by the Rev. Dave Sonmor
Mark 14. 1-9
1. Now the feast of the Passover and Unleavened Bread was two days off: and the chief priests and the scribes sought how they might take him with subtlety, and kill him:
2. for they said, Not during the feast, lest there wall be a riot of the people.
3. And while he was in Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he sat at the table, there came a woman having an alabaster vial of very costly perfume of pure nard; and she brake the vial, and poured it over his head.
4. But some were indignantly remarking to one another, saying, why has this perfume wasted?
5. For this perfume might have been sold for over three hundred denarii, and the money given to the poor. And they were scolding her.
6. But Jesus said, Let her alone; why do you bother her? She has done a good deed to me.
7. For you the poor always have with you, and when ever you wish you can do them good: but you do not always have Me.
8. She has done what she could; she has anointed My body beforehand for the burial.
9. And truly I say unto you, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the whole world, that also which this woman has done shall be spoken of in memory of her.
The setting for this story is established in the first two verses of the chapter. It takes place just two days before the most important Jewish festival of the year, and it establishes the fact that the Jewish leaders were plotting against Christ and intended to kill Him. They wanted to time the deed correctly so as not to upset the people by infringing on the time of the Holy festivity.
Jesus, of course, was quite aware that plans were being made to arrest him and kill him, yet he was coming to Jerusalem to celebrate "Passover" and was stopping at a friends place in nearby Bethany. During the course of his stay, a woman came in to the house and poured an expensive, perfumed oil on his head, thus anointing Him and recognizing something very special about Him; perhaps that He was the Messiah whom they had been expecting for a long time. Some people who were in the house were upset with this incident and righteously proclaimed that the oil could have been sold and the money from it given to the poor. This was no small amount of money, as it is identified as three hundred denarii, a denarii being a days wage for a laborer. So that would be equivalent to a years wages for the average worker. By today's standards, perhaps as much as $25,000.00. They saw the anointing as being a waste of a valuable resource. And they were scolding the woman for being so foolish.
Jesus must have surprised them with His reaction to the incident. He told them to leave her alone as she had done a good thing to Him, and that the poor would be with them always, whereas, He would be with them for only a short while. Jesus refers to the incident of the anointing as being a preparation of his body for death and burial. He also predicts that this is an important incident that will be recorded and told throughout the world as a memorial to the woman.
It is significant that this incident affected the disciples powerfully enough that it appears in all four of the Gospels. There are some variations of course; Matthew records the incident almost exactly as Mark did. However, in the accounts in Luke and John the woman does not anoint Jesus' head but rather His feet and then wipes his feet with her hair. In the Luke version she washes Jesus' feet with her tears before anointing them with the costly ointment. In Luke there is no mention made of a squabble over wasting a valuable resource that could have been sold and the money used for charity. All four versions, however, occur in the home of a man called Simon. Luke describes him as being a Pharisee, the other three gospels refer to him as being a leper. Possibly he was both. A leper who could maintain a house and invite dinner guests would have to be fairly influential, as were the Pharisees.
Why was this story of such great importance that it would be included wherever the gospel of Jesus' ministry would be recorded and taught? Was it simply as a memorial to the woman herself? It is not even absolutely clear exactly who she was! One account identifies her as being" a woman of the city, a sinner," another as being" a woman named Mary" and the other two simply call her "a woman." Was it in order to remember the importance of the act of anointing or being kind to someone who is soon going to die? Or was it more to remind us of the principle that the woman represents in putting God first?
Perhaps Jesus was trying to put things in the proper perspective for us by putting this intensely personal action ahead of the less personal and more public action of giving alms to the poor.
The woman was obviously putting Jesus first and above her own needs and the needs of others. She could have given money to the poor, or she could have used either the ointment or the money for herself. But she didn't do either of those things, instead she honored the Lord. She put Jesus first. The recognition of His true identity of being the Savior, the Messiah, that is, God with us, and the act of acknowledging who and what He really was, is the inner spiritual thing that is worthy of such great recognition, and is what should be honored wherever this gospel is taught. In a broader sense, the woman represents the church that was being formed because of the love and affection its followers would have for the Lord God our Savior Jesus Christ.
The Disciples and others who were with Him in the house did not yet seem to see the full significance of His Divine Being, They did not yet understand that He would be resurrected after His death and that even His body would become glorified and One with the Father. They related much more to the external aspects of His new church, such as charity to the poor which was also a part of the old, Jewish church.
The reality of His Divinity needed to be recognized as a basic principle of the Christian Church that Jesus was establishing in the world. The Christian Church had to acknowledge the Divinity of Christ, and that He was not just another prophet, not just another messenger of God, not just another Holy man, but that He was as John stated, "The Word of God, that was made flesh and dwelt with us." And this in order to provide salvation for us. It was this knowledge or principle that had to be recorded for posterity so that we Christians will always remember that Jesus is God. That He is one with the Father. He said, "I and the Father are One."
I believe that the key point in this story is the principle that, as members of the Christian church, we need, at times in our spiritual growth, to make a deeply personal gift to the Lord, which is to acknowledge His Divinity and thus to spiritually anoint Him. Then having made this acknowledgement, we should make a personal commitment to live the kind of life that He tells us will lead us to heaven and eternal life with Him. It is not enough to simply be nice to people and give alms to the needy. We also need an internal reason or motive for doing those good deeds and it is God who provides that reason, that motive. It is God who provides us with the love and truth that we can share with others. It is God who is the source of all the love and goodness, and all the wisdom and truth in the world and in each one of us. All He asks is that we acknowledge the true source of the good, the love and the wisdom we are involved in.
He asks this not for His sake but for our sake, because if we do not acknowledge God as the source of our good work and all the blessings in our life, then we naturally tend to give ourselves, either individually or collectively, the credit, and that is to our spiritual detriment, as it becomes love and worship of SELF.
The woman's act was an unselfish act of great love and compassion. She saw in Him His true nature and anointed Him as a way of honoring God. She put Jesus first and demonstrated love for Him as the man who was going to suffer and die for our sake, and love for Him as the Lord God, our Heavenly Father and Savior our Creator and Redeemer.
Let us pray with these thoughts in mind:
O most Gracious Lord: we thank you for the opportunity to worship You and to learn from you. As we approach our blessed communion with you, help us to prepare our hearts and minds and purify us from unclean and unkind thoughts. Help us, O Lord to find the areas in our lives where in we have not
made full use of our opportunities to be of service to you and to others, and to see where we have been in error as to our beliefs about You and Your heavenly kingdom. We know full
well that we have within us stumbling blocks that deter us from right living. We have prejudices, dislikes and even, at
times, hatreds. Bring these failings out of our hearts and lives and purify us in the light of your wisdom and enduring love.
2002 Bruce DeBoer
Used with Permission
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