In Victor Hugo’s novel, “Les Miserables,” Jean Valjean became a changed man. Valjean was an ex-convict having served fifteen years in a galley. When released Valjean was rejected by society. He found shelter in the manse of Bishop Myriel. Valjean betrayed the bishop and stole his silverware. Apprehended by police Valjean faced a life sentence aboard a galley. The betrayed bishop intervened, though, and insisted that he gave Valjean the silverware. The bishop then insisted that Valjean take two silver candlesticks, also. Bishop Myriel’s loving, generous action transformed Valjean who eventually became a prominent businessman and an asset to society.
Many Christians reject the doctrine of total depravity—that people are essentially evil. Most of us though, understand the concept of sin. We have experienced guilt and shame first hand. We have realized that we are not the people we want to be, nor what God wants us to be. Thankfully we also have received forgiveness and continued love from God and from others. Those gifts have given us new life.
The gospel writer uses the woman’s anointing of Jesus as a foreshadowing of Jesus’ death and hurried burial. In Luke’s gospel the writer uses a similar scene to illustrate a person’s reaction to God’s unconditional forgiveness. Jesus’ execution looms before him. It is the cost of Jesus’ extravagant love. Motivated by such love, the woman responds with a costly ointment. Reading this story challenges us to ponder our response to the cross of Christ.
While he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he sat at the table, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very costly ointment of nard, and she broke open the jar and poured the ointment on his head. But some were there who said to one another in anger, “Why was the ointment wasted in this way? For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii, and the money given to the poor.” And they scolded her. But Jesus said, “Let her alone; why do you trouble her? She has performed a good service for me. For you always have the poor with you, and you can show kindness to them whenever you wish; but you will not always have me. She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for its burial. Truly I tell you, wherever the good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.”