Mark 14:1-9 Jesus the Anointed
"Now the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread were only two days away, and the chief priests and the teachers of the law were looking for some sly way to arrest Jesus and kill him.  "But not during the Feast," they said, "or the people may riot."  While he was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of a man known as Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head.  Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, "Why this waste of perfume?  It could have been sold for more than a year's wages and the money given to the poor." And they rebuked her harshly.  "Leave her alone," said Jesus. "Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me.  The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me.  She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial.  I tell you the truth, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her." (Mark 14:1-9)
It is the evening of the 28th March, the year 33 AD. The Feast of Passover is just days away. Every Jewish male is required to be in Jerusalem. Jesus has arrived in Bethany, on the south side of the Mount of Olives, a short walk from the Temple which is just over the hill. Bethany is the home of Mary, Martha and Lazarus, close friends of Jesus. Their home is his when he is in Jerusalem. A few days ago Jesus performed one of his most spectacular miracles.
After three days in the tomb he brought Lazarus back to life simply by the power of his spoken word. Many people believe Jesus is the Messiah because Lazarus is alive again but the religious leaders are plotting to kill him. A dinner is being prepared for Jesus at the home of Simon the Leper. The custom is for the men to eat together, reclining on thin mats around a low table. They are leaning on their left arms with their feet spread out from the table. Martha is serving the food and Lazarus is one of the guests.
As they recline around the table, Mary, the other sister of Lazarus, brings out an alabaster jar of expensive perfume. She kneels behind Jesus, breaks the neck of the bottle and pours the perfume all over Jesus feet and over his head. The conversations cease as the smell of the food is overwhelmed by the intoxicating smell of pure nard. The whole house is filled with the powerful fragrance. Immediately one of the disciples, Judas Iscariot, reprimands her, “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year's wages.” (John 12:5). The other’s join in and rebuke her sharply.
But Jesus does not condemn. Instead he defends her. "Leave her alone … Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me.” The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial.” (Mark 14:6-8)
Mary’s dramatic act, more powerful than words, has demonstrated her love, her faith, her trust, her understanding of who Jesus is, why he came and what he is about to do for her, indeed for the whole world. That is why Jesus promises “when ever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.” (Mark 14:9).
like us look at the story in a little more detail and consider first of all,
1. The Gratitude of Mary
has done a beautiful thing to me”. Three times Mary appears in the gospels, and
each time she is at the feet of Jesus.
The perfume Mary poured over Jesus was made of pure nard and imported from far away in India. The amount she used was also considerable. Jesus says Mary anointed his body for burial (Mark 14:8). Worth 300 denarii, this was more than a year’s salary in Jesus day. Today the average salary in the UK is £35,000. Mary’s dramatic act of love and devotion was therefore costly. She was probably pouring her entire life’s savings all over Jesus. Perfume she no doubt had purchased at great cost for her own burial. Just Nicodemus who gave up his own tomb for Jesus, so Mary sacrifices her most precious possession for Jesus. Mary seems to know intuitively that Jesus is about to die. Mary’s gratitude is an act of worship.
But to compound this provocative act, John tells us, Mary expresses her loyalty to Jesus in another dramatic way. She lets down her hair and dries Jesus feet with it. This act was as shocking to the men present as pouring out the nard had appeared reckless. It was the custom of the day that a woman would only let her hair down in the presence of her husband and never in public. Mary is clearly moved by deep loyalty that ignores the inevitable disapproval her act will cause. Mary’s act of devotion was therefore a beautiful thing.
was a sign of her gratitude for what Jesus has done in raising her brother to
life but also perhaps what she understood Jesus was about to do for her. It was
therefore both appropriate and timely. Jesus knows his death and burial are just
a few days away and makes that plain.
The contrast between Mary and the disciples could not be more stark. While critical of Mary, none of the disciples are willing to undertake this lowly task of feet washing just a few days later at the Passover meal. It is Jesus who gets down on his knees and washes their feet to reinforce the same lesson of servanthood Mary has already given them. Having done so, Jesus returns to his place and explains,
“You call me 'Teacher' and 'Lord', and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another's feet.” (John 13:13-14). Mary has done so without being asked. That is how gratitude is displayed. Without asking. The gratitude of Mary.
