We are on the last leg of our 31 Days of Prayer! This week, the Daily Prayer Guide follows Holy Week, the final days of Jesus leading up to his crucifixion. Of course, we know that the days of Holy Week aren't really his final days – that's the celebration of Easter we're all eagerly moving toward.
But this last week could be a little difficult as you look to turn narrative sections of scripture into prayer. So lets take a look at today's text and turn it into prayer based on the guiding questions listed on the Prayer Guide.
MATTHEW 26:1-14 (CSB)
1 When Jesus had finished saying all these things, he told his disciples, 2 “You know that the Passover takes place after two days, and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified.” 3 Then the chief priests and the elders of the people assembled in the courtyard of the high priest, who was named Caiaphas, 4 and they conspired to arrest Jesus in a treacherous way and kill him. 5 “Not during the festival,” they said, “so there won’t be rioting among the people.” 6 While Jesus was in Bethany at the house of Simon the leper, 7 a woman approached him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume. She poured it on his head as he was reclining at the table. 8 When the disciples saw it, they were indignant. “Why this waste? ” they asked. 9 “This might have been sold for a great deal and given to the poor.” 10 Aware of this, Jesus said to them,“Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a noble thing for me. 11 You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me. 12 By pouring this perfume on my body, she has prepared me for burial. 13 Truly I tell you, wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.” 14 Then one of the Twelve, the man called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests 15 and said, “What are you willing to give me if I hand him over to you? ” So they weighed out thirty pieces of silver for him. 16 And from that time he started looking for a good opportunity to betray him.
1: Read slowly and imagine the scene in your mind. Smells, sights, sounds, etc.
I know it doesn't seem like there is much there in verses one and two to imagine, but don't over look Jesus' words and how they would have landed on the disciples. "I'm going to be crucified in a few days." What would go through your mind if you heard that? I remember well the emotions and feelings when my mother-in-law sat down with the family and told us she had stage 4 cancer. She wasn't going to die in a few days, but the feelings of helplessness, disbelief, cynicism ("that can't be right, someone is wrong here"), and fear all start swirling.
In verse 6, imagine the disciples being very uncomfortable in the home of a man with a contagious disease. Fidgeting, keeping their distance, secretly wiping down the plates and utensils Simon has touched.
Then, I hear them clearing their throats to get Jesus' attention as this woman approaches unannounced, uninvited. Then she does the unthinkable – touches the head of a man that's not her husband, and Jesus doesn't flinch or withdraw or condemn. The smell of the perfume pervades the whole room. It's strong. They recognize it. It's expensive. Hear the disciples angrily start to whisper and even make rude comments out loud. "Not only are you overstepping your bounds in touching the Teacher, you are obnoxious. If you didn't want the perfume, sell it and give us the money!" Hear Jesus' kindness to her extended to the disciples. "Hey now. She is worshiping me with what she has. One day even you guys will look back on this moment and tell others about it."
Even after she leaves, Jesus' carries the aroma of her anointing the rest of the night.
2: Look at Jesus. What is he doing? Saying? Who is he interacting with?
- v1,2: He is predicting his death (even the specifics of it being a crucifixion) to his disciples.
- v6-13: He is at the house of a leper, a cultural outcast. Leprosy refers to various contagious skin diseases, some of which are pretty gross. The Law of Moses instructed lepers to live outside the camp or city, until they were healed or it went away. As people approached, they were to yell "Unclean!" in order to help others stay away. This makes modern social distancing look like a walk in the park. Whether Simon still has leprosy, or he was healed at one point the text doesn't say. But in either case, it's Simon's identity. He is known as Simon the leper, and here is the Son of God sitting in Simon's home eating dinner with him.
- v7: a woman walks in unannounced. Teachers and rabbis don't interact with women, yet Jesus is approachable and welcoming. He's not resisting her, even though her actions indicate a less than reputable occupation. Apparently he doesn't even speak.
- v10-13: He defends the woman and her actions against the disciples indignant reaction. Tells them to leave her alone. Tells them that what she's doing is something in line with what Jesus just told them – that he would die. This is part of the burial preparation.
3: How are the people in this passage experiencing Jesus? How are they responding to him? Can you relate to their response?
