Growing up it seemed Christianity was all about being obedient, completing the list of do’s and don’ts, and of course addressing the ultimate issue of whether I would end up in heaven or hell. Once I met Betty (see my previous post), my hidden desire of intimacy with my heavenly Father surfaced. Scriptures that held a mysterious affection began to open up more fully.
While 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. Some of those present (Matthew’s account identifies the disciples as those present) were saying indignantly to one another, “Why this waste of perfume? It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor.” And they rebuked her harshly (Mark 14:3-5).
Is not giving to the poor on the list of do’s and don’ts? And yet here this woman is extravagantly pouring very expensive perfume on a man’s head…likely running down his clothes and onto the floor of Simon’s home. The disciples were greatly displeased—angry. The disciples called it a “waste.” They could have made a lot of money selling that perfume and a lot of the poor might have benefitted. This did not seem humanly logical. They rebuked her, (to blame, “snort with anger;” NRSV, “they scolded her”) HARSHLY. She was not following the list of do’s and don’ts!
Yet, what does Jesus say?
“Leave her alone,” said Jesus. “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial” (Mark 14:6-8).
Jesus acknowledges their strong words to the woman as “bothering her.” “Leave her alone.” Jesus moves us to a different level of thinking, a different level of relationship. Jesus affirms her understanding (that the disciples apparently lacked), that Jesus’ death was eminent and that the normal Jewish custom of anointing a body with aromatic oils in preparation for burial was timely. Her action clearly expressed her deep devotion to Jesus.
Jesus called her expression of love, a “beautiful thing.” So beautiful that Jesus declared,
“I tell you the truth, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her” (Mark 14:9).
How can we read this text without in some way understanding that heart-felt expressions of love extended to Jesus matter? They matter to Him. They matter to us. Jesus wanted this woman’s actions—actions totally discounted by his disciples—to be known to the world, for all time!
Expressions of worship, of love to our Lord, in our church services are most often words—in song, in message, in prayer. Yet, might there be other ways of expressing meaningful love to our precious Redeemer? The One who gave his life so we could be forgiven, so we could have a home in heaven, so we could receive love in a way we’ve not known before? That longing for intimacy with which we were each created to want—is it finally possible that it could be filled?
I don’t mean by another human being—that inevitably brings disappointment because another human being does not have the ability to fill that deep place of longing. We long to be fully loved just as we are. Not after we complete our list of do’s and don’ts, not after we have fully obeyed every command.
Betty, like the woman in this text, knew Jesus in a very intimate way. Her longings for love were filled by Jesus. Her devotion to him was extravagant. So was his love for her. She has done a beautiful thing to me.
Are Betty and the woman in this text unique? (See my next post.)