In the village of Bethany, two days before the Passover, there is a man named Judas, part of Jesus’ inner circle of twelve disciples. There is also a woman, who is not valued as highly in that culture simply because she is not a man like Judas. She isn’t an insider like Judas is. Mark doesn’t even tell us her name.

The man, Judas, is a clever, calculating, ambitious individual who is looking for a way to earn money. He’s an entrepreneur, of sorts. The woman is impulsive, irrational, and wasteful. She’s about to lose a lot of money and look like an idiot in the process.

Judas is about to make a lot of people very happy; he’s going to win the approval of a lot of prestigious men in high society. The woman is found in the house of a former leper, where she’s going to make a lot of people furious at her.

And while the woman anoints Jesus for burial, Judas digs his own grave. Judas’ actions will lead to eternal shame and his premature end, while the woman’s actions will lead to an eternal legacy. Why? Because Judas hates Jesus and is looking for a way to betray him, but the woman loves Jesus and remains fiercely loyal to him.

This is another one of Mark’s “sandwich stories.” As the author of this account of Jesus’ life, Mark will often begin by telling Story A, then interrupt it with Story B, then return to finish Story A. He does this because without Story B, you won’t understand the meaning of Story A the way that Mark wants you to understand it.

Story A is a story of conspiracy and betrayal. The “chief priests and scribes”—the political, social, and religious leaders of the Jews—want to arrest and kill Jesus. The problem is that Jesus is wildly popular, especially among his Galilean countrymen who have arrived in Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. These leaders don’t want to incite the crowds into a riot, because they’re afraid of how the occupying Roman government will respond.

They catch their break when one of Jesus’ inner circle of twelve disciples approaches them. Judas Iscariot, on his own initiative, offers to turn Jesus over to them. He knows where Jesus will be when the crowds aren’t around. The Jewish leaders are thrilled and promise to pay Judas for betraying his rabbi to them.

Interrupting this sinister turn of events is a beautiful story of devotion. Jesus is staying at the home of a former leper named Simon. Simon lives in a small village outside of Jerusalem named Bethany. As Jesus and his disciples are eating dinner, a woman enters the room—a major faux pas according to local custom! She hurries over to Jesus, carrying an expensive alabaster flask. She shatters the flask and pours its entire contents on Jesus’ head. The whole room is filled with the smell of nard, an insanely expensive perfume from India.

I’m sure that this would rank among the top five awkward moments in Jesus’ ministry. The dinner guests are in shock. As they realize what this woman has done, they begin to grow angry. “Why was the ointment wasted like that?” they begin to ask themselves. “This ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor!” A denarius was about how much money a Jewish laborer would have earned in for a day’s work. In other words, this jar of perfume was worth a year’s salary for the average Jewish man! It was probably a family heirloom—how else could this woman possess an object of such value?

And what a waste! Think of all the good things that could have been done with that money! It could have fed a colony of homeless and starving people. And yet this woman simply dumps it all out and even breaks the jar! What a foolish, impulsive thing to do!

They dinner guests lash out at the woman. They let her know what a stupid and wasteful thing she has done. And apparently the poor woman is reduced to tears, because Jesus jumps to her defense: “Leave her alone! Why do you trouble her?”

Here’s where the values of God’s kingdom and the values of the world are clashing with one another. “She has done a beautiful thing,” Jesus tells his disciples. “She has done what she could.” It is a good thing to be generous to the poor, but it is a better thing to lavish honour upon Jesus, because he won’t be with them for long. In fact, he tells them, “She has anointed my body beforehand for burial.” He is going to be killed as a criminal, and she is sparing him the shame of being buried as a criminal, in an unceremonial manner. And Jesus stuns his disciples by telling them, “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.”

This little speech was the final straw as far as Judas was concerned. That very night, he promises to betray Jesus to his enemies.

As evil as Judas’ behavior is, and as wonderful as the woman’s actions are, the story isn’t about them. It’s about Jesus. If Jesus is simply another man, a great teacher or a prophet, then the woman’s actions are stupid and wasteful, and he is a narcissist for praising her. That’s the way Judas sees it, because he doesn’t believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God. He doesn’t believe that Jesus is God’s anointed King. He doesn’t believe that Jesus is worthy of the highest honour.

Make no mistake, Jesus deserves much more than an alabaster flask filled with perfume. He deserves our entire affection and allegiance. This woman gave it to him, and he praised her for it. In turn, he gave his whole life for her and for all who believe in him as Savior and Lord. He came not to receive honour but to be betrayed. That is why he is worthy of the highest honour we can give him.

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