A Leper’s Legacy


3 And while he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he was reclining at table, a woman came with an alabaster flask of ointment of pure nard, very costly, and she broke the flask and poured it over his head. 4 There were some who said to themselves indignantly, “Why was the ointment wasted like that? 5 For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor.” And they scolded her. 6 But Jesus said, “Leave her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. 7 For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you want, you can do good for them. But you will not always have me. 8 She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for burial. 9 And truly, I say to you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.”
(Mar 14:3-9 ESV)

The 14th chapter of Mark records an incident which I find to be more fascinating every time I read it. I am talking about the story of the woman (John says it’s Mary, Lazarus’ sister) who anointed Jesus with expensive ointment, not long before He would ride into Jerusalem and subsequently be crucified. There are many things about this story that are interesting, the amount and type of ointment used, the grumbling of the disciples about the poor judgment in using the ointment, the fact that Jesus says she was preparing His body for burial, and so many others. But what sticks out to me this time is that the Scriptures record the name of the person whose house they were celebrating in: it is Simon The Leper’s house! Now we hear about several different Simons in the Bible, and they are identified in varying ways, but this particular man is recorded as being known as THE LEPER. For more than 2000 years now, this poor guy, no matter what else he may have done or been (maybe he was a craftsman, or a builder or a shepherd or maybe just a really great friend or conversationalist… it doesn’t matter) he is pegged forever as Simon the leper.

Leprosy is a terrible disease, and granted, the Bible uses the term leprosy to refer to a number of different skin ailments, but that doesn’t really make this title any better. I mean would we think more of the guy if the Bible called him Simon the pimpled, or Eczematous Simon? I somehow doubt it. We all have traits that we don’t care for or maybe traits that we just can’t do anything about so we have become OK with them, but these are not the traits by which we wish to be defined. Put yourself in Simon’s place. Whose house would the Bible have referred to if Jesus was eating at your place? I would love to think that if it were me, the Bible would have mentioned that it was the house of Aaron the wise or Aaron the valiant, or at least Aaron the carpenter or something like that. Preferably it wouldn’t have been Aaron the baldy or halitosis Aaron. But that’s what Simon got saddled with…He was and is and always will be The Leper.

So why did God want this included in Scripture, what purpose does it serve in this story? After all, Simon the Leper is only mentioned twice in Scripture and both times in connection with this event. Why mention him at all? It becomes even more interesting as we look at the end of this story and see that Jesus responds to the disciples by saying of the woman who anoints him, “And truly, I say to you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.” (Mar 14:9 ESV) But the fact is, whenever the story is told about her, Simon the Leper’s name tends to come up as well. Why is that? Or is it just an insignificant fact that we need not worry about? Possibly, but I’m not very good at ignoring details, so I want to look at it a little closer.

The story is about Jesus. The story is about His being anointed. There are many arguments that can be made and scholarly debates which can be held regarding the significance of this anointing, but I am going to just go with what Jesus said about Mary’s anointing Him: “she has done a beautiful thing”, “She has done what she could”, and “she has anointed my body for burial” . Jesus receives the event as a beautiful act of worship, an act of worship in which Mary literally poured out all her best for Jesus. This act of worship was not practical in human terms, it was not normal or traditional, and, no matter how extravagant, it was not sufficient to proclaim the majesty of Jesus. And yet, Jesus not only receives it, but praises it.

We can get some pretty silly ideas of what worship should or should not look like. I hear arguments all of the time over how worship should look, or sound or smell. We talk about the proper formats and places for worship, and what should be included and not included. We talk about how people should dress and present themselves. But here, in this instance, the act of worship which Jesus praises, is one which did not look like what people were used to. It was one that was WAAAAY overboard. And it was one which took place in the house of a man who is known simply as the leper: or in other words, the unclean. Many scholars would point out “well, he would have to have been a HEALED leper, and that was probably how Jesus developed this relationship”. That’s all fine and good, but healed or not, The Bible, God’s word reminds us not of this man’s cleanness, but of his unclean history. The Bible shows us that it is in the home of the one known as unclean, that Jesus came to eat and stay. It is in the home of the leper, where Jesus finds the most remarkable and praiseworthy form of worship he had encountered.

This is good news for anyone who has ever felt unclean, or unworthy. This is good news for anyone who has ever felt that maybe they didn’t know the right way to worship, or whether God would even listen to their prayer or praises. This is good news for Aaron the baldy, whose traits and faults should land me far short of Jesus’ love and fellowship. Jesus comes to the leprous, the pimpled, the bald, the fat, the short the sinful and unclean, and he receives our impractical and outrageous, and imperfect worship as if it were a beautiful symphony even though it is being played on broken instruments.

So what is the point? If you have been worried about whether your worship was right or proper, if you have been wondering if God saw you as Frank the faithful or Betty the good steward, rest assured, the answer is no. He sees you and me as the unclean filthy house that has been made glorious, because Jesus came to visit and stay. If you find yourself thinking that a sanctuary is more appropriate than a warehouse for proper worship, if you find yourself thinking that the places and forms of worship that we have always been accustomed to are the ones which God finds most pleasing, you might want to read this story again, and pay attention to the group that Jesus is scolding. (also look at Jeremiah 6:20, Amos 5:21-22, and Matthew 12:1-8) Jesus desires for us to pour out all we have into worshipping Him. It may look silly to some, it may sound like something we never heard before, but in His ears, when we pour out all we have into an extravagant and unbridled praise acknowledging Jesus as our crucified and risen Lord and King, we anoint Him with an anointing that He calls beautiful. A beautiful anointing where we, like Mary, have simply done what we can.

God’s peace be yours

Pastor Aaron