Mark 14: 1 – 11 Jesus anointed at Bethany
Now the Passover and the Festival of Unleavened Bread were only two days away, and the chief priests and the teachers of the law were scheming to arrest Jesus secretly and kill him. ‘But not during the festival,’ they said, ‘or the people may riot.’
While he 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 his head.
Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, ‘Why this waste of perfume? It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor.’ And they rebuked her harshly.
‘Leave her alone,’ said Jesus. ‘Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial. Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.’
Then Judas Iscariot, one of the Twelve, went to the chief priests to betray Jesus to them. They were delighted to hear this and promised to give him money. So he watched for an opportunity to hand him over.
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The first and the last paragraphs of this passage tell the story of the chief priests and teachers of the law as they plot to have Jesus killed. It is a story of malice and treachery, with one of Jesus’ own inner circle betraying him.
These paragraphs frame a story that I think is one of the most touching in the whole bible; the story of the woman who anointed Jesus with perfume made from pure nard.
For a woman, and not even a family member, to pour oil onto Jesus’ head in public was an outrageous act. The watchers would have been scandalised by it. Jesus did nothing to stop her, so the onlookers couldn’t really criticise the act itself. Instead, they attacked the practicalities of “wasting” the perfume, which could have been sold for “more than a year’s wages”.
Just imagine pouring £25,000 of perfume over someone’s head. Surely there could have been a better use for such a valuable commodity? The watchers “rebuked her harshly” – and in doing so, implicitly rebuked Jesus for permitting the act.
Jesus gave them an astonishing reply
“ ‘Leave her alone,’ said Jesus. ‘Why are you bothering her?’ ”
“Leave her alone,” was a firm rebuttal of the criticism directed at the woman, before Jesus added, “Why are you bothering her?” This was not just a casual question. Jesus had understood the implicit criticism of his own actions and was rebuking the onlookers. His question was a strong suggestion that the complainants should examine their motives for rebuking her.
“She has done a beautiful thing to me.”
The woman’s act sprang from her complete love for Jesus. It was a love that didn’t count the cost at all. There had been no cold calculation of what was an appropriate gift, just a surrender to the urge to give her beloved the most valuable thing she possessed. It’s not at all impossible that such a valuable possession represented security for her old age. And she gave that to Jesus without hesitation. There is a parallel here to the example of the poor widow, who gave all she had as an offering to God in the temple. (Mark 12: 41 – 44)
“The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want.”
Here Jesus turned the criticism back on the critics. They could all give more in the future. They could certainly have given more in the past. It’s worth noting, too, that none of the onlookers had offered to anoint Jesus. They were mean towards the poor, and mean in their response to Jesus.
“But you will not always have me.”
Jesus knew he was soon to die. He knew, too, that he was unique. He realised that in her action, the woman was anointing him prophetically. God the Father was using her as an icon of the best of human love.
“She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial. Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.’”
Jesus now spoke prophetically, describing the significance of the woman’s act. He said that “wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.” This act would be told and retold as an image of a perfect response to the love of God expressed through Jesus, and it would encourage countless numbers of others to respond with similar generosity.
The take away message for me from today’s passage is that I can feel free to love and worship Jesus with my emotions as well as my mind and my soul. It is a dramatic example that says to me, “It’s okay, Penny, you can feel free to express how you feel about Jesus.
Thank you for Jesus. Thank you, too, for the woman who anointed him lavishly with nard. Thank you for loving me and letting me love you in return.
In Jesus’ name, Amen