April 29, 2013
Dear brothers and sisters,
I am taking the good news today from Mark 14:3-9.
When he was in Bethany reclining at table in the house of Simon the leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of perfumed oil, costly genuine spikenard. She broke the alabaster jar and poured it on his head. There were some who were indignant. “Why has there been this waste of perfumed oil? It could have been sold for more than three hundred days’ wages and the money given to the poor.” They were infuriated with her. Jesus said, “Let her alone. Why do you make trouble for her? She has done a good thing for me. The poor you will always have with you, and whenever you wish you can do good to them, but you will not always have me. She has done what she could. She has anticipated anointing my body for burial. Amen, I say to you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed to the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.”
Barclay tells us that it was the custom in the East “to pour a few drops of perfume on a guest when he arrived at a house or when he sat down to a meal.” There also was a custom that if a vial were used by a distinguished guest, it would be broken so that it could never be used by another, less honored guest. According to the New Jerome Biblical Commentary, the woman’s anointing of Jesus’ head was a sign that she had recognized him as king and messiah in contrast to the others, probably disciples, who failed yet to fully understand that Jesus was the Messiah or that his death was imminent.
Too, a corpse was bathed and then anointed with perfumed oil in preparation for burial. The flask containing the ointment would be broken and placed with the body in the tomb. Recall that Jesus’ body was not anointed when it was removed from the cross and laid in the tomb as there was no time before the sabbath began. This woman fulfilled this duty as Jesus pointed out to them.
What moved her to such an extravagance? Did she plan to use the whole jar or was it an impulsive act? It seems that Mark was making the point that she knew Jesus’ identity as Son of the Father and realized that he would soon be dead. She did what she could. She poured out the entire contents of the jar as a sign of her devotion, giving up all of the most costly thing she owned as a means to express her desire to give all of herself to him. It was the most she could do for him in that moment. Jesus said that what she had done would be told wherever the gospel would be proclaimed. She was a model for discipleship — an extravagant love for Jesus poured out without a calculation of the cost whatever that cost may be. For some the cost may be status, for others wealth, still others relationships or reputation. It is whatever we can do that represents sacrificing what is precious to us, what we treasure. It is putting our love for Jesus above all else.
What is it for me? It may be time to myself that I treasure most of all. It may be that he’s telling me to use some of that time to be with him, to demonstrate my love for him in a way that shows I’m putting him above all else. It could be in adoration, in prayer, in contemplation, in lectio divina, in service. I don’t think it makes much difference what it is as long as I’m pouring out myself as an expression of my love and recognition of him as my Lord and savior. Doing what I can do. It will be a good thing for him — and for me.