The anointing. 14:1-11
Mark introduces the passion narrative by contrasting the devotion of an unnamed woman with the deceitfulness of the religious authorities and the disloyalty of one of Jesus' disciples.
v1-2. The die is cast in that the religious authorities have decided to act against Jesus, planning to seize him and put him to death. They are aware of Jesus' popularity and so plan to arrest him away from public gaze. All they need is the opportunity. Mark tells us that it is the Wednesday before the commencement of the Passover on Thursday evening.
v3-5. The scene is a meal in Bethany at the home of Simon the Leper. His full name is given to distinguish him from the others named Simon in the gospel. We know nothing more about him, nor are we even sure if Jesus is staying with him, or is just having a meal at his home. Having set the scene, Mark focuses on the woman and her act of love. She destroys the seal of the perfume bottle, indicating her intention to use all of its contents. The perfume is probably pistachio nut oil with a splash of spikenard essential oil. There is a ripple of disapproval - a grumble here and there, an unfriendly stare. Mark underlines their hisses, not so much to expose their hypocrisy, but rather to emphasize the woman's devotion. Her critics conclude that the oil is extremely valuable and could have been sold and used for a more legitimate purpose. How often do we go on about the poor, but then ignore them? Interestingly, Matthew says it was the disciples who reacted this way, while John says that it was Judas. Mark doesn't really specify since his focus is on the woman.
v6-8. Jesus defends her action, calling it a "good work", a righteous act. It is true, her loving kindness toward Jesus could have been redirected toward the poor, but she seized the moment. In the midst of growing hostility toward Christ she expressed loving devotion. Her anointing of Jesus anticipated his approaching death, a death where the proper anointing of the body prior to burial will not be performed, given that Jesus will be treated as a common criminal.
v9. Jesus raises the stakes by telling those present, of whom most were probably disciples, that the significance of this unnamed woman's action is so profound that the story of her anointing of Jesus will be carried alongside the gospel, and in its telling it will serve as a reminder from her. Her story will define the "good work" necessary for salvation, namely, a dependence on the cross of Christ.
v10-11. From the devotion of an unnamed woman Mark takes us back to real life. The authorities are seeking to arrest Jesus secretly and one of his own disciples is looking for the best time and place for them to do their dirty deed. Mark doesn't tell us why Judas is out to get Jesus, although the offer of money points to a motive of greed, cf. Matt.26:15a.
Grasp the moment
She did the right thing at the right moment. The unnamed woman who anointed Jesus remains a mystery to us. We know nothing much about her - she but passed Him by. The disciples were blind to the gathering storm, but somehow she understood that Jesus was about to die the death of a common criminal where anointing for burial is not an option. Her anointing of Jesus was an act of selfless love toward his person, an act of faith, generosity, acceptance, recognition, ...., an act, says Jesus, that will be retold throughout time. In the midst of deception and disloyalty we find an act of dedication to Christ and his cross.
We are not able to repeat the good work of this unnamed woman, but she does, in a sense, remind us of the one good work that is acceptable to God, and that is reliance on the cross of Christ - faith in Jesus for salvation. We do well not to ignore such an important reminder.
1. Comment on the placement of the anointing with v1-2, 10-11.
2. Discuss the possible motives behind the woman's action.
3. "What this woman has done will be told as a reminder from her." Discuss.
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