When I was preparing this lesson I found the phrase used above in a sermon J. Ligon Duncan gave in 1999. In a previous post on Mark 14 I pointed out that Jesus does not give backhanded compliments. Jesus filtered the disciples motives in condemning the actions of Mary redeeming them for good. He said that they can always take care of the poor. Jesus goes on to speak of the woman who anointed Jesus in this passage.
3 And while he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper,1 as he was reclining at table, a woman came with an alabaster flask of ointment of pure nard, very costly, and she broke the flask and poured it over his head. 4 There were some who said to themselves indignantly, “Why was the ointment wasted like that? 5 For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii2 and given to the poor.” And they scolded her. 6 But Jesus said, “Leave her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. 7 For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you want, you can do good for them. But you will not always have me. 8 She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for burial. 9 And 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.” (Mark 14:3-9–ESV)
Mary of Bethany was a listener
Perhaps you have a sister or have two daughters. Maybe you see your friend’s girls bickering. Once Jesus was called upon to sort out a squabble between the sisters Mary and Martha. Why was there a squabble? Well, Jesus had come for dinner and was reclining and teaching while Martha was about the hustle and bustle. Martha became angry that Mary was sitting at Jesus’ feet rather than getting dinner ready. What was Mary doing? Listening. Learning.
Mary of Bethany was a watcher
Some people have difficulty in recognizing what is about to happen. They cannot connect the dots and come to good conclusions about the future. Mary was not like that. Jesus was going to be killed and buried. He had come again to Jerusalem and was making daily journeys into the city only to return in the evening.
It was not going to be long before Mary had no more access to Jesus. She loved him intensely and so took this moment to do what she could. She probably viewed this as her last opportunity with Christ. In adoration she made a costly gift to Christ.
Others watched and others whimpered
Others present that day called into question her actions, but Jesus came to her defense. “You will not always have me,” Jesus said. Mary knew the realities facing Christ better than did the disciples. Mary was not going to be able to alter the course of history. Jesus would die, be raised to life and then ascend to heaven. Mary may have figured that she would not have access to the body of Christ to give it a proper burial. She knew how those things went for she had done it with Lazarus, or at least been near enough to the death of Lazarus to be familiar with it.
Jesus saw in Mary motivations which were good. She accepted his words for what they were, not arguing or denying his impending death. She saw it as reality, and did what she could. Jesus accepted her action; he exalted it. He concluded his words by declaring her deeds to be of an eternal character. While the world remained her deed would.