I will call this Mark 14:3-9 take 3 because I have already written a “take 1” on no backhanded compliments and a “take 2” on Mary of Bethany as a great listener. There are so many things that can be taken from this event and but a few of them I will concentrate upon. Take 3 is about the poise of Jesus. I have included two verses on both sides of this passage because there we see the plotting Pharisees and the disciple who goes rogue to help them.
1 It was now two days before the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread. And the chief priests and the scribes were seeking how to arrest him by stealth and kill him, 2 for they said, “Not during the feast, lest there be an uproar from the people.” (Mark 14:1-2–ESV)
Pharisees: Plotting Jesus: Reclining Woman: Loving Disciples: Judging Judas: Going rogue
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)
10 Then Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve, went to the chief priests in order to betray him to them. 11 And when they heard it, they were glad and promised to give him money. And he sought an opportunity to betray him. (Mark 14:10-11–ESV)
The home court of the religious elite was Jerusalem and Jesus had come to play ball. The scribes and chief priests were playing a vicious game. Winning was killing and that killing was to be wrapped in secrecy. It is useful to see that there was not a spirit of equivocating among them. They were decided in the course they were to take. This does not rule out contradictory voices among the group, but such voices held too little force to better steer the course.
The chief concern among the priests was how to keep the people from rioting. The big to-do in Jerusalem at that time was the Passover feast. It was for that that so many had gathered. For that Jesus had come, but he was to be the sacrificial lamb.
Satan would not have been far from Jerusalem then either. Presumably Satan knew the significance of an execution at the Passover. The symbolism hinted at in the Garden of Eden would move beyond symbolism and into reality. There had been a point to the blood on the doorposts back in Egypt. It had had a foretelling and its annual celebration had been prophetic, training of the Jewish culture even. Perhaps Satan was steering the thoughts of the priests and the teachers of the law. Such is not said, but Satan was not far.
No matter how one considers the situation it had high stakes. Jesus seemed to be at the greatest risk, but we will see that he had poise.
I love the word reclining here for it suggests rest. When a person is in great stress over a thing in their life they do not usually recline. They rattle. Here, though, Jesus is among his friends (mostly) and acquaintances. They are having a meal. The greatest event of Jesus’ life is but a couple of days away and here he is going about the ordinary things of life. He had poise and was able to be about those things. Soon a new feature would be introduced into the room where the people had gathered.
While Jesus was there a woman approached him. It is considered to be Mary of Bethany, Martha’s sister. In the “Take 2” page of this section I have pointed out that Mary was a listener and Mary was a watcher. That listening and watching had led her to understand that Jesus’ days were numbered. She had been seeing him go in to Jerusalem in the morning and return to Bethany in the evenings. Jesus had not been closed mouthed about his coming execution and Mary would have remembered it. Probably every morning when Jesus left she wondered if he would return that evening.
At the table in Simon’s house Jesus had made it back. He had not been arrested in Jerusalem that day. Mary who loved Jesus so much realized her opportunities must be drawing short. What could she do? She had a flask of very expensive perfume. Nard it was. That is a spice from India that would be used to make perfume and that perfume stayed sealed in a container. It seems like it was a single use vial for it had to be broken to be used (like us? like Jesus?). Mary broke this and poured this costly perfume upon Jesus.
She took serious grief from the disciples for that action, but I do not think she was too concerned over that. She had such regard for Jesus that knowing her time with him was short did was she could.
The room would have soon been filled with the blessing of the pleasing odor. The perfume was of excellence and surely the people there would have been alerted by it. Sometimes one or the other of my daughters will spray their strong perfume from Bath & Body Works. We smell it and sometimes like it. Occasionally it will be too strong. Occasionally the siblings will fuss.
The reaction in Simon’s house was not pleasure at the act of the woman or the blessing of a pleasing aroma. It was scorn and derision. The disciples smelled, looked and observed what had just happened and were shocked. No pleasure they took in the extravagant worship, but only judgment over what they perceived as a great waste.
Jesus sticks up for Mary–I’ll come back to this one
Judas goes rogue
The Pharisees were not sure how they were going to arrest Jesus, but they were sure that it should not be during the feast. The arrival of Judas with his offer to betray Jesus changed a lot of things. That was the break they thought they needed, and it was a thing that would break so many. Judas would eventually be among those who broke. Jerusalem and Israel as a nation would also break. Any attempt that Satan may have had to delay the demise of Christ past the Passover was made all the more difficult.
Jesus stuck up for Mary and showed his poise
Jesus exalted what Mary did. He said that she did what she could. The act of Mary was an act of worship that had a fragrance far beyond that of the perfume poured out that day. Jesus redeemed that act raising it above the grumbles of the disciples.
There are some crucial things we should see in the manner of Christ. First, he had command of himself and the situation. He interrupted the complaints of his disciples and he also put a good light upon their words. See “Take 1” for more on the good light Jesus put upon their disparagements. Jesus brought the situation back into control. He was not too pre-occupied with her worship, with the disciples’s bad motives, or his own coming crucifixion. He took control of the conversations throughout that whole room.
Second, he was aware of his pending execution. In verse 8 he spoke of his coming burial. He knew he was soon to die. His death on the cross was part of the eternal plan and he was there to carry through with it. Jesus was living on purpose. His life was not a thing to be rushed through or to be gotten out of the way. He was going about the daily duties with mental engagement and resolve. He was poised on the way to the cross.
Third, he was aware of the preaching of the gospel that would result. Usually verse 9 is taught in light of the honor bestowed upon her memory by Jesus. The disciples grumbled to her disadvantage while Jesus redeemed the moment to her perpetual advantage. What I would like us to see, though, is that Jesus was also clearly aware of the coming church age. A reader of the scripture is not naive to that for Jesus had been about the training of the twelve. It is good to see that same theme being part of the poise of Christ as he approached his death. Jesus knew he would soon leave the world. He knew the Holy Spirit would be sent and that the gospel would be preached.