What’s In A Name?

“While Jesus was in Bethany in the home of Simon the Leper,… ”

I’ve read Matthew 26 plenty of times, and skimmed right over verse 6 on the way to the “good part”—where an unnamed woman anoints Jesus with an alabaster jar of expensive perfume. But as often happens when I reread familiar passages, this time the Holy Spirit pointed out something I’d missed before.

Simon the Leper. This man, who surely had other, more positive aspects to his person, was known to everyone as “Simon the Leper.” His disease defined him.

We don’t know much about this man. While other Simons are mentioned in Scripture—Simon must have been a fairly common name—this particular one is only mentioned here and when the same story is told in Mark 14. Jesus and his disciples were eating at his house, so he must have had the means to feed them all.

Did Jesus heal his leprosy? We don’t know. I would like to think so, since he’s clearly interested enough in Jesus to invite him home for dinner, but neither Matthew nor Mark tell us for certain. All we know is that this man had leprosy.

On the other hand, there is the woman with the expensive perfume. We never learn her name, but we can infer much from her actions. She interrupts dinner, creating a disturbance that was socially totally unacceptable. She breaks an expensive urn, then dumps the contents over Jesus’ head.

What a mess! I can just see Jesus sitting there, reeking of Eau de Galilee, liquid dripping down his hair, through his beard, into his food.

What a smell! It may be pricy perfume, but have you ever broken a perfume bottle? Even if it’s your favorite scent, too much is too much.

I find it interesting that the disciples don’t complain about any of that. They’re more concerned about money. “This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor.” Sounds pretty righteous, doesn’t it? But they’re putting their ministry ahead of their love for God. Oops.

Jesus, never one to miss a teaching opportunity, publicly praises her and says that all through history she will be known for her love for him. We never learn the name her parents gave her, but we know something far more important: she fervently loved Jesus.

Reading this story, I began to wonder… how do I see myself? Like Simon, am I defined by one negative name? “Leslie the Klutz”? “Leslie the Nerd”? Or maybe “Leslie who can’t get anything right” or “Leslie who will never succeed.” It’s so easy to be limited by our self-perception!

Instead, could I be known for something more positive? “Leslie who takes pretty good photos” or “Leslie who is finally managing to stick to an exercise program.” How about “Leslie the Good Friend” or “Leslie the Faithful”? No, I’m not perfect, but is it all right to focus on who I want to become?

Could I ever be known for my love of Jesus?

What about you?

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