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Posts Tagged ‘a woman anoints Jesus’

Today is Palm Sunday the celebration of Jesus’ triumphant entrance into Jerusalem, as the crowd waved palm branches. The story in our text just a few days after Palm Sunday. It’s the story of the woman who anoints Jesus with perfume, found in –

Mark 14:3-9

Let’s break this story down and see what we can learn from it. We begin with the setting. “3And while he (Jesus) was at Bethany . . ..”

Bethany was about two miles away from Jerusalem on the lower eastern slope of the Mt of Olives. This is where Jesus stayed at night during his final week in Jerusalem.

“. . . in the house of Simon the leper, as he was reclining at table . . ..” This evening Jesus was at the house of Simon. He is called “the leper,” but he must have been cured for him to host such a gathering. [Neither Jesus nor any of the other guests would have wanted to be unclean just before the Passover.] Perhaps he was cured by Jesus, and this is how they knew each other.

Jesus, his disciples and others are gathered at his house and are “reclining at table.” That is, they are eating a meal while laying down on cushions, with their heads near the low table. This was how you ate at a banquet or feast.

This brings us to the central event of the story, a woman anoints Jesus.   “. . . a woman came with an alabaster flask of ointment of pure nard, very costly, and she broke the flask and poured it over his head.”

Alabaster flasks were the preferred containers for perfume at this time. The flask itself would have been expensive. It had in it “nard,” which is a perfume or ointment made from a plant grown in India in the Himalayan regions. Mark tells us that it was “pure” – that is, of high quality.

He also tells us that it was “very costly.” V. 5 says that it was worth more than 300 denarii, which is about a year’s salary for a laborer. If we translate that into today’s minimum wage it would have been worth around $15,000. This was likely an heirloom, something she had to support her in a time of need, like a sizable savings account today.

By breaking the flask, she holds nothing back. She gives it all for Jesus as a one-time gift. Verse 8 makes it clear that it must have dripped down from his head to cover most of his body. He was drenched. And the potent aroma must have filled the room. This was certainly an extravagant gift on her part. [This story and the one about the widow in Mark 12, both about women giving extravagantly, bookend Jesus’ discourse on the temple’s destruction.]

If we ask why she did this, her motive seems to be simply an act of devotion; an expression of her love for Jesus; for his impact in her life; for salvation. [It doesn’t appear that this is being viewed as an anointing to kingship for the Messiah. Perfume, not oil is used. And the word for anointing is different. This theme is not highlighted in the text. And the indignant response of the others would seem too harsh if this is what they thought she was doing. Jesus also takes it in a different sense.]

Next comes the reaction. “4There were some who said to themselves indignantly, ‘Why was the ointment wasted like that?’” They were worked up. They were really angry. They were offended by what she was doing before them. What a tremendous waste of resources!

Why was it a waste? “’5For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor.’” Giving alms was always encouraged, but especially on the eve of Passover. And they recognized the value of her perfume and how many people could have been helped, for instance giving food and shelter to widows and orphans for many days.

[John tells us that it was Judas who said this and that he didn’t care for the poor. Judas may have been the most vocal one, he is also highlighted in Mark, being named in the next verses as agreeing to betray Jesus. But there is no need to think that the other disciples also didn’t protest (Matthew says it was Jesus’ disciples as a whole) or that some didn’t have a genuine concern for the poor.]

“And they scolded her.” Or it could be translated, “they censured her” or “they gave her a harsh reproof.” What do you think you are doing? Stop that!

Jesus’ response. “6But Jesus said, ‘Leave her alone.’” They rebuked her, but Jesus rebukes them – stop criticizing her!

[They asked a question and so does Jesus] “’Why do you  trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to me.’” “A beautiful thing” is literally “a good work.” [Even if this phrase can refer to giving to the poor – the contrast in the story is not between Jesus the poor person and other poor people, but between Jesus and the poor.]

He recognizes that she has given him an extravagant expression of love. And this ought not be criticized. It is not a waste.

[They gave a reason “for” and so does Jesus] “’7For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you want, you can do good for them. But you will not always have me.’” Here he addresses their concern for the poor. Jesus begins by quoting part of Deuteronomy 15:11 – “there will never cease to be poor in the land.” This isn’t a dismissal of the poor or of the need to care for them. In fact, the verse in Deuteronomy goes on to say that since they will always be with you – “Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.’”

Jesus himself teaches that we are to give to the poor, for instance in Luke 12:33 he says, “sell your possessions and give to the needy.”

His point in this verse is based on the fact that he will not be physically present with them for much longer. In other words –

  • There is no limit on the time that you can show love to the poor by helping them. You can do something good for them whenever you want, since they will remain with you.
  • But there was a limited amount of time to show love to Jesus in person – “you will not always have me.”

