PREPARE TO LISTEN. Begin with the usual silence and then pray: Let those who are wise give heed to these things, and consider the steadfast love of the Lord. (Psalm 107:43)
READ: Mark 14:3-9 ‘Done what she could’
3While he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he sat at the table, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very costly ointment of nard, and she broke open the jar and poured the ointment on his head. 4But some were there who said to one another in anger, ‘Why was the ointment wasted in this way? 5For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii, and the money given to the poor.’ And they scolded her. 6But Jesus said, ‘Let her alone; why do you trouble her? She has performed a good service for me. 7For you always have the poor with you, and you can show kindness to them whenever you wish; but you will not always have me. 8She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for its burial. 9Truly I tell you, wherever the good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.’
Begin by noticing the characters in the story. Two are named—Simon the leper, although no indication of who he is, and Jesus. The fact that Jesus ate at his table was in conformity with his practice of challenging the boundaries of the ruling religious elite who refused to eat with lepers because of their ‘unclean’ status. One character remains nameless—the woman; and ‘one’ is a group, referred to merely as ‘some’ and ‘they.’ We can presume that this group included the disciples and maybe a few stragglers from the crowd regularly with Jesus.
It’s curious that Mark named Simon but not the woman. In the story, Simon says and does nothing. The woman says nothing but performs a courageous service for Jesus. It was courageous because first, it was politically incorrect. In the Jewish tradition, only a male prophet had the authority to anoint another on the head, usually for the purpose of designating a new king. The nameless woman has ‘usurped’ that position and given Jesus a king’s anointing (she poured the ointment on his head).
Second, it was courageous because of its extravagance; she showed no fear of what others would think about wasting a large sum of money. Mark includes the detail about the exact cost of the perfume—300 denarii (v5), the equivalent of a day laborer’s yearly wage. ‘Some’ protested the waste. It could have been sold and the money given to the poor, they said. Jesus, however, doesn’t rebuke the woman, but instead rebukes those who protested. He then makes a startling announcement about this nameless woman: “Truly I tell you, wherever the good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.” Not ‘in remembrance of me,’ but of her. And we don’t even know her name!
It seems this woman understood what the twelve male disciples failed to understand, despite Jesus’ repeated teaching that Jesus’ end was near, and it wasn’t going to be pretty. Jesus chose to interpret her act of anointing as preparation for his burial, teaching again about his mission, this time by means of a symbol (the woman’s act). I don’t know whether she really understood Jesus’ mission (suffering and death) but Jesus claims her act suggests she did. Unlike the male disciples (who will all desert Jesus), here is a woman willing to follow him to the end, no matter the cost. She wasn’t trying to change Jesus’ mind about his mission, as the Twelve often did. She remained true and faithful to Jesus, knowing how his story would end. Therefore, Jesus sets her up as a model disciple and one whose story will be told again and again. This is the only time that Jesus lifts up a disciple and turns them into a model for the world to acknowledge for all time. He did this only with a woman. Which makes you wonder why women have been so sidelined and oppressed by the church for so long. The fact that she remains nameless allows us to put ourselves in her place, if we dare.
Reflect again on the characters and identify with one. Are you the passive Simon, one of those who protested the waste or the woman who gave extravagantly and generously to Jesus, whom she loved? How prepared are you to stand up to the accepted norm in order to ‘speak’ the truth by your actions? What may need to change in you to be able to stand up when needed ,despite the cost?
RESPOND TO JESUS IN PRAYER
Lord Jesus, help me live my life more in the style of this nameless woman than in the style of those who protest a waste that really reveals deep love for you. Amen
GO AND LIVE IN OBEDIENCE TO CHRIST, and love courageously and extravagantly.