The Anointing At Bethany
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
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
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
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
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:
By Warren E. Berkley
From Expository Files 20.3; March 2013