Mark 14:3-11, Matthew 26:14-16, Luke 22:3-6, Zechariah 11:12-13
A few months ago I started teaching full-time at a private school. One of the subjects I teach is hermeneutics, which is the science of biblical interpretation. Though I have studied the subject myself, I have never taught it, and so I find myself learning as I go, trying to stay a step or two ahead of my tenth graders.
The goal of this class is to give students tools and skills to read and study Scripture so they can mine the Bible for all its worth. One of the skills we talk about the most is reading the Bible “existentially,” which is reading the Bible with personal application in mind. I tell them to “crawl into the skin” of the characters of whatever story or audience is before them in the passage. Who do you identify with? What are they thinking? What are they feeling? Where do you see yourself in the story?
When I read the story of Jesus being anointed for burial, I do not like where I see myself.
Jesus, whose opinion matters the most, celebrates the woman who has broken the flask of oil before Him, ostensibly because all of it was to be used in that moment. It was pure nard, an aromatic essential oil or perfume that was so expensive at the time that it was often diluted with water so it would last longer. But this woman’s nard was pure, not diluted. The expense—roughly a year’s worth of wages—should not be lost on us.
But there are others present who believed her gift was wasteful: All that ointment could have been sold, and the profits given to the poor! Mark tells us these people scolded the woman for wasting such an opportunity to help those in need.
When I apply my own teaching to the story and crawl into the skin of the characters, I find the skin I’m most comfortable in is that of those who reprimanded the woman. I can see more of myself in them than in her, who was not only willing to give such a costly gift to Jesus, but to further honor Him by anointing Him herself.
Jesus says she was anointing Him for His burial. We can only assume she did not quite understand this. Most likely she believed He was the Messiah, had watched His ministry, heard His teaching, and sought to honor Him. In the process, she unwittingly anointed Him for burial beforehand. Jesus describes what she has done as “beautiful” or “noble” (Mark 14:6).
This is a hard passage. The world rings out with an accusation, saying, What a waste when so many are poor and could have been helped! But Jesus says such a pure, costly gift—pointing to the pure, costly gift of Himself to a sinful world—is appropriate. She seemed to be looking at the world and that expensive oil with a heart full of Christ and who He is for her. And in so doing she honored Him well.
I want to be more like her. I want to be willing and eager to honor Jesus even when, in the eyes of a watching world, it looks wasteful. In the eyes of my Savior, it is seen as an extravagant act of worship.
Written by Matthew B. Redmond