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  • Writer's picturePastor Brett


Mark 14:1-11

       It’s amazing how different perspectives can cause people to have entirely different views of the same thing.  For example, here is a glass of water.

The optimist says, “It’s half full.”

The pessimist says, “It’s half empty.”

The idealist says, “The glass should be full.”

The realist says, “The glass is useful.”

The competitor says, “My glass has more in it than yours.”

The environmentalist says, “Save the water.”

The anarchist says, “Break the glass.”

The capitalist asks, “How much is the glass worth?”

The entrepreneur asks, “Can we bottle the water?”

The efficiency expert says, “Looks like you have twice the glass you need.”

The steward asks, “Is the water pure?”

Jesus asks, “Do you need a drink?”

       Something very out of the ordinary happened to Jesus the day before His arrest at Gethsemane.  A woman whom Mark does not identify, interrupted a meal Jesus attended to show her love for Jesus by pouring the entirety of a jar of obscenely expensive perfume on His head.  Anything like that ever happen to you?  No, me neither.  Let’s see what it all meant.

Self-sacrifice is the highest demonstration of love.

1. Prologue: a conspiracy was formed. (1-2)

       The Time: the FEAST OF UNLEAVENED BREAD, TWO DAYS BEFORE THE PASSOVER. (1)  The PASSOVER is arguably the major Jewish feast of the year.  It is an annual reminder of God having delivered His people from slavery in Egypt, especially through the plague of the death of the firstborn.

       The conspirators were the Jewish leaders: THE LEADING PRIESTS AND THE TEACHERS OF RELIGIOUS LAW.  These men were religious and political leaders.  They were highly motivated to protect their wealth and positions, which required keeping the peace with Rome.

       They had been looking for a way to kill Jesus, without success: they WERE STILL LOOKING FOR AN OPPORTUNITY TO CAPTURE JESUS SECRETLY AND KILL HIM. (1)  The word STILL in that sentence indicates they’d been looking for a way to get rid of Jesus, but without success.  In 11;18, it says that the leading priests and teachers of the Law BEGAN to plan how to kill Jesus after He chased the moneylenders and merchants out of the temple.

       The operation could not be a clumsy “smash and grab,” this was a situation that required more finesse.  They had to act SECRETLY because they feared causing a RIOT. (2)  Historians believe about three million people crammed into Jerusalem at Passover time.  The city sat on just 40 acres, so the population density was very high, a situation that could quickly ignite deadly mob violence.

       While they had plenty of motive, they’d had no opportunity.  They didn’t know where Jesus was staying (outside the city, in Bethany) or when He would appear.  Whenever Jesus did show up, He was always surrounded by people.

2. A good and significant act of love was maligned. (3-9)

       Let’s take note of the context in which this act occurred.

- LOCATION = During the days of preparation for the Passover, Jesus stayed with Lazarus and his sisters Mary and Martha in Bethany.  This was a good choice because the Jewish leaders would not leave Jerusalem during the days leading up to Passover.  Bethany was outside their allowed holy day travel zone.

- SIMON, a cleansed leper = How had Simon been cleansed?  Did Jesus heal and that’s how He was invited to Simon’s home for dinner?  Even though he’d been cleansed, polite society of the time would still have shunned a former leper.  The people who were conspiring against Jesus would have never set foot in his home.

- A DINNER Party = Given the fact that Jesus has only a few days to live, this seems like an odd choice of activities.  However, as we’ll see, this occasion sets the stage for an event Jesus deemed important,

       The woman showed extravagant love for Jesus. (3)  (There was similar treatment given to King Jehu in 2 Kings 9:6.)  In this culture, hospitality and honor were very important things.  For a host to fail to show hospitality to his guests was a matter of dishonor.

       One of the customary signs of hospitality was to offer a drop or two of fragrant oil for the top of each guest’s head.  This would relieve some of the heat of the day and cover the odors of sweat. Luke reported that Simon had, for whatever reason, omitted this act of hospitality (Luke 7:46).  The woman’s action would more than overcompensate for Simon’s indiscretion.

       This woman (whom Matthew and Mark do not identify, who was identified in Luke as a “sinful woman” and by John as Lazarus’ sister Mary) broke into the dinner party and turned it upside down with an act or extravagant love and generosity.

       She carried a BEAUTIFUL ALABASTER JAR.  The jar served a practical purpose, but in line with the preciousness of the contents, it was itself expensive and lovely, an expensive work of a craftsman.

       Inside the jar was EXPENSIVE PERFUME MADE FROM ESSENCE OF NARD.  NARD was an expensive fragrance because it was rare and imported, being crafted in India, on the banks of the Ganges River.

       Throwing caution to the wind, the woman BROKE OPEN the jar and POURED THE PERFUME ON JESUS’ head!  This was an all-or-nothing action on her part.  Breaking the jar implies her intention to use it all at once.  There would be no resealing it after using a little; she intended to pour it all out and discard the jar.

       Some self-righteous people criticized her for it. (4-5)  SOME of the guests at the banquet missed her generosity and saw her act as wasteful.  Because she had broken the bottle rather than merely unstopping it, the contents could not be saved. 

       People frequently mistake opinions for facts and these know-it-alls were of the opinion that the jar of perfume could’ve been sold for A YEAR’S WAGES, generating a lot of money that could’ve been used to help poor people.  When people state opinions as if they were facts, that doesn’t make them facts after all.

       In their self-righteousness, THEY SCOLDED HER HARSHLY.  This is translated from a Greek word that refers to the snorting of horses, which gives us a little insight into what Mark thought about their comments - not much!  Her generosity is contrasted by their covetous greed, grasping at money.

       Jesus rebuked them, explaining her anointing was good and served a significant purpose. (6-9)  He made six points.

       The first thing Jesus said was “LEAVE HER ALONE.”  This was intended to get the hypocrites (which included Judas, according to John 12:4) to quit picking on her.  His first concern was tender consideration for the woman.

       Second, He said, “WHY CRITICIZE HER FOR DOING SUCH A GOOD THING FOR ME?”  They were crabbing that the woman had done a bad thing, but Jesus said they had it backwards.  She had done a GOOD THING.

       Third, He exposed their hypocrisy with the statement, “YOU WILL ALWAYS HAVE THE POOR BUT YOU WILL NOT ALWAYS HAVE ME.”

People have discussed whether or not Jesus meant to say that poverty was a permanent condition.  That debate misses the mark.

       Jesus addressed this remark to the woman’s critics and only them.  He exposed their excuse by pointing out what was obvious.  If their concern really was for the poor, they could help the poor every day for the rest of their lives.

       This remark was not original with Jesus: He quoted Deuteronomy 15:11a, “THERE WILL ALWAYS BE SOME IN THE LAND WHO ARE POOR.”  This is a fact of life, but not an excuse for failing to support the poor; it was a declaration that there would always be opportunity.  So, get busy and do it!

       Fourth, Jesus qualified her action, “SHE HAS DONE WHAT SHE COULD.”  This woman could not solve the problem of poverty with one bottle of perfume, no matter how expensive it was.  However, she could use the entire bottle to show extravagant love for Jesus.

       Fifth, Jesus looked to the immediate future with a statement that must have surprised the dinner guests, “SHE HAS ANOINTED MY BODY FOR BURIAL, AHEAD OF TIME.”  This is the key statement for understanding this passage and the significance of the woman’s action and Jesus’ reaction.

       The Greek word for ANOINTED used here is specific to using perfume to prepare a body for burial.  This is its only New Testament use.  In this culture, a corpse was prepared for burial by anointing the body with oils and spices.  These were applied to mask the odor of decomposition as bodies were “buried,” not by putting them underground, but by putting them in caves.  Once the body had decayed entirely, the bones were placed in a box.  By applying this perfume to Him, this woman had - probably unwittingly - prepared His body for burial long before death.

       Sixth, Jesus said, “I TELL YOU THE TRUTH, WHEREVER THE GOOD NEWS IS PREACHED THROUGHOUT THE WORLD...”  The message about Jesus is good news; indeed, it is THE Good News. Jesus understood that His message would be preached everywhere.

       ...”THIS WOMAN’S GOOD DEED WILL BE REMEMBERED AND DISCUSSED.”  Jesus honored the sacrifice and expense this woman did, not only by calling it a GOOD DEED, but also by predicting her action would be memorialized everywhere the Good News was preached.  This is the only place where Jesus made this promise.  He had received a generous gift and made a generous promise in response.

3. Epilogue: the conspiracy got an unexpected break . (10-11)

       It’s important to note that Judas offered to join the conspiracy; he was not recruited. (10)  As one of those rebuked for his hypocritical attitude toward the woman, Judas left the dinner in anger to contact the local leaders who wanted Jesus dead.

       He may’ve been very angry to be publicly rebuked by Jesus, bu the only motive for Judas’ betrayal as acknowledged in the Bible is greed. (11)  Greed prompted Judas to be critical of the woman’s lavish gift to Jesus.  That same greed motivated him to seek out the religious leaders and offer to betray Jesus.

       The Jewish leaders were DELIGHTED at this development and promised Judas MONEY in return for his betrayal.  From then on, Judas looked for the OPPORTUNITY to turn Jesus over to them in the secret time and place.

Self-sacrifice is the highest demonstration of love.

       We remember this woman because Jesus said we would.  We tell her story because it’s a story worth repeating.  Hers is a story of extravagant love, a devotion to the Savior that cost her plenty.

       That empty, broken bottle is a symbol of generosity with God.  Her story is a challenge to all people of faith to seek this virtue of generosity, especially in relationship with God.

       Jesus rewarded this woman’s grand gesture of faith with a grand promise.  She would not be forgotten.  Her love would inspire followers of Jesus for generations to come.

       The example to avoid is that of the self-righteous critics who rose up to condemn the woman’s action as wasteful.  The generations shame them for their hypocrisy, envy, and greed.  One of them, Judas, was particularly evil, betraying Jesus.

       When was the last time you did something extravagant for God?  Or are you more likely to behave like the nickel-nursers and criticize?


Message #916

       Darrell L. Bock, Cornerstone Biblical Commentary, Vol. 11, The Gospel of Mark, 2005, p. 526-527.

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