplace, and calling one to another, and saying, We have piped unto you, and ye have not danced; we have mourned to you, and ye have not wept. For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine; and ye say, He hath a devil. The Son of man is come eating and drinking; and ye say, Behold a gluttonous man, and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners! But wisdom is justified of all her children. 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.”
This passage begins by telling us that the Pharisees and lawyers rejected the counsel of God and did not get baptized by John. Most of the ruling and upper classes did reject the idea that they needed to repent. They rejected that this message was sent against them. Jesus then asks to what should He liken them. He likens them to children who call out to other children asking them to come play party or wedding with them and they won't, so then say okay, then come play funeral, and they still won't. There is a refusal to play either type of games at all with the first little ones. He points out that John came very somber and ascetic, and slightly strange, and they said he had a demon, for he was so unusual and not really social. Then Jesus comes and is social and loving, and loved by many, helping lots of people and they find fault with him saying he is an over drinker of wine and food, and hangs out with sinners. He points out that neither John nor he would dance to their tune, but pointed out their sins to them, which of course they resented. But those who are wise recognize wisdom and truth, no matter how it is dressed, whether coming in the form of John the Baptist, or in the form of Jesus Christ.
One of the Pharisees decided he wanted to have more interaction with Jesus, so invites him to his house. While one might think that is because he is interested in actually learning more of the truth, it would appear from what follows that he was just doing it for curiosity's sake, but doesn't believe. So Jesus goes to his house, which being the house of a Pharisee would be an affluent one. We are told that a woman of the city, who was a known sinner (generally another way of saying she is an adulterer or prostitute) when she heard Jesus was in this man's house, came bringing with her an alabaster box of ointment. Standing behind Him while weeping (showing her repentant heart), she proceeds to wash His feet with her tears, drying them with her hair, then kisses and anoints them. While it doesn't give the woman's name, the passage in John clearly points to this having been Mary. This is the only place in the gospels where this story occurs, so there is no alternative but to believe it is Mary.
The Pharisee seeing this thinks to himself that if Jesus really were a prophet (the man doesn't even believe Jesus is a prophet much less the Son of God) He would not allow the woman to touch Him, for she is a sinner. Jesus knows even the man's thoughts and addresses him saying that He has something to say to him. The man's name is Simon, so he is Simon the Pharisee, an unbeliever. He tells Jesus to go ahead, for he can't imagine that there would be anything bad to say. Jesus then gives him a parable. He tells him of two debtors. One owed the creditor a lot and the other just a little. When neither could repay the debt, both were forgiven. The question is posed, who loves the creditor more? There is reluctance on Simon's part (“I suppose”) when giving the answer, for the point has been driven home. The one who has been forgiven a lot of sins, is going to love God far more than the one who feels he has nothing to really be forgiven.
Jesus acknowledges his answer as correct and then points out to him his total lack of proper hospitality and lack of respect for Jesus. He asks Simon if he realizes that the proper thing hospitality-wise was to have offered to wash Jesus feet or at least offer a pitcher of water and towel as was the custom of the day, since everyone wore sandals and walked dusty roads. He points out that this woman used her tears and hair to do what Simon should have done. Then He points out that Simon had not offered a kiss (it is the custom in that part of the world for everyone to greet others with a kiss on the cheek). That was more rudeness and contempt. This woman had kissed His feet, not the appendage on which most people would have put their lips. He points out that Simon had not anointed His head (another custom), but that this woman had taken her precious and valuable ointment and put it on His feet. She was humbling herself to not even get higher than Jesus feet, while Simon was all arrogance and contempt, having not even offered Jesus the customary hospitality.
Jesus then says that He will forgive her sins, even though they are many, for she loves Him greatly, but those who seek little forgiveness, also love the same way, with little love. His pronouncement to the woman that He was forgiving her sins got the group at dinner really stirred up, for they wondered who would be so arrogant or delusional to think that they could do something only God could do, forgive sins. The He tells the woman to go in peace, for her faith has saved her. Some scholars object to this being Mary, as they say Mary was not a sinner, she was the respected sister of Martha. But we are only shown a Mary who sits at Jesus feet, loving Him intensely. We do not know her history. We know that Mary loves Jesus very much, and that is how Jesus described the woman in the passage, plus the fact that Mary seems to love to be at Jesus feet, which is where we find the sinning woman, seems to imply that Mary was a sinner who has turned from her ways and is a new woman in Christ. It is because of this vast forgiveness that she loves Him so deeply.