This is a unique situation. And she has taken full advantage of it. [Just as in Mark 2 where Jesus’ physical presence with them changes normal fasting routines, so that they can rejoice that he is with them, so here his physical presence has an impact on what his disciples can do.]

“’8She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for burial.’” Jesus further defends her. Her act of devotion is interpreted by Jesus in a very practical way – as a preparation for his body to be buried.

This was the very kind of perfume that was used for the burial of bodies, this was usually done by women, and it covered his whole body, as in the case of burial. So he takes it in this way.

So she gave even more than she knew. Her expression of love is seen by Jesus as a prophetic act anticipating his going to the cross and dying and preparing him for it. She has done what she could for Jesus in terms of loving him, in light of the fact that he is about to die. [This story is placed between the plot to kill Jesus by the leaders, and Judas who agrees to help them. All of these verses then have to do with Jesus’ imminent death.]

“9And truly, I say to you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.” Jesus looks forward to after his death and resurrection, to the mission of his disciples to spread the gospel throughout the world. Since the gospel will tell the story of his death – she is to be a part of that story.

This is an amazing statement! Even though in this story she is unnamed – what she did, as an expression of love for Jesus is always to be remembered; in fact, the story is to be told “in memory of her.”

What do we learn from this?

Gifts given to God are not a waste. Those who objected were thinking very practically about helping the needy and serving others. This made them think that her act was “a waste” – it didn’t help anybody. This was their standard.

But she was operating on a different level. She was showing love, not so much for others, but for God. Here to Jesus as the Son of God. And gifts given to God, even if they don’t help the needy aren’t a waste. As Jesus said here, what she did was “a beautiful thing.”

[The value of both giving gifts to God – sacrifices and offerings,  and to people- alms, would have been clear from the Law. This story reminds us of this and applies it to Jesus.]

Her extravagant love for Jesus is a model for us. Yes, show love for Jesus. Yes, express your love for Jesus in extravagant ways.

Now, Jesus isn’t physically present with us so that we can do what she did. This was a unique situation. But we can still show love for Jesus by worshipping him, serving him and giving to the kingdom cause. We can still take advantage of the opportunities we have, just as she took advantage of the unique opportunity she had.

What gift might God have you give out of love for Jesus? What extravagant thing might God be moving you to offer?

And then finally, we learn from this story that it is often the lowly, and the unexpected one who gets it right when it comes to Jesus and the kingdom of God.

And she is lowly in this story. Simply being a woman in this day would qualify her for this. (Although this would not be the point of view of Jesus.) Even though John’s version of the story names her, Mark leaves her unnamed, perhaps to emphasize her lowly status in the story.

But even though she is lowly, she is held up as the example. Her deed will be remembered throughout the world. She is the one who got it right. And that’s why we are remembering her even today. The insiders, the guys, the ones with status – which certainly included the 12 disciples, are not the example, they will be remembered for their failure here. They got it wrong.

And the theme of the women disciples of Jesus getting it right continues on through the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection.

  • The 12 disciples fled or denied Jesus. But the women disciples were with Jesus at the cross looking from a distance – Mark 15:40-41.
  • And after Jesus’ death the 12 were nowhere to be seen. But the women disciples of Jesus discover that Jesus is raised, and are the first to preach the gospel – Mark 16.

So if you have many years as a Christian, or you have many gifts, or a great calling, or leadership roles – or whatever status you might have – don’t be proud. You can still get it wrong. And those that seem to you least likely to get it right, many times will.

William Higgins 

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A. An unnamed woman’s actions: 3 And while he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he was reclining at table, a woman came with an alabaster flask of ointment of pure nard, very costly, and she broke the flask and poured it over his head.

B. Concern for the poor: 4 There were some who said to themselves indignantly, “Why was the ointment wasted like that? 5 For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor.”

C. Rebuke: And they scolded her.

C.1 Rebuke: 6 But Jesus said, “Leave her alone.”

B.1 Concern for the poor:Why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. 7 For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you want, you can do good for them. But you will not always have me.

A.1 An unnamed woman’s actions: 8 She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for burial. 9 And truly, I say to you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.”

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This story is placed between the telling of how Jesus will die – the leaders (14:1-2) working with Judas 14:10-11). Jesus’ death is the theme of it all.

B and B1 both have a question – “why” which focuses on whether the ointment was wasted or not, and a “for” statement that focuses on the poor.

Verse 7 has a chiastic arrangement:

a. For you always have the poor with you,

b. and whenever you want, you can do good for them.

a1. But you will not always have me.”

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