Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Mar 8 2013 - Mark 14:1-21 – What she has done will be told in memory of her

We read that while he was in Bethany, Jesus was having a meal in the home of Simon the leper. We would like to know more about this man. Was he someone whom Jesus had healed of leprosy who had invited Jesus and his disciples to eat with him as a means of expressing his thanks? We don’t know. What we do know is that during their meal a woman entered with an alabaster jar full of expensive ointment and poured it over Jesus' head. We read that many were angry with the woman; they thought her extravagant action a waste of money that could have been better used to help the poor. Jesus rebuked them; "Leave her alone. Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me" (Mark 14:6).

Jesus is not disagreeing with their expressions of concern for the poor, for he adds, "The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want" (14:7). Maybe he is rebuking an outward expression of concern which had failed to be matched by any sacrificial actions on their part. It's all too easy to criticise others and to pass judgment on what they should have done; much more difficult for us to live up to our own ideals. Whatever the case, Jesus commends the beautiful act of this woman, saying, "She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial" (14:8). Again, this may be an implied criticism of her critics; she has actually done something. More than that, she has anticipated Jesus death and prepared him for burial. I wonder whether those reclining at Simon's table understood the significance of Jesus words.

Jesus concludes by saying, "Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her" (14:9). His words are fulfilled through the record of this woman's devotion in the pages of Scripture. And yet her name is not recorded. We do not know who she was, nor do we know what had moved her to this act of devotion. Nor are these details important; it is her act of devotion that is recorded so that we might learn from it.

We need to watch our own tendency to criticise others – even to criticise the things they do out of devotion to Christ. It's all too easy to become a professional critic, loudly declaring what others should have done as a means of covering up our own failure to do what we can.

John tells us that one of the chief critics of this woman was Judas Iscariot. He protested, John says, not because he cared for the poor but because he was in charge of the disciples’ moneybag; he loved money and would dip his hand into the bag (John 12:4-6). This incident seems to have been one of the triggers that prompted him to betray Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. Since this ointment was not sold and the money placed in his bag, he would find other ways to get his hands on some silver. What a contrast between this woman’s costly act of devotion and Judas’ self-seeking act of betrayal.

Living God, you did not spare your own Son, but gave him up for us and you promise with him to freely give us all things. Even the poor in your kingdom are rich. Keep me from the self-centredness which so often displays itself in a critical spirit – always finding fault with others. Lord Jesus, you devoted yourself to my salvation, help me to devote myself to your service. By your Spirit, enable me today to do what I can to help others and to encourage them also in their devotion to you.

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Peter Misselbrook