Something that is of importance to note is that this woman, a known sinner in town, managed to gain entrance into of all places, a Pharisee's home. How on earth would this be possible? Simon didn't approve of Jesus letting her touch Him, so why would Simon allow her entrance into his home? The only thing that makes sense is that there was some connection between Simon and Mary that made her feel that she could walk into his home. This would seem to suggest that there is possibly a family connection here somehow.
It is important to pay attention to the details in this last passage, for it is because of this passage that we learn more about Martha and her family in the next few parallel passages.
John 12:1-13 “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. Much people of the Jews therefore knew that he was there: and they came not for Jesus' sake only, but that they might see Lazarus also, whom he had raised from the dead. But the chief priests consulted that they might put Lazarus also to death; Because that by reason of him many of the Jews went away, and believed on Jesus. On the next day much people that were come to the feast, when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, Took branches of palm trees, and went forth to meet him, and cried, Hosanna: Blessed is the King of Israel that cometh in the name of the Lord.”
Matthew 26:6-16 “ 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.”
Mark 14:3-10 “ 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.”
Starting with John, we see that six days before the Passover, Jesus went to Bethany. Martha made him a supper and Lazarus sat at the table. From this we would be led to believe that they were at Martha's house. The next thing to happen is that Mary takes a pound of ointment of spikenard, which is very costly. By today's standards three hundred pence would be anywhere between $25-28,000. That is some mighty expensive ointment. Probably about a year's wages for many people today. This indicates that there is wealth in this family. She anoints Jesus feet and wipes them with her hair. This is the same behavior we saw before in Simon the Pharisee's house. We do not hear of any objection from either Martha or Lazarus. At this point, Judas, who it turns out is apparently Simon the Pharisee's son, asks why the ointment hasn't been sold and the money given to the poor. We are told that he says this not because he is concerned about the poor, but that he is a thief and would like to get his hands on the money himself. He carries the group's money bag as it is.
Jesus basically tells Judas to back off, that Mary had saved this ointment against the day of His burial. But a corpse cannot appreciate such an expensive gift, so Mary is offering it in advance when Christ can appreciate her gift. Jesus tells Judas that the poor will always be there to give charity to, but He will only be with them a short while longer, so it is appropriate that she should do this.
Word had gotten out that Jesus was there, and people came to not only see Him but to also see Lazarus, the guy who was raised from the dead. This brought on the wrath of the chief priests who had not only been plotting to kill Jesus from the time He raised Lazarus, but now they wanted to kill the evidence of that miracle, Lazarus himself, because many people were believing on Jesus because of him. It was the very next morning that Jesus went into Jerusalem to commence His final purpose.
We now look to Matthew's telling of this same story. Now we are told a very interesting fact. Jesus is in the house of Simon the Leper. We then are told that a woman (whom we know to be Mary from John) comes with an alabaster box (just like the alabaster box from the previous time) of ointment and anoints Jesus' head. In John we are told it was His feet, and here it is His head that is mentioned. But there is no discrepancy in that. As in the first anointing, Mary here also anointed both Christ's feet and head. That was the custom. We do not have to choose between either/or. It is both. This time around Judas is not mentioned as being the only one to make a fuss over the “waste” of the oil when it could have been sold and the money given to the poor. It is possible that they all were quite shocked and murmured, but we know it was Judas who actually spoke out.
It would appear that Simon the Pharisee, who apparently did not believe in Jesus, has become Simon the Leper. Now there are commentators who say that he is called this because he was cured of his leprosy, but that is not the indication here. The indication is that Simon became a leper after the time when Mary anointed Jesus. As a leper he would be banished to the leper colony, not host a big dinner for Jesus. His lack of faith in whom Jesus was, would prevent Him being able to heal Simon. It was people's faith that made the difference in the healings.
Now we had guessed that Mary might be a relative of Simon the Pharisee due to her access to the affluent and prestigious house. Her having such expensive oil is another indication that there is a family tie here, as she probably got the money from the family coffers rather than her own bank account, as it were. What family connection could Mary have to Simon? We are told that Martha is the one doing the serving. Why would she be serving in someone else's house? An affluent Pharisee would surely have servants. It would appear that this then is also her house as she is acting as hostess. Is it possible that Martha was Simon's wife? That would explain Mary's entrance into Simon's house. She would have been his sister-in-law. It would explain why Martha is said to have her own house when we first meet the sisters when Martha complains to Jesus about her sister not helping out. Women would probably not tend to own their own house and have lots of money, which Martha seems to have had. The inheritance passed to the son, not to the wife. And we are told of all things, that Judas is Simon's son. As such he should have inherited if Simon were dead, but there is the key to the problem. Simon is not dead, he is a leper. And as such the inheritance does not yet pass to Judas. Martha still owns the house, because Simon is not dead. He's at the leper colony. Martha is affluent and Mary can afford that ointment of spikenard, because Simon was a Pharisee. Many Jews came out to grieve with the family when Lazarus died, because they were an influential and well-known family. All of this makes sense when put together. And it really explains Judas being very upset about the money spent, because that was his future inheritance that was being “wasted.” It would appear that since he is not called Martha's son, that he is her step-son, which would also make sense, as again, it seemed that Lazarus was somewhat younger, because of the way he was referred to as “the one Jesus loved,” so Martha and Mary were probably also fairly young. Simon was probably an older man, which again was a common custom for an older man to marry a young woman. Especially in a second marriage. It would also make sense that it was mention worthy that Lazarus was sitting at the table, for it is possible that he was now stepping up to be the man of the house, or host if he were a teenager. Or if he were a little boy, possibly he would not have normally been allowed to be at the grown-up table with the menfolk. Either way is a possibility. While this is all speculation based on deductive reasoning, it certainly would explain a lot.
Again in this narration we are told that Jesus tells them that they should not object for she is doing a good work for Him. She is doing this for His burial. He also states that this thing that she has done will never be forgotten and will be mentioned as a memorial wherever people read the Bible. And that is exactly what has happened.
I don't know if it was losing the costly ointment that set Judas off, but it seems that what happened here was the straw that broke the camel's back for him. He was apparently mad and wanting to get even. So he went to the chief priests and asked how much they would give him to betray Jesus.
Mark reiterates what has already been learned in the other gospels. Jesus went to the home of Simon the Leper, Mary anoints Him with costly oils that sets the disciples murmuring, Jesus rebukes them and tells them that she has done a good work for Him in that she is doing this for His burial, and this will be a memorial for her wherever the gospel is preached. Then Judas goes out make arrangements to betray Him.
So, while much cannot be proven outright, those puzzle pieces when fitted together do seem to fit well. It would appear that the story might run something like this.
Simon the Pharisee is married to Martha, who has a younger brother, Lazarus, and a sister, Mary, who is known in town for being a sinner. Simon hears Jesus preach and is a scoffer, but for his own amusement or for whatever reason, he invites Jesus home to dinner. Mary who has apparently heard about Jesus and believes in who He is comes to Simon and Martha's house where she, as a family member, could have gained entrance in spite of the fact that a Pharisee would probably never let a known sinner in his house. Mary repents of her sin. Simon on the other hand comes down with leprosy. He has to go off and live elsewhere, because his lack of faith prevents his being healed. Martha can then let Mary come live with her, as she is a changed woman. And Lazarus as the younger brother has a home with her too apparently, as when he dies, it is to this family, not the parents of the siblings, that people come and who have buried him. Jesus comes to visit after Simon is gone, and Martha gets upset that Mary, to whom she has given a respectable home, is not helping to do the work. Jesus is apparently a frequent visitor at this house as Martha seems to be on very familiar terms with Him. Lazarus gets sick and dies. Jesus comes and raises him from the dead. Just before Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey He goes and visits the family again. Mary again anoints Him with some very costly ointment which sets Judas, who is Simon's son, off on mission to get even with Jesus. That costly ointment coming out of his dad's pocket through Martha and Mary is his spent inheritance and it should not have been “wasted” on Jesus in his opinion. So he betrays Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. He's getting a little of the money “wasted” on Christ back through Christ.
Again, some of this is speculation based upon a deduction using the evidence given, like a forensic scientist would use evidence to re-enact a crime scene. You can't prove it without an eye witness, but certainly the hypothesis is sustained by the facts that are given. And it also makes logical sense in the face of problems such as how Martha came to be so very affluent with a house of her own and why her sister and brother were living with her.
This is just one of, no doubt, many stories that have much more to them when you put all the puzzle pieces together and read between the lines. Jesus used the parables to see who was really listening and could discern the truth and I believe God gives us much more information than is clearly out in the open to see who studies to learn more of the story and His Word.