It was two days before the Passover and the festival of Unleavened Bread. The chief priests and the scribes were looking for a way to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him for they said, “Not during the festival, or there may be a riot among the people.” While he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he sat at the table, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very costly ointment of nard, and she broke open the jar and poured the ointment on his head. But some were there who said to one another in anger, “Why was the ointment wasted in this way? For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii, and the money given to the poor.” And they scolded her. But Jesus said, “Let her alone; why do you trouble her? She has performed a good service for me. For you always have the poor with you, and you can show kindness to them whenever you wish; but you will not always have me. She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for its burial. Truly I tell you, wherever the good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.” Then Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve, went to the chief priests in order to betray him to them. When they heard it, they were greatly pleased, and promised to give him money. So he began to look for an opportunity to betray him. On the first day of Unleavened Bread, when the Passover lamb is sacrificed, his disciples said to him, “Where do you want us to go and make the preparations for you to eat the Passover?” So he sent two of his disciples, saying to them, “Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you; follow him, and wherever he enters, say to the owner of the house, ‘The Teacher asks, Where is my guest room where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ He will show you a large room upstairs, furnished and ready. Make preparations for us there.” So the disciples set out and went to the city, and found everything as he had told them; and they prepared the Passover meal. When it was evening, he came with the twelve.
In our passage today, Mark provides an account of what took place in Bethany at the home of Simon, the leper. The gospel writer sets this scene in contrast with the hatred of the chief priests and the scribes who were looking for a way to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him. At table, we learn that a woman enters the scene “with an alabaster jar of very costly ointment of nard, and she broke open the jar and poured the ointment on his head.” Mark does not give her name, although this incident in John’s gospel read on last Sunday (Lent 5), tells us it was Mary the sister of Martha and Lazarus. Regardless of her identity, we have a wonderful description of a woman displaying deep affection and care for Jesus. She offers a costly and valuable ointment of nard.
This unnamed woman gives Jesus what was likely the most expensive gift she had ever given anyone. While she is chastised by some who are present in the house, Jesus comes to her defense noting that she “has performed a good service” for him. Those in attendance are unable to understand the extravagance of her actions, but Jesus looks beyond and looking deeper into the motivation of her heart sees love.
We see that the abundant generosity of her act mirrors that of God’s love for us; a love that knows no bounds, no limits. As we prepare to observe Christ’s coming passion and death, we might consider how we use what God has so generously given us in ways that are truly acts of devotion as well as service.
O Lord, you relieve our necessity out of the abundance of your great riches: Grant that we may accept with joy the salvation you bestow, and manifest it to all the world by the quality of our lives; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. (Collect for Friday in the fifth week of Lent)