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 14:3-9 NIV)
This passage intrigues me. It seems to go against everything we read in the Bible, it makes a declarative statement about what will be told when the gospel is preached, and it seems like no one ever listens to or understands this passage. All through the Bible we see a theme of ‘give to the poor.’ Jesus seemed to echo that theme. He told us it would be hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Jesus told the rich man to go and sell all that he had and follow Jesus. Enter a woman with a jar of expensive perfume. We’ve seen Jesus in action before and we think we know the answer. The woman should have sold the perfume and given it the proceeds to the poor. That’s what Jesus will say! No. He calls her action beautiful.
I’m still trying to understand the implications of that. The woman was giving an offering, a sacrificial offering worth more than a year’s wages (how much do you make in a year, and do you have anything worth that much?). She literally laid it at Jesus’ feet for the sole purpose of his glory. Jesus tells us that purpose was far greater than serving the poor. Perhaps this is simply a reminder of how our economics and God’s economics don’t quite relate. But I suspect it goes far deeper than that.
Jesus’ final comment is that whenever the gospel is preached, what this woman has done will also be told. This comment troubles me. When I first heard the gospel I didn’t hear about this woman pouring perfume on Jesus. In all my years in and around the church I don’t think I’ve ever heard this woman’s story in connection with the gospel. Are we disobeying Jesus’ command (is it even a command?)? Are we ignoring his prediction? Is this prediction false? It’s unsettling to me that we haven’t done what Jesus said we would do. That bothers me, but I don’t have an answer for it. But what I do want to ponder is the significance of this statement. If Jesus said her action would be told in conjunction with the gospel, shouldn’t her action have a profound meaning related to the gospel. Why else would Jesus tell us that she would be remembered when the gospel is preached?
Perhaps accepting the gospel is similar to what this woman did. We must lay ourselves before Jesus and offer all that we have, no matter how much what we have could have helped the poor. After all, if we surrender ourselves to God, God will help the poor and his power will be obvious. What is gained if we simply help the poor on our own? It could open the door for pride. Perhaps this is just a story that a new Christian needs to hear so they will understand the worthiness of God. God demands our praise and adoration. Sometimes the poor can wait.
I could go on and on with my speculations on this verse. It’s interesting how seldom we really engage the Bible and try to understand what it’s saying.