From today’s reading of Matthew 26, Mark 14
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. There were some who said to themselves indignantly, “Why was the ointment wasted like that? For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor.” And they scolded her. But Jesus said, “Leave her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. 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. She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for burial. 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.” – Mark 14:3-9 (ESV)
I love these close, tender moments in the gospels. This episode is one of the last of its kind; almost immediately after this the plot already hatched by the Jewish leaders is put in motion, and Jesus will be arrested and killed. That adds an incredible poignancy to what is described here.
John 12 tells us that the woman who broke the alabaster flask is Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus. She is the one who sat at Jesus’ feet while her sister bustled about, she is the one who wept in the house when Jesus arrived to grieve for her brother Lazarus and to show God’s glory. She is the one who groaned through her tears “if you have been here, my brother would not have died.” And she witnessed as our Lord commanded death to flee and called her brother forth to life.
Jesus rode into Jerusalem in kingly procession just a few days before this dinner in Bethany. It seems that only Mary understands that a King deserves anointing, even at the expense of a year’s worth of a laborer’s wages. Her King deserves absolutely all of the precious ointment poured on his royal head, a head that would very soon be bloodied by the blows and the thorns of those he came to save. Her King deserves all her love, all her devotion. All.
Those of a more practical mindset (John 12 implicates Judas in this) were more focused on the loss of 300 denarii that might have been used to more noble, less wasteful purpose. The Lord Jesus will have none of it.
“Leave her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. 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. She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for burial. 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.”
Such honor from the Savior of the world! I’ve written before of my respect and admiration for Mary’s sister Martha. Here Jesus honors Mary with kingly decree. She has done a beautiful thing for him by anointing his body beforehand for burial.
Everyone else has missed that. You get the sense that they are all thinking about next week, next month, where they were going to go, what they were going to do, continuing on in the ministry with Jesus. The plan of the Father is about to blow that to pieces. Jesus is about to die and be buried and rise again. There is no next week, at least not when it comes to their plans. Everything is about to change.
It’s time to throw plans and schemes aside, our system of priorities, our trust in our own abilities to evaluate what’s important. Jesus has made it clear: where the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her. Yes, because what she did was amazing and she was unfairly raked over the coals for it by those who should have known better. Yes, because Jesus loves to exalt those who have been placed low by the world’s system. Yes, because it was a beautiful act of love (and the only act of true perception recorded here) toward Jesus himself.
But also because in her act the gospel and a right response to it is beautifully depicted. The one who has brought the dead to life is anointed for his own death and burial, not with just part of what she has at hand but with all. He will be raised and in him so will she, and so will we. What manner of love is this?
Break the jar. Pour the oil, all of it, over the beloved, blessed head of our Savior.