Sundays in Mark (51) : a beautiful act

Continuing our simple Sunday reflections in the Gospel of Mark.

This week an astonishing act of love by an unnamed woman.

Mark sets the story in the context of mounting opposition with plans afoot to kill Jesus. The woman’s actions are to be read in light of Jesus’ impending death. Bethany is the last stop on the pilgrim route before Jerusalem.

Mark’s account is sparse in the extreme. Her motives remain unexplained. Her character is not described. Simon the Leper is assumed to be well known. Her identity is not revealed.

The nard was extremely precious, perhaps a treasured family possession.

Her actions reveal her profound love for Jesus. A love that is not sexual in nature but indicative of her ‘seeing’ something of Jesus’ unique messianic identity and responding accordingly.

Jesus interprets her actions at a deeper level, reading them through the lens of the cross and her annointing of his head as an act of preparation for burial. Implicit here is his knowledge that his will be a criminal’s death, to be denied annointing prior to burial.

Jesus has little time for convention, legalistic judgements and the niceties of etiquette. He looks to the heart and pronounces her actions ‘beautiful’.

Hear that word – beautiful.

Such was the beauty of her behaviour Jesus pronounces that it will never be forgotton and she will be honoured and remembered, as indeed she has been.

Notice that this is possibly the highest praise that anyone receives from Jesus in the gospels. Given to an anonymous woman.

What implications do you think Jesus’ radical affirmation of this woman has for the status and role of women in the church today?


Jesus Anointed at Bethany

1 Now the Passover and the Festival of Unleavened Bread were only two days away, and the chief priests and the teachers of the law were scheming to arrest Jesus secretly and kill him. 2 “But not during the festival,” they said, “or the people may riot.”

3 While he was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of 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.

4 Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, “Why this waste of perfume? 5 It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor.” And they rebuked her harshly.

6 “Leave her alone,” said Jesus. “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. 7 The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. 8 She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial. 9 Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”

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