You have several characters in the story here, and each have a unique reaction/response to Jesus:
- v3 – The chief priests and elders: These are the pastors, deacons, preachers; the religious. They are open books in these verses, meaning it's not difficult to see what they are thinking. They want Jesus dead. They conspire behind closed doors how they will arrest Jesus and kill him. They are completely drunk on power in the eyes of the people, though. They know if they do this during the Passover Festival, they are doing to incite a riot. So they'll wait until they are in the clear.
- v6 – Simon the leper: He may have been healed by Jesus at one point? He may have heard the stories of other lepers being healed by Jesus, and was hoping that inviting Jesus over for a meal would give him good favor and Jesus would thank him for dinner by healing him? Or maybe Jesus just walked up to his house, knocked on the door and said, "We'd like to eat here." The text doesn't say. What we know is that Simon responded to Jesus by inviting him to come in.
- v7 – The woman: Other gospels give a little more identification details to this woman, but we're sticking with Matthew's account. Her response to Jesus is one of adoration and worship. We don't know if she is wealthy and this perfume is one bottle in 100 in her possession, or if this is the equivalent of someone emptying their life savings on his head. Either way, she willingly gave up something costly in order to express what he was worth.
- v8 – The disciples: While they are not responding to Jesus here, the fact that they have followed him into the home of a leper says something. They are probably not sure how this all fits into him being the Messiah who overthrows Rome with an iron fist, but they are sold on him and willing to follow him literally anywhere.
- v14 – Judas Iscariot: Judas is very clearly and intentionally defined as "one of the Twelve." He watched this whole scene take place, and something devilish happened to him; betrayal entered his mind as a viable option to pick up some extra cash. Where the woman gave what she in order to gain Jesus, Judas was willing to use Jesus to gain what he didn't have.
Can you relate to these responses? Well, I think I've shared all of them! I've been Judas, using Jesus to get what I want. I've quoted scripture to my kids to get them to obey, or thought that if I did something amazing for God he should bless me. I've been the chief priests, where I thought my position on church staff or as a pastor should earn me some perks (power) in other areas of life. I've also been the woman and the leper, where I felt completely unworthy of Jesus' presence in my life. I've carried the guilt and shame of sin, felt the sting of condemnation from others, and found Jesus to be fully approachable and welcoming.
4: Jesus came to bring the kingdom of heaven to earth. Try to identify an aspect of the kingdom
(From the options listed on the prayer guide) – I'm just choosing a few, although there are certainly more
- The kingdom isn't only for the strong, it's open to anyone who will believe regardless what culture says
- Jesus is a treasure worth losing everything to find – You know the kingdom had found the woman, because she had found the treasure worth losing everything (riches, dignity, etc)
- The Kingdom isn't stopped by hellish attempts –even from religious leaders and Jesus' own followers – Man, if that isn't the best news ever!
- Not everyone gets it – One of the signs of the kingdom is division. Some don't stop till they find the treasure; others look to make sure the treasure stays buried.
5: Turn the scripture into prayer
Father God, your son Jesus is a clear mirror reflection of who you are, sent from heaven to reveal your heart for us. In Christ, we see you are approachable, compassionate, and gracious. You don't turn away anyone who comes to you, no matter what labels the world has put on them. You also don't answer to the same cultural or religious hierarchies we do. Jesus, you are a treasure worth losing everything in this life to find, and yet I confess my slowness to search for you. I confess that most days, productivity or simply avoiding boredom are greater treasures to me than you. I will go to great lengths for the treasures of entertainment, comfort, and people's applause, and leave the greatest Treasure of all still buried in my day. Have mercy on me, O God! Forgive me!
Lord Jesus, I know that because you went in to the leper and you not only welcomed but defended this woman, that you defend me as well. That you are not ashamed of me. My past sins don't disqualify me from coming to you – they only disqualify me if I refuse to come. Thank you for forgiving me 100% of each and every sin, and inviting me to come to you – scars and all.
I pray for those other families who live on my street, Lord. If they are the chief priests who are hostile to Jesus; if they are Judas, currently selling their souls for some other treasure; if they are full of guilt and shame, would you “grant them repentance and the knowledge of the truth, so that they may escape from the snare of the devil” (2 Timothy 2:25–26). And Father, if they are Simon the leper or the woman, who have found you to be the Treasure worth losing everything to find, would you strengthen them and encourage them in you today.
Lord, would you allow me to have a gospel-centered interaction today and when it happens, please fill me with your Spirit. In the name of your son Jesus I pray, Amen.