Lord, thank you for your word. Thank you for how spending time reading and reflecting on scripture floods my life with truth and light and peace. May I be an instrument of your peace in a world at war. May I sow love, pardon, faith, hope, and joy. May I honor you with my time and words and thoughts and attitudes. May you be glorified through me.
This morning I’m picking up with Mark 14:3-9, once of the most profound and beautiful passages of scripture I have ever read. Read it through at least three times before moving on. This passage needs time to sink in:
And while he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he was reclining at table, a woman came with an alabaster flask of ointment of pure nard, very costly, and she broke the flask and poured it over his head. There were some who said to themselves indignantly, “Why was the ointment wasted like that? For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor.” And they scolded her. But Jesus said, “Leave her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you want, you can do good for them. But you will not always have me. She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for burial. And truly, I say to you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.” (Mark 14:3-9 ESV)
I have been on a journey of understanding the tension between serving the poor and appreciating God’s lavish love for years. Like many earnest pilgrims before me, I have wrestled with the guilt of having much and living in comfort while knowing that there is so much suffering in the world. When I was in Nigeria and India, this was particularly hard. How could I enjoy feasting night after night, when I had to step over poor people to get inside the restaurant? How can I sleep peacefully in my bed, house warm and toasty, comforter soft and clean and cozy, while millions of people suffer and starve? If anything contributes to a crisis of faith, this does. In fact, when I read this passage, if I am honest, my heart resonates most with those who said to themselves indignantly, “Why the waste? We could have done so much with this money.”
But this passage is not about the poor. In fact, elsewhere it is suggested in scripture that the reason the disciples expressed this reservation was not out of concern for the poor, but rather about a desire to keep them money for themselves.
No, this passage is not about the poor at all. It is about Jesus. And it is about worship. There are several things this woman did that challenge me as I reflect on my own life and worship.
She did “a beautiful thing.” Notice that Jesus does not say, “She did a sensible thing,” or, “She did a practical thing.” She did a beautiful thing! Beauty matters to God so much more than we ever realize. By giving him this “very costly” flask of ointment, the woman was pouring out her treasure for Christ. There was nothing pragmatic or sensible about her offering. It was an extravagant gift to celebrate Christ. I have read and heard many sermons and references to this passage, where people have suggested this was her marriage dowry or her only wealth. That is possibly true. But regardless of what the flask of ointment meant to her, we know it cost her to give it. She would never be able to take it back. And she seems to have given this gift with pure joy.
She did “what she could.” I love that phrase. She did what she could. Isn’t that all God asks of any of us? To do what we can? We are not God—only God is God. Yet we are called to be living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God, as we do what we can. We each have our own gift from God. We are given gifts to serve on another. And what God asks of us is simply that we give what we have to give—that we do what we can. Do you ever feel paralyzed from serving God because you can’t give what someone else gives? There is tremendous freedom in realizing that all God asks of us is that we do what we can. What we can. What you can and what I can.
She participated in the cross. I once heard a pastor point out that when Jesus went to the cross, the only thing he wore was this woman’s offering—the nard. Jesus took her gift to the cross. It was in his hair, on his skin—her gift of pure nard. Do you realize that the fragrance of Christ as he hung on the cross was her gift? Surely he smelled of sweat and blood—but he also smelled of her perfume. She had prepared his body for burial before he was even dead, and when he went to the cross, his clothing taken from him to be divided among the guards, he still wore her gift. This thought takes my breath away.
Another thought that takes my breath away is this: Christ’s fragrance is still present today.
But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things? For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ. (2 Corinthians 2:14-17 ESV)
The fragrance of Christ is no longer fragrant nard on a brutal cross. The fragrance of Christ today is the presence of the body of Christ in the world, people of sincerity, commissioned by God, to speak in Christ—faithfully, generously, and gracefully.
As I continue to reflect on this passage, I ask myself: Am I doing a beautiful thing for Jesus? Am I doing what I can? Am I participating in the cross as the fragrance of the knowledge of Christ in the world today—a world that desperately needs the hope, peace, and joy that comes only through knowing Jesus?