A Sermon
Delivered on Lord's-Day Morning, March 22nd, 1868, by
At the Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington.


Provided by
Spurgeon Ministries
Bath Road Baptist Church

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"And, behold, a woman in the city, which was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at meat in the Pharisee's house, brought an alabaster box of ointment, and stood at his feet behind him weeping, and began to wash his feet with tears, and did wipe them with the hairs of her head, and kissed his feet, and anointed them with the ointment."
-- Luke 7:37, 38

THIS is the woman who has been confounded with Mary Magdalene. How the error originated it would not be easy to imagine, but error it certainly is. There is not the slightest shadow of evidence that this woman, who was a sinner, had even the remotest connection with her out of whom Jesus cast seven devils. In delivering you a sermon a few Sabbaths ago, upon the life of Mary of Magdala, I think I showed you that it was hardly possible, and most improbable, that she could have been a sinner in the sense here intended, and now I venture to affirm that there is as much evidence to prove that the woman, in the narrative now before us, was the Queen of Sheba, or the mother of Sisera, as that she was Mary Magdalene: there is not a figment or fraction of evidence to be found. The fact is, there is no connection between the two.

Further, the sinner before us is not Mary of Bethany, with whom so many have confounded her. Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus, did anoint our Saviour, but this is a previous anointing, by quite a different person, and the two narratives are altogether distinct. There is a great likeness, certainly, between the two. The principal persons were both women, full of ardent love to Christ; they both anointed the Lord with ointment; the name of Simon is connected with both, and they both wiped the Saviour's feet with their hair. But it ought not to astonish you that there were two persons whose intense affection thus displayed itself; the astonishment should rather be that there were not two hundred who did so, for the anointing of the feet of an honoured friend was by no means so uncommon a token of respect among the Orientals as to be an unprecedented marvel. Loved as Jesus deserved to be, the marvel is that he was not oftener visited with these generous tokens of human love. It is a pity to fuse two occasions into one, as though we grudged a double unction to the Anointed of the Lord. That both events should happen in the houses of persons named Simon is not at all remarkable: be it remembered that the one was Simon the Pharisee, and the other Simon the leper; and that Simon is one of the commonest of Jewish names; and that in our days, a thing having happened in the house of a John, and another thing like it in the house of another John, would not be remarkable, since Johns are exceedingly common amongst us, as were Simons in the days of our Lord. But that the two, or perhaps I should say three, anointings (for I am inclined to think there were three) are not the same is evident from the following reasons: they differ in time; our Lord lived at least six months after his anointing by this woman, and if you follow the narrative, you read in the very next chapter, "And it came to pass afterward, that he went throughout every city and village, preaching and showing the glad tidings of the kingdom of God: and the twelve were with him." But when Mary anointed him at Bethany, he said, "She did it for my burial;" and our Lord was then within a very few days of his crucifixion. The anointing by Mary, the sister of Lazarus, took place at Bethany (Matthew 26:6), but this occurred in Galilee, which is quite another quarter. Moreover, the fact itself was really a very different one, for although both women anoint Christ with ointment, yet there was a peculiar preciousness and power of perfume about the spikenard of the wealthier Mary, which is not mentioned in the ointment of this woman of a lower position in life. Mary, according to John (John 12:3), poured out a whole pound of the costly nard, but such is not said of the humble offering of the woman that was a sinner. Matthew tells us that a woman poured the ointment on his head, but this poor penitent is only said to have anointed his feet: tears are not mentioned in connection with Mary by either Matthew, Mark, or John, while they make a conspicuous feature in the love of the gracious mourner now before us. After the transaction there was an objection raised in both cases, but mark the great difference! In this case, Simon the Pharisee objected because she, being a sinner, was allowed to have such familiarity with the Lord; in the other case, no such objection was raised to the person, but Judas Iscariot objected to her having been so profuse and extravagant in the abundance and costliness of the anointing, and murmured, saying that this ointment might have been sold for much and given to the poor. If you confound these two occurrences, you not only make an egregious mistake, but you lose a precious lesson. This case now before us is the offering of a poor returning wanderer, who, under a deep sense of gratitude, brings the best she has to her Lord, and is accepted by his grace. In the case of Mary of Bethany, it was an advanced saint, one who had sat at Jesus' feet and heard of him, and had aforetime chosen the good part which should not be taken away from her, and she brings a costly tribute as the offering of her deep, sincere affection, which had grown and deepened by the receipt of many favours from his loving hand. The advanced believer is more bold than the new convert. She anoints his head when the other only anoints his feet, and she is not less loving, for if there be fewer tears there is a more costly spikenard. Jesus defended the penitent, and bade her go in peace; but in Mary's case there was no need to say, "Thy sins are forgiven," for she already possessed that priceless boon; our Lord, instead of merely defending, warmly eulogised her love, and declared, "Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached in the whole world, there shall also this, that this woman hath done, be told for a memorial of her." Thus much will suffice to show you that "the woman which was a sinner" is neither to be confounded with Mary of Magdala on the one hand, or Mary of Bethany on the other. Let us learn to read our Bibles with our eyes open, to study them as men do the works of great artists, studying each figure, and even each sweet variety of light and shade.

Too long have we been controverting on the threshold of the text, let us now lift the latch. Lo, on the table I see two savoury dishes, let us feed thereon. Here are two silver bells, let us ring them; their first note is Grace, and the second tone is Love.

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