Read Mark 14:3-9
3While 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.
4Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, “Why this waste of perfume? 5It could have been sold for more than a year's wages and the money given to the poor.” And they rebuked her harshly.
6”Leave her alone,” said Jesus. “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. 7The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. 8She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial. 9I tell you the truth, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.” (NIV)
This is an interesting passage as it has parallel stories in the other Gospels that vary a bit. Luke and John have a story of Jesus’ feet being anointed with oil. Here in this passage and in one in Matthew, it is Jesus’ head that is anointed.
In the Jewish tradition, anointing was highly symbolic. It was done by pouring or smearing oil on a person’s head or body. The Greek words for “Anointed One” are “Messias” and “Christos.” We get Messiah and Christ from these words. The anointing of a prophet, a priest or a king was typically done by oil on the head. That cannot be missed in this passage. This declares that Jesus is priest, prophet and king.
As we look at this passage, we see 4 things happening. (1) Jesus was anointed by a woman. (2) She did so as Jesus sat at the table as a guest in the home of a leper. (3) People in the room who witnessed it became angry. (4) Jesus commended her for it in spite of the extravagance. Someone pointed out that of these four, the first seems to get the least attention. It was a woman who saw who Jesus was. It was a woman who understood that Jesus was carrying the sins of the world upon his back. Yes, poverty is a result of sin in the world, but Jesus was the one who would address that sin.
We see in this short passage a clash between doing something good and doing something good. This is probably one of the last acts of kindness shown Jesus before his death. Jesus even tells the people she is doing something good. The Greeks have two words for good. One is “agathos” which means something morally good. And while something good, can also be something hard, austere or even unattractive. I work out which is good for me, but it is not a lovely kind of good. See, that is the essence of the other word for good, “kalos.” That is the word Jesus uses here which the New International Version translates “beautiful” in verse 6. What she is doing to Jesus is a wonderful good thing. It is both right and pleasing. There are times I think the church needs to do more pleasing good.
It is always interesting when people want to tell us what good we should be doing. Those protesting said she could have sold the perfume and given it to the poor. Jesus in response makes this strange statement that the poor you will always have with you and you can help them any time you want. On the surface, it sounds harsh. But if we step back, we see that everyday we have an opportunity to do something morally good. It is that “agthos” good. It helps but it is not beautiful. But there are times when we have the opportunity to do something beautifully good. That is not the case every day. It is something special, something we must be on the lookout for.
We need to help the poor, those who are hungry in the ways we can. Jesus’ teaching shows us this is right. The beautiful good acts have a way of inspiring even more good. They transcend the gift or act. Jesus says these kinds of act will be remembered.
Have you done good things in your life to help others? Have you done beautifully good things that inspire others? We are called to both. It is not either/or, but both/and.
Blessings and Peace