While he was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head. Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, “Why this waste of perfume? It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor.” And they rebuked her harshly. “Leave her alone,” said Jesus. “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial. Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”Mark 14:3-9 NIV
The twelve disciples reclined with Jesus, the guest of honor, around the table. Without warning, a woman (John’s gospel identifies her as Mary, Lazarus’ sister) pushed her way into this gathering of men and broke an expensive jar of scent worth a year’s wages over Jesus’ head. Immediately, criticism ensued.
She had wasted good resources. Had she been a better steward, this perfume could have been sold and the poor helped. The disciples thought they were doing Jesus a favor by sticking up for justice, for rebuking a wrong.
And they did it harshly. This word, embrimaomai, appears in other versions as “spoke angrily to her,” “murmured against her” and “criticized her sharply.” The word means to snort with anger, to have indignation. Interestingly, it is used only four other times in the New Testament and each time it refers to Jesus.
Jesus sternly and strongly warned the two blind men in Matthew 9:30 and the leper in Mark 1:43 not to tell anyone of their healing. And “a deep anger welled up within him” (John 11:33, 38 NTL) in response to Mary and the mourners of Lazarus who grieved without hope.
I think it is significant that this word is used to describe Jesus—the holy and righteous one. While Jesus can rightfully feel this kind of anger, we don’t handle it well. Rarely are we angry without sin (Ephesians 4:26). The disciples thought that guarding the funds and helping the poor was worthy of righteous indignation. Jesus took away their right to rebuke.
“Leave her alone,” Jesus said. Stop bothering her, troubling her or making her feel uncomfortable. She did what she could and her actions were a beautiful thing, a good service for him. She recognized what the disciples did not, and anointed him for burial.
Note that the disciples picked a spiritual reason to call her out. I wonder if they masked the real reason for their rebuke under the cloak of helping the poor. John’s gospel tells us that Judas wanted to sell the perfume so that he could dip into the funds. Perhaps the others weren’t as concerned about the poor as they were that a woman had interrupted a man’s gathering and made them feel uncomfortable.
Sadly, too often I relate to the dinner guests and not to the woman in this narrative. I see and participate in too much rebuking, scolding, criