The Expository Files

 

The Anointing At Bethany

Mark 14:3-9
 

And being in Bethany at the house of Simon the leper, as He sat at the table, a woman came having an alabaster flask of very costly oil of spikenard. Then she broke the flask and poured it on His head. But there were some who were indignant among themselves, and said, “Why was this fragrant oil wasted? For it might have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor.” And they criticized her sharply.

But Jesus said, “Let her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a good work for Me. For you have the poor with you always, and whenever you wish you may do them good; but Me you do not have always. She has done what she could. She has come beforehand to anoint My body for burial. Assuredly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be told as a memorial to her.” Mark 14:3-9

The Anointing At Bethany is one of those cases where Mark acts as a reporter, giving us this account like a news report; similar to an eye-witness narrative.

Let’s start with the simplest part of this: This was an act of kindness, whereby this woman demonstrated her honor and love for the Lord. [See other accounts in Matt. 26, Luke 7 and John 12. It is not a part of this study to compare those or address the question if there are two separate accounts total in the references. Some believe the Luke account is separate.]

This may remind us of something similar: It was a customary practice of hospitality in that culture to wash the feet of visitors. We know that travel was mostly by foot. The weary traveler would be soothed and refreshed by the washing of his feet upon arriving at a friendly destination.

But this went way beyond the ordinary practices and gestures of cultural hospitality. It says this woman “broke the flask” of expensive oil, “and poured it on His head.”

This provoked a response from some (Judas led the way, see Jno. 12), that this was just way overboard; too much; a waste of expensive oil.

This Argument Was Made: “For it might have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor.” And then it says they criticized her sharply. Now let’s pause here and think about this.

It is interesting and revealing how easy it is to see waste in others, or to expose how others need to sacrifice and be more benevolent! This reminds me of what Jesus said about how easy we can see the splinter in our brother’s eye, but we miss the log in our own eye. Seems to me this is another case, here in Mrk. 14, where it was easy to see what someone else needed to do. It was not a great test of character to specify what this woman needed to do with her resources.

But there is something else we need to concentrate on: Jesus is worthy of our best; our highest honor! We cannot go overboard in honoring Him. You can think too highly of men, but you cannot think too highly of Jesus Christ. You can spend too much in praising men, but you cannot spend too much praising Christ [as long as you are engaged in sincere obedience].

I’m not suggesting that spending money is the only way to honor Christ, or that it is primary. The point is, given who He is, one cannot praise and honor Him too much. I think Judas and the other critics in Mark 14 didn’t get that.

The Most Important Assessment

Let’s get to the most important assessment; that is – what Jesus said.

“Let her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a good work for Me. For you have the poor with you always, and whenever you wish you may do them good; but Me you do not have always. She has done what she could. She has come beforehand to anoint My body for burial. Assuredly, I say to you, whenever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be told as a memorial to her.” (6-9)

That their criticism had no basis is evident; Jesus said, “Let her alone.” And you can hear implied in this: Put your attention back on yourselves; she doesn’t need your evaluation. You need to examine yourself, not herself!! “Let her alone! Why do you trouble her?”

Then He said, “She has done a good work for Me.” If someone is honoring Jesus – not in some sinful way - sincere honor directed to Him? LEAVE THEM ALONE! Don’t sit there watching, with a calculator in hand. “She has done a good work for Me.”

Verse 7: “…you have the poor with you always, and whenever you wish you may do them good; but Me you do not have always.” Verse 7 is so important! While we have an obligation to do what we can to help the legitimate poor – we cannot wipe out poverty; there will always be poverty!

Jesus was on the earth for a short period of time and I’m not going to hesitate to say this: HONORING JESUS IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN HELPING THE POOR. If we elevate the poor to some status above Jesus – we don’t get it. If we elevate the rich to some status above Jesus – we don’t get it. We must let people honor Jesus, and not distract them with our criticism about any neglect of benevolence.

I’ll add this – if we really honor Jesus, from that honor toward Him – we will be well motivated and equipped to respond to legitimate poverty. Do you see what this is about?

Then Jesus says, “She has done what she could.” That’s all we can expect of people. And when people do their best – when people do what they are able to do . . . Unless they are violating God’s law – we need to shut up; let them alone; and perhaps even – follow their lead!!!

This woman (it may be argued) knew Jesus was soon to be crucified and buried and was concerned that decay of the body not come premature. So, she anointed His body beforehand. She did what she could do, knowing where Jesus was headed. It was an act of honor, respect and sacrifice.

“Let her alone,” the Lord said. And – what is also amazing about this - Jesus knew we would be talking about this today!! He knew that where the gospel was preached, this story would be repeated.

Don’t ever let anyone tell you that the Bible doesn’t honor women. To the contrary, the Bible upholds the many examples of godly, courageous women who did what they could to honor the Lord.

Back in chapter 12, we read about the widow who gave all she had. Here in chapter 14, this woman who went to great expense to honor the Lord. Who will we read about next? Judas – a man who was corrupt, who betrayed His Lord.

Women, in that ancient Jewish and Gentile world, were victims of paganism and disrespected by corrupt leaders. In contrast, some of the most inspiring parts of the gospels concern our Lord’s contact with godly women. They afford us profound examples of tender service and reverence to Jesus Christ. I hope in our homes – we are raising our girls to be like these good women.

Please notice again the lessons that we can learn from the woman who anointed Jesus. First, we need to look for possibilities, for things that we can do rather than spend our time looking for or thinking about those things that we cannot do. Second, we need to recognize that we have some abilities given us by God and that we are responsible to Him for what we do with those abilities. And, third, we need to learn not to waste our time, but to do now those things that are within our power to do.

Sewell, N. E. (1988). “She Hath Done What She Could”. In Christianity Magazine: October 1988, Volume 5, Number 10 (24). Jacksonville, FL: Christianity Magazine.
 

By Warren E. Berkley
From Expository Files 20.3; March 2013

 

 

 

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