Posted by: mikenicholsblog | March 31, 2010

anointing, not wasting

I hope you’ll allow a one post diversion from following the text we have been reading this week, to stop a minute and take a brief peek into the Wednesday in the last week of Jesus.  On the church calendar, this is Holy Week.  A week of immense richness and depth, both in activity and significance to our faith.  One could argue (and I think, win) that this week, and weekend to come, is way bigger than Christmas in the joy and celebration department.  But while some of us may prepare, and travel through the season of advent leading up to Christmas, I would suppose that a far lesser percentage do the same during the week leading up to Resurrection day.  So, if you will, please give me a few paragraphs more than normal to take a look at a very significant event in the Wednesday on which I am writing.

Using Mark’s gospel, we arrive at the events of Wednesday in chapter 14.  Sandwiched between two short mentions of the chief priests and Judas plotting to kill Christ, we find the story of a blessed meal.  No, this is not the meal.  That will happen late Thursday evening.  The setting for our meal is the house of Simon the Leper.  It fit’s, right?  Are you surprised at all that Jesus would be enjoying a meal at the house of a former leper?  No? … me either.  So Jesus is reclining, likely after the meal with the other guests, when contrary to proper etiquette, a woman (who would normally only approach the table to serve the men who were eating) walks up to him holding an alabaster jar.  The jar is full of what is described as “very expensive perfume, made of pure nard.” (v3)

Doing some research, I found that nard comes from very remote regions in the Himalayas of modern-day China, India and Nepal.  So it would stand to reason that this assessment of its value is right on.  It is suggested that perfume in this quantity, and of that value would likely have been an inheritance, highly treasured, maybe the equivalent today of a well invested and endowed retirement account.  I think it is fair to say, that this would be the prized possession of this woman, and would amount to most of what she had of value in the world.

She approaches Jesus, breaks the bottle, and pours out the entire contents, down to the very last drop, over Jesus’ head.  There is significance in her breaking the bottle, I would suggest.  The woman did not simply uncap the bottle, and measure her pour.  No, she broke it open, making a commitment up front that her perfume would all be spent in the anointing of Jesus.  A whole vessel would allow for one to stop and retain some for themselves, or even give the appearance of pouring out all, while still keeping a portion hidden and saved.  A broken vessel is an exposed vessel.  There is no hiding in a broken vessel.  And a broken vessel is a submitted vessel.  One that can no longer be used for its prior purposes, but rather is given up fully to the purpose it was broken for.  This is the gift of this unnamed woman, not only of her perfume, but of herself.

Immediately on seeing this act, those who were there began to criticize her harshly.  What in the world was she doing?!  Does she not know how valuable the perfume was, and how much money could have been gained from its sale and given to the poor?!  It is important to understand that this was a very integral part of the Passover celebration.  Much like our modern celebration of Christmas, it was customary to be very generous to the poor during the Passover season.  So in their own reasoning, it makes perfect sense that they would see the horrible injustice and waste in this seemingly frivolous act.  In their own reasoning, that is.

But as quickly as they began, Jesus jumped to the woman’s defense, and put the rebuke back on them.  “Leave her alone … she has done a beautiful thing to me.” (v6)  In his divine and kingdom vision, Jesus saw the moving of her spirit to anoint him for burial.  A broken and complete sacrifice to honor him, and prepare his body for what was to come.  He chastises the guests with the truth that they will always have the poor amongst them, to offer their help to.  But they will only have him for a very short time.

I see a few parallels here, to the events and lessons Jesus shared on Tuesday (check them out in Mark, the last portion of chapter 11, and chapters 12 and 13).  First, there is a reference to kingdom purposes, in stark contrast to the purposes of the natural world.  In focusing on the perfume and money, the guests miss the point of the kingdom act of anointing.  They are focused on the denarius (Roman coins).  Jesus, and this unnamed woman, have his Father’s kingdom on their hearts.

And then there is the greatest commandment.  Jesus’ answer to the teacher of the law, the day before when he questioned, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” (Mark 12:28)  In breaking the bottle and giving it up to its final purpose of anointing, the woman loved the Lord her God with everything she had.  And in response, Jesus promised that throughout the remainder of human history, “wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.” (Mark 14:9)  … where we find ourselves now, 2000+ years later.

an unnamed woman, in the house of a leper, approaching her Lord and pouring out the entirety of the most valuable thing she possessed in life.  what an amazing look-in to a significant event in the Wednesday of the last week of Jesus.  I encourage you to pick up the story today, and follow it through to Resurrection Sunday!  He is Risen!  He is Risen, Indeed!


  1. Oh that i would imitate this woman in that i would give up everything (which even was given 1st by Him) for Him…. this world is not my home…. i am an alien living in a foreign land.

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