Simon the Leper: The Art of Losing
"While [Jesus] was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on [Jesus’] head." Mark 14:3 NIV
Many of us have heard this story multiple times. We've been taught the importance of pouring our 'riches' out to God, that God's forgiveness changes everything, and not to judge like the Pharisees did.
While I agree with all three of these lessons, I'm wondering about someone in this story that isn't mentioned very often - Simon the Leper.
Many commentaries will say that when Jesus came to visit, Simon no longer had leprosy. Due to Mosaic Law, anyone with leprosy was forced to live alone and outside of populated areas (see Leviticus 13:46).
And because Simon was a Pharisee (see John 7) who would more than likely obey the law, scholars assume that since he was in a town with many other people he must have been previously cured, maybe even by Jesus himself.
I can't say whether or not the scholars are correct. But, I would still like to offer a different picture.
"Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor...Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume." John 12:1-3 NIV, emphasis mine
In John's account of this story, he points out the fact that this is also the house where Lazarus lived. That means that Simon and Lazarus lived together.
Jesus had recently raised Lazarus from the dead and although there weren’t any specific Mosaic laws regarding those who return from the dead (I mean, why would there be?) death was considered unclean. And unclean people were sent away from the communities, just like the lepers.
I doubt clean, healthy, law-abiding people would be rushing over to Lazarus’ house. So if Simon did, in fact, have leprosy, the house where the dead man lived would be the perfect place to hide.
Why all this detail? Because, as read through this story the other day the Holy Spirit illuminated a specific detail - a detail that would matter to a man who has leprosy.
"While [Jesus] was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on [Jesus’] head." Mark 14:3 NIV, emphasis mine
It is believed that nard, also known as spikenard, was a type of oil used to treat skin diseases - including leprosy. That means that Simon watched as the oil he desperately needed was poured out to the very last drop. (Cue the drama!)
Can you imagine being Simon? Can you imagine what he was thinking as he lost all hope? Can you imagine what he was feeling as the oil slid out of the jar onto Jesus, eventually dripping onto the dusty floorboards?
That oil, worth over a year's wages, would have been the most valuable thing to him - more valuable than life itself - and it was wasted on a man who didn’t need it, by a woman who didn’t deserve it.
Maybe you don’t need to imagine. Maybe, like Simon, your hope is in something that seems just out of reach.
A raise to solve your debt problems, a boyfriend to take your loneliness away, physical healing for your son, more time for yourself - you keep waiting for it to arrive thinking it will solve all your problems.
You cling to it. You strive towards it. You pray for it. But it just never comes.
But sometimes we have to lose what we think we need before we can gain what we actually need. Sometimes our hope needs to be lost before true hope is found. That’s the art of losing and that’s exactly what Jesus was about to teach Simon.
"Then [Jesus] turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair.You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet.”" Luke 7:44-46 NIV, emphasis mine
Mary poured everything out to Jesus, but Simon held back. She knew Jesus was all she ever needed, but Simon held on to his ‘somethings’ with clenched fists. And until his needs were no longer being met by his ‘somethings’, he would never be able to encounter the blessings that come only from God.
Our minds can become so engulfed in what we see that we begin to think those things are our lifeline. We forget that our everything comes only from Jesus. We forget that with Him we lacking nothing. So we clench our fists, just like Simon, and hold on to what's tangible.
However, when we let go and place our full hope in Christ, it is in that moment that we position ourselves to receive. We can't take when our hands are already full. It's only in the emptiness that we can ask to be filled.
This type of thinking was common for Jesus. He taught the art of losing many times throughout His ministry life. He told the rich man to sell all his possessions (Matthew 19:21). He commended the widow for offering all she had to live on (Luke 21:4).
He taught His disciples the importance of losing their life and taking up their cross. But the art of losing is just that - an art. We have to learn how.
When my son was diagnosed with a non-life-threatening illness, he was only a week old. Little did I know that this would soon turn into a monster of stress.
Sleepless nights, long days – my life looked like a recycle symbol. I was going around and around and around through the same routine and frustrations every single day.
I probably Googled every kind of remedy out there and I tried almost every one. I demanded my way into a specialist’s office, I spent more money then I’d like to fathom on treatments and formulas and special equipment to try and help.
My heart ached watching my little baby scream in pain. My mind worried it would never end. And my soul raged at God for not fixing it already.
Eventually, my ideas were exhausted and since nothing was getting better, I had to face the reality that this might just be the way it always was.
So, I had to make a choice. Was I going to let my circumstances hinder me? Or would I put my full trust and hope in God alone?
I chose the latter, but it wasn’t much of a choice because there were no other options.
See, it’s when our oil, our ‘something’, gets poured out –voluntarily on our own or forcefully through life’s circumstances – that we learn to let Christ be our everything. We learn to let go of all that hinders us. And we learn that what we lost was actually nothing compared to the glory we will receive through Christ.
“But all these things that I once thought very worthwhile—now I’ve thrown them all away so that I can put my trust and hope in Christ alone. Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the priceless gain of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. I have put aside all else, counting it worth less than nothing, in order that I can have Christ.” Philippians 3:7-8 TLB
I wonder if once Simon learned these same truths, Jesus then reached out His hand and healed Simon. I can only speculate since the Bible doesn't tell us the end of that story, but I like to imagine it that that way.
I like to imagine Simon giving Jesus everything. I like to imagine a newfound freedom and wonder in Simon’s eyes as he gazed at his Savior.
I like to imagine all the weight Simon previously carried, sliding off of Simon onto Jesus, poured out to the very last drop. And Simon, left with nothing, now gaining everything in return.
Are you reading to lose? You never know what you might gain.