Mark 14: 1 – 11 NLT
“Jesus Anointed at Bethany
It was now two days before Passover and the Festival of Unleavened Bread. The leading priests and the teachers of religious law were still looking for an opportunity to capture Jesus secretly and kill him. 2 “But not during the Passover celebration,” they agreed, “or the people may riot.”
3 Meanwhile, Jesus was in Bethany at the home of Simon, a man who had previously had leprosy. While he was eating, a woman came in with a beautiful alabaster jar of expensive perfume made from essence of nard. She broke open the jar and poured the perfume over his head.
4 Some of those at the table were indignant. “Why waste such expensive perfume?” they asked. 5 “It could have been sold for a year’s wages and the money given to the poor!” So they scolded her harshly.
6 But Jesus replied, “Leave her alone. Why criticize her for doing such a good thing to me? 7 You will always have the poor among you, and you can help them whenever you want to. But you will not always have me. 8 She has done what she could and has anointed my body for burial ahead of time. 9 I tell you the truth, wherever the Good News is preached throughout the world, this woman’s deed will be remembered and discussed.”
Judas Agrees to Betray Jesus
10 Then Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve disciples, went to the leading priests to arrange to betray Jesus to them. 11 They were delighted when they heard why he had come, and they promised to give him money. So he began looking for an opportunity to betray Jesus.”
The story of a woman (John’s Gospel tells us it was Mary, Martha’s sister, who poured expensive perfume on Jesus’ head is in the middle of a sinister plot. Verses 1 and 2 tell us that the Jewish leaders were looking for an opportunity to kill Jesus. They must have been totally angry and fed up to be considering this at Passover time. Jerusalem is full of people who have arrived for that special celebration. It would be very hard to grab Jesus quietly in a crowded city. But they are so angry, they are willing to do just that. In verses 10 and 11, we discover that Judas has decided to go to the leading priests to arrange to betray Jesus. Yet, verses 3 to 9 tell us this lovely story of anointing Jesus.
Mary comes into the room where several men were dining. She is carrying a beautiful alabaster jar, which she cracks open and pours an incredible fragrance over Jesus’ head. The perfume wafts throughout the room and house. Everyone notices – how could they not notice? The aroma begins a flurry of harsh criticism. Commentaries say that the ‘essence of nard’ was likely from India, and would take over a year to be shipped to Jerusalem. It was expensive! It could very well have been Mary’s ‘retirement savings’. Really, from our perspective in 2020, it was a risky thing to do. Have you ever decided to use a significant part of your savings or cash flow to help someone else? Something that would put your own financial security at risk?
But Jesus praises her for doing it. She doesn’t know what lies ahead in the next couple of days, but Jesus does. As Mark writes his gospel after Jesus’ ascension to heaven, he realizes that this was an anointing of Jesus. Mark now understands what Jesus meant when he said, “She has done what she could and has anointed my body for burial ahead of time.” In the middle of the plans to kill Jesus, the importance of Jesus’ death is shown. The Jewish leaders are hoping for an opportunity. Perhaps this event is what triggered Judas to do something. Judas was the disciple who looked after the money, and hearing Jesus praise Mary for anointing him with an incredibly expensive perfume, was enough to send him over the edge.
Steve Wilmhurst in A Ransom for Many talks about the personal application of these verses. I decided to copy it for you to read because it really hit home to me.
“This story raises some very searching questions.
The first question is a simple one: As we hear this story, what is our honest response? Which of the characters in the dining room is you? Do we have some sympathy with these glowering onlookers who disapprove of the woman’s recklessness? I’m frightened by the suggestion of my own heart that perhaps these people had a point. Or does the woman’s story make your heart leap at the thought of doing something so wonderful for the Lord Jesus? That is how it should be, of course. Yes, there is a time and a place for calculation – for remembering that prices can go down as well as up and for doing your sums very carefully! – but that time is not when you are making your commitment to Jesus. The measure of his commitment to us will be demonstrated within a week of this story, at the cross which fully reveals the reckless lengths of his extravagant love for us. How do our hearts respond?
That leads on to the second question. What do we value the most? Do we value money, or do we value Jesus the most? This woman’s answer, her scale of values, was clear. The perfume was probably the most precious thing she had ever owned, but with Jesus before her, she broke it and poured it out; and it was gone. Life would not be so secure from now on. That jar was her savings account. Our lives and actions reflect what is most important to us. If someone were to study our lives, what would they conclude? If they looked at the evidence of the books by your bed, or the history button on your web browser, what story would it tell? Or suppose, more searching still, they could read even your thoughts and dreams, what story would be revealed? Or, to put it another way, have you ever done anything extravagant for the Lord – anything reckless, where there was a real cost to you, a cost that made life risky and uncomfortable? Sadly, there are some who would reply, Well, I used to be like that. When I was younger, I used to give to the Lord freely and trust him to look after me. I used to tell him, Lord I will go anywhere, give anything to serve you. I used to love him like that. But not any more. Now I’m older, and I’m more sensible, and if I’m honest I’m more cynical. If you are honest enough to admit that, you need to understand that it doesn’t have to be that way. We don’t have to accept the kind of Christian life that will always play it safe, that needs to see before it will believe – the attitude that would always put the jar of perfume back in the cupboard and shut the door.
But there are others who will read this who have shown by your actions that it’s the Lord Jesus you value the most. You have given up your security, or left behind the people you loved, or given to the point of breaking your own lifestyle – and not to win points or to earn favour, but because you loved him. There have been times when people have questioned or mocked what you have done. They’ve told you it was pointless; they’ve asked, Why this waste? Perhaps there have even been times when you’ve wondered if they were right. But the Lord says, You have done a beautiful thing for me. You have done what you could.”
Steve Wilhurst, A Ransom for Many: the Gospel of Mark Simply Explained, Welwyn Commentary Series, Evangelical Press, 2011 – Chapter 21