2. The Greed of Judas
“He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.” (John 12:6)
Under the pretence of pure love, the disciples lay bare their covetousness. “Covetousness is a dreadful sin. While Mary’s act is one of the most beautiful acts of love that the entire Bible records, Judas’ words stand out as being the mark of a selfish, loveless, joyless, greedy betrayer.”[i] It should come as no surprise that Judas objects. He took from the common purse for himself and was aggrieved not for the sake of the poor but for his own loss. Judas focuses on the value of the perfume lost and not the generosity of the giver. Charles Erdman put it like this:
“Jesus forever vindicates the most extravagant gifts which are made in devotion to him, and condemns the spurious philanthropy which is not animated by him. Social service divorced from Christianity may spend the treasure of Mary according to the direction of Judas.”[ii]
The gratitude of Mary contrasted by the greed of Judas.
3. The Grace of God
She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial … wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.” (Mark 14:6-9)
the disciples find talk of Jesus dying still incomprehensible days later even
during the last Supper, here we see Mary asking no questions but gently preparing
her Lord for the grave. As one commentator puts it, “She has accepted Jesus’ humble
mission long before Jesus’ leading disciples have understood it. Thus the story
is really about the cross, about Mary’s courageous understanding and acceptance
of Jesus’ death.”[iii]
She knew any offering she could give would be so small by comparison which is why she was so willing to give everything she had. The grace of God is revealed in the death of Jesus. That is the gospel. Jesus confirms that Mary’s act was no accident, no spontaneous act. Jesus says “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial.” But Jesus goes further predicting that Mary’s act of gratitude and trust will be extolled alongside the good news. Indeed perhaps as an example of how to receive the good news.
And today, the 28th March is, according to D.A. Carson, the very anniversary of her act. How appropriate therefore that we should fulfil Jesus prediction and reflect not only upon her example of extravagant devotion but also consider our own. “Whoever is forgiven little, loves little” said Jesus. The degree to which we identify with Mary’s act of gratitude perhaps reflects our understanding of God’s good grace.
The gratitude of Mary, the greed of Judas, the grace of God.
What do you learn from this story? The passage teaches me that there is no gift too precious to express my gratitude for what Jesus endured for us. Listen to the two things Jesus says of Mary. Reflect on what you might do for Jesus to say the same of you.
“She has done a beautiful thing to me.” What could you do to Jesus and for Jesus today that might be the equivalent of a pound of pure nard. What might Jesus describe in your actions today as beautiful? “She did a beautiful thing to me.”
“She did what she could.”
do not all have the same gifts or abilities, the same resources or the same opportunities
to serve Jesus. Do not dwell not on what you cannot do. Dwell instead on what
you can do for Jesus. As a clue, Jesus says in verse 7, “The poor you will always
have with you, and you can help them any time you want. (Mark 14:7). The question
is, “do I want to?” The very existence of an alms bag among Jesus disciples demonstrates
how much Jesus cared for the poor. That Jesus had no permanent home, or as Luke
puts it, “nowhere to lay his head” (Luke 9:58); that Jesus’ only possession was
the clothes he wore to his execution should speak powerfully to every Christ-follower
of our obligation to give sacrificially as Jesus did to those less fortunate.
John Piper, in his book “Desiring God” says, “Money is the currency of the Kingdom of God. What you do with it - or desire to do with it - can make or break your happiness forever.” Jesus put it this way: “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:21).
if you are not sure what you can do, turn it into a prayer.
“What would you have me do, Lord?”
“What do I have that you have not given me?”
“How can I show Mary’s kind of devotion to you today?”
“What am I willing to give that is costly to me to express my devotion, my gratitude to Jesus?”
And when you have decided before the Lord, like Mary, just do it. God honouring giving flows out of a heart of gratitude. I can testify that you will never be impoverished by any gift given in gratitude to the Son of God. She has done a beautiful thing for me. She did what she could. Do something beautiful in the eyes of Jesus today. Lets pray.