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Monthly Archives: July 2013

A Woman to Remember

It was just days before the Passover, and the enemies of Jesus were busily plotting their treachery to bring about His death. Their concern was timing. Not during the approaching feast, they agreed, as it would cause an uproar among the people.

Jesus, knowing full well that His days were numbered, was in Bethany sharing a meal with His disciples in the home of Simon the leper. A woman approached him at the table, an alabaster flask in her hand. She broke open the thin neck of the vial and poured out its contents, a very expensive fragrant oil, anointing his head.

Her actions were met with harsh rebuke from the disciples. What a waste, they cried! Among some there was a tradition to give gifts to the poor on the eve of Passover. The sale of this ointment, possibly made from the rare nard plant from India, would have amounted to an impressive donation. Christ chided them for their angry indignation. It was obvious His disciples had missed the real import of this simple gesture.

Mark does not say who this woman was, but the account in the book of John shows that she was Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus. Jesus praised her deed as worthy for a memorial for generations to come.

What were the real lessons here? What did the disciples fail to see? Perhaps filling in some details will bring further understanding to this account.

An act of hospitality

It was a custom of the day to pour a few drops of perfume on a guest when he arrived or when he sat down at a meal, according to William Barclay’s commentary on the book of Mark. This woman was showing Jesus great honor, not with a few drops of ordinary perfume, but with the entire contents of a flask of precious ointment. The vial had been broken and nothing could be saved back. In this sense she gave her all unconditionally.

A foreshadowing

When a criminal was crucified, his body was tossed on a refuse pile for wild animals to devour. There would be no honor paid to the deceased—no professional mourners and no burial ministrations. Since Jesus was unjustly branded a criminal, it looked like His would be an ignominious end.

Barclay comments: “It was a custom in the East, first to bathe, then to anoint the bodies of the dead. After the body had been anointed, the flask in which the perfume had been contained was broken, and the fragments were laid with the dead body in the tomb.” This woman was foreshadowing events to come, namely His death and resurrection. He Himself affirmed, “For in pouring this fragrant oil on My body, she did it for My burial” (Matthew 26:12).

The eye of the beholder

When the disciples witnessed her act of adoration, their response was surprising. Instead of being touched or even humbled by her actions, they were angry! Ironically, they themselves failed to fully recognize the Man who sat before them and the sacrifice He was about to make. Did the woman herself comprehend the implications of her actions? Were Jesus’ words puzzling even to her? No one knows for sure, but in Jesus’ eyes, that deed was worthy to be preserved forever in the pages of the Bible.

The end of the story 

Joseph of Arimathaea Seeks Pilate to Beg Permi...

Joseph of Arimathaea Seeks Pilate to Beg Permission to Remove the Body of Jesus (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 Within days, the nefarious plot was brought to completion. Jesus conducted His last Passover and was betrayed by a chosen disciple, convicted by false testimony, scourged, crucified and buried in a tomb (by the intervention of Joseph of Arimathea, to fulfill prophecy).

When a few of His women disciples finally arrived with spices to anoint His dead body, He had already risen! But they needn’t have worried—a woman had already taken care of the anointing. And, as a result, in Jesus’ own words, “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 26:13).

(This post first appeared on the Godly Women Blog in April 8, 2011.)

A Hospitality of Believers

How would you like to host a church in your home?  A number of women in the early years of the church opened their homes for prayer, study, and worship, even when it was not easy to follow Jesus Christ.  Because there were no official meeting places for Christians, they met in various homes to worship and share their faith in Jesus Christ.

Also, Christians met privately because Jewish and Roman authorities persecuted many of the faithful (Acts 8:3, Acts 12). Stephen was murdered for his bold declaration of truth. The apostle James was beheaded as a leader of the church in Jerusalem. Christians in the early years of the church “were unprotected by any civil power, and exposed, therefore, to the full blaze and rage of persecution. That the church was not destroyed, was owing to the protection of God.”[1]

Courage of hospitality in troubled times

 Now about that time Herod the king stretched out his hand to harass some from the church. Then he killed James the brother of John with the sword. And because he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded further to seize Peter also…[and] put him in prison (Acts 12:1-4).

 Although it was at times dangerous for Christians in Jerusalem, Mary (the mother of John Mark) made her home a meeting place for believers. Mary’s house may have been where Jesus and the twelve disciples kept the Passover.[2] Tradition says the upper room of her home may have been where Jesus’ followers received the Holy Spirit on Pentecost (Acts 1:5, 12-13). After the apostle Peter’s miraculous release from prison, he made his way to Mary’s house to inform the believers who prayed for him there (Acts 12:5-16).

St. Mark Syriac inscription

St. Mark Syriac inscription (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

How long were Christians able to meet in Mary’s home? Was she among the believers “scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria” because of persecution? (Acts 8:1) Scripture doesn’t say what happened to Mary. Tourists in Jerusalem today can visit what is thought to be the location of her house. The 800-year-old St. Mark’s Syrian Orthodox Church is said “to be built over a much older structure.”[3] Visitors are told to “look for the ancient inscription carved into a stone wall, written in ancient Syriac language and said to date to the sixth century CE, the inscription states: This is the house of Mary, mother of John Mark.[4] 

Believers Hosting Churches

After Paul established congregations in Asia Minor, men and women converted to the faith, met in one another’s homes. Paul’s friends Priscilla and Aquila hosted a church in their home in Ephesus (1 Cor. 16:19) and later in Rome (Rom. 16:3-5). Paul mentioned facing a crisis in Ephesus and that Priscilla and Aquila saved his life. “Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, who risked their own necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles” (Romans 16:3-4).

Lydia, a successful businesswoman in Philippi, opened her home, which became “perhaps the first Christian church being formed therein [in Philippi].”[5] When Paul was miraculously released from prison, he went to Lydia’s home to encourage the believers there (Acts 16:40).

It is not clear if the host of the church in Laodicea was Nympha, a woman, or Nymphas, a man. “Most scholars agree that this person was a woman, Nympha,”[6] though nothing more is said of the individual. Apphia was probably the wife of Philemon and co-host of a home church in Colossae. Archippus, thought to be Philemon’s son, was the pastor of the Christians who met in their home (Col. 4:17). Phoebe, a leading member of the church in Corinth, hosted believers in her home in Cenchrea (Rom. 16:1).

It is probable that Christians followed the pattern of home churches for at least 300 years until Constantine made Christianity his official religion. The hundreds of men and women who hosted small groups of Christians in their homes comprised a “hospitality of believers.” They played an important part in spreading the gospel and strengthening the church.—Mary Hendren

[1] Barnes’ Online Commentary, note on Acts 8:3

[2] NKJV Study Bible, Second edition, note on Acts 1:13

[4] Same source

[5] Herbert Lockyer, All the Women of the Bible, p. 85.

[6] Theresa M. Doyle-Nelson, in “House Churches in the New Testament,”

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