Spy Wednesday and the Unexpected Meaning of Our Work

By Mark D. Roberts

April 1, 2015

“By pouring this ointment on my body she has prepared me for burial.”

Matthew 26:12


When I was a boy, nobody told me today was Spy Wednesday. If they had, I might have been more interested in what happened to Jesus on the Wednesday before his death. After all, what young boy isn’t fascinated by spies? But, in my Christian upbringing, the Wednesday before Easter was simply known as Wednesday. In some traditions it’s called Holy Wednesday, but I doubt that would have engaged my juvenile imagination. No, if they wanted my attention, they should have told me it was Spy Wednesday.

I’m not kidding about this name. Among many Christians, the Wednesday of Holy Week is really called Spy Wednesday. Why? Because on this day, Judas Iscariot began his “spying” mission by colluding with the officials in Jerusalem (Matt 26:14-16). Before this happened, Jesus was dining in nearby Bethany at the house of Simon the leper. During the meal, a woman anointed Jesus’s head with costly ointment. This distressed Jesus’s disciples, who wished that the ointment had been sold and the money given to the poor. But Jesus responded to them by saying, “Why do you trouble the woman? She has performed a good service for me” (Matt 26:10). The Greek of this verse reads more literally, “She worked a good work for me.”

Matthew does not explain why the woman did this. Since anointing the heads of eminent guests was commonplace in her culture, surely she sought to honor Jesus. The costliness of the perfume suggests an extravagant, sacrificial gesture of devotion. Jesus received this gesture gladly, defending the woman’s use of expensive perfume by describing what she did as a “good work [kalon ergon].” The Greek could also be rendered, “beautiful deed.”

But Jesus added something more, something unexpected, something puzzling and disconcerting to those reclining with him at table: “By pouring this ointment on my body she has prepared me for burial” (Matt 26:12). In Jewish culture, bodies to be buried were often “seasoned” with pungent spices and perfumes in order to mask the smell of decay. Jesus, knowing that his death was approaching, saw in the woman’s “good work” something far more than she had intended, something strange and wonderful. Something that would be remembered centuries later.

This story reminds me that we may never know the ultimate meaning or value of our work. Yet, like the woman in this story, we have the opportunity to offer our work to Jesus, to honor him in all we do. Even if our daily work doesn’t seem to have much “spiritual” value, we imitate the woman in Matthew 26 by giving our work to Jesus as a token of our faithfulness and devotion. He receives our offering with gladness.

Today, I want to do my work for Jesus, seeking to honor him in all that I do, trusting him to discern the ultimate meaning and value of my work.


No matter what you do for work each day, do you offer it to Jesus? Why or why not? Does it feel to you that some of your work isn’t worthy as an offering? How do you think Jesus feels about your work? Do you believe that your work might have kingdom value beyond what you recognize? Are you ready to offer to Jesus all of your work today?


Lord Jesus, thank you for this tender story about the woman who anointed you with such expensive perfume. Thank you for her example of good and beautiful work. Thank you for receiving her offering. Thank you for seeing in her work something more than she had intended. Thank you, Lord, for knowing that you were heading to the cross and preparing yourself for this ultimate sacrifice.

May I imitate this woman as I work today. Help me to see all I do as an offering to you. May every gesture, every action, every word, every conversation honor you. I may not know the ultimate meaning of my work today, but you do, and that’s enough for me. So receive my work, Lord, as an expression of my devotion to you. Amen.

Mark D. Roberts

Senior Strategist

Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders,...

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