The Scriptorium

A Beautiful Work, and an Ugly One

Two works, one focus. Matthew 26.6-16

Matthew 26: Arrested (2)

Pray Psalm 27.4-6.
One thing I have desired of the LORD,
That will I seek:
That I may dwell in the house of the LORD
All the days of my life,
To behold the beauty of the LORD,
And to inquire in His temple.
For in the time of trouble
He shall hide me in His pavilion;
In the secret place of His tabernacle
He shall hide me;
He shall set me high upon a rock.
And now my head shall be lifted up above my enemies all around me;
Therefore I will offer sacrifices of joy in His tabernacle;
I will sing, yes, I will sing praises to the LORD.

Sing Psalm 27.4-6.
(Joanna: Immortal, Invisible, God only Wise)
One thing we request but to dwell with You, Lord,
Your beauty to test and to think on Your Word.
In trouble You hide us secure in Your grace;
no foe may o’erride us: We sing of Your praise!

Read Matthew 26.1-16; meditate on verses 6-16.

1. How did Jesus describe what the woman did for Him?

2. Why did Judas betray Jesus to the religious leaders?

We know from John 12.1-8 that Mary of Bethany, the sister of Martha and Lazarus, anointed Jesus. We also know, from that same passage, that the disciple inciting the grumbling at that time was Judas. Surely we can expect that he was cheerleading the complaining here, too.

Here is a microcosm of the world we live in: The purest, humblest beauty exists in close proximity to the most self-centered ugliness imaginable.

And the focus of each is Jesus.

This is probably a different woman, since Mary’s anointing occurred six days before the Passover, even before Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, and she is reported to have anointed His feet, not His head (as here). This seems to have happened on the day of the Passover meal.

Did the woman know that she was “pouring this fragrant oil” on Jesus to prepare Him for His burial (v. 12)? We don’t know; but that’s how Jesus interpreted it. If she did know, then she was one of the few disciples who understood why Jesus had come and what He was about to do.

The aroma of the “fragrant oil”, poured over the head of Jesus, surely would have filled the house, attracting the attention of everyone there. (Was Paul thinking of this incident in 2 Cor. 2.15, 16?) Jesus said she did a “good work” for Him (v. 10, ἔργον καλὸν, ergon kalon). This could also be translated a “beautiful” work, which it surely was, as most in the house would have experienced it as pleasant, even delightful. But as a work of beauty – like all true works of beauty – it points beyond itself to the one true Beautiful One. So significant was the woman’s gesture, that Jesus made a point of telling us that this self-denying act of beauty would always accompany the telling of the Gospel (v. 13). It reminds us that the Gospel is the beautiful thing, because it connects us with the Beautiful One.

Meanwhile, Judas fumed. In a snit, he left the gathering and went to the religious leaders, intent on getting something for himself out of this whole Jesus thing (vv. 14-16). After all, since he’d lost the opportunity to pilfer any proceeds from the sale of the fragrant oil (Jn. 12.6), he’d get what he wanted by some other course. His betrayal of Jesus ranks as one of the ugliest acts in all of human history. We’ll see those thirty pieces of silver again, once they’ve fulfilled their purpose in the history of redemption.

The woman’s offering is an act we’re all capable of, in the power of God’s Spirit, using beautiful and good works to point others to Jesus. But Judas’ ugly betrayal is also within our reach, unless we guard our souls against self-interest or the fear of men.

1. Why do people experience “good” and “beautiful” as desirable things?

2. How can we keep from being led into sin by self-serving motives?

3. How would you counsel a new believer to prepare each day to live for things good and beautiful, and to avoid things ugly and self-serving?

The ointment with an agreeable odor represents what the faithful do for God. This very work of the faithful of God, which is ointment, becomes something else for the good of humanity—for instance, almsgiving, visits to the sick, welcoming strangers, humility, gentleness, pardon, and so forth. These are things that benefit human beings.
Origen (185-254), Commentary on Matthew 77

Lord, give me grace to do beautiful work today, work that points to You, as I…

Pray Psalm 27.1-3, 7-14.
Wait on the Lord in prayer, until you see more of His beauty and realize more of His strength. Seek His face, then ask Him to guide and strengthen you for the day ahead.

Sing Psalm 27.1-3, 7-14.
Psalm 27.1-3, 7-14 (Joanna: Immortal, Invisible, God only Wise)
Lord, You are our Light and our Savior most dear!
You guard us with might; therefore, whom shall we fear?
Though evil surround us, our enemies fall;
no harm shall confound us when on You we call.

Hear, Lord, when we cry and be gracious, we pray!
Lord, do not deny us Your favor this day!
Our help, our salvation, though others may fall,
preserve our good station when on You we call.

Lord, teach us; Lord, lead us because of our foes!
Hear, Lord, when we plead for release from their woes.
Had we not believed all Your goodness to see,
our heart sorely grieved and in turmoil would be.

Wait, wait on the Lord; persevere in His grace.
Hold fast to His Word; seek His radiant face.
Be strong, set your heart to abide in His Word;
His grace He imparts; therefore, wait on the Lord.

T. M. Moore

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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. All quotations from Church Fathers from
Ancient Christian Commentary Series, General Editor Thomas C. Oden (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2006). All psalms for singing are from The Ailbe Psalter (available by clicking here).


T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in Essex Junction, VT.
Books by T. M. Moore