by Sian Huey
One evening at Bethany, while Jesus was dining at His friend’s house, something extraordinary happened. Jesus’ disciples, His close friends and the religious leaders of the town were gathered in one place when a woman came in with a jar of expensive perfume, broke the jar and poured the perfume on Jesus’ head (Mark 14:3). Another account said she poured it on His feet and wiped His feet with her hair (John 12:3).
Jesus commemorated this act, saying “Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.” (Mark 14:9). And today, we see across the four gospels this story being told. At this instance, Jesus felt loved by this woman (Luke 7:47) and the Greek word for ‘love‘ used in the passage was ēgapēsen, from the word agape, like that of his Father’s love.
The woman’s actions and Jesus’ response to her may have embarrassed the host who had neglected to wash Jesus’ feet or embrace Him with a kiss or anoint His head with oil. It certainly offended one of Jesus’ disciples, who felt that the perfume should sold for a lot of money (the equivalent of my annual salary!) to help the poor.
Even so, at a feast held in Jesus’ honour, an act like this would not have been out of place. Yet, only one woman stepped forward to do it, and Jesus was deeply honoured by her.
It made me think. Week in and week out, we gather in Jesus’ honour; I wonder what is it that we do that would most move His heart? Our hospitality? The music and singing? The meals carefully prepared? Service to the poor?
We can find some clues to what moves the heart of Jesus from this woman’s example:
1. Pure Nard in an Alabaster Jar (Mark 14:3)
The perfume she brought was expensive essential oil from the Himalayan region. It was preserved and sealed in a jar made of alabaster that ensured that the oil didn’t seep out and lose its potency or intensity. Unadulterated and unused, when she broke the jar its aroma filled the whole room. She gave Jesus her very best, He had the first honour. What might be our nard oil equivalent today?
2. You will not always have Me (Mark 14:7)
She understood that there will be time to care for the needs of the world, but the present was for cherishing His presence. His nearness was something to be enjoyed. Perhaps it is a feeling someone in a long-distance relationship would understand. “If you are here now, I want to spend this time with you. Other things can wait.” Are there moments where God comes into our space and wants to talk to us, how do we give Him our attention?
3.She did what she could… to prepare for My burial (Mark 14:8)
Sometimes our small, individual actions have a part to play in God’s bigger purpose, in God’s eternal kingdom. For those who saw Jesus only as a doer of miracles, the focus may be on their earthly needs. But seeing Jesus as Messiah King meant it was no waste for the woman to lavish on Him everything she had. Do we discern God’s purpose and play our part to build His kingdom?
Each time we approach Jesus in worship, may we give our Lord the honour He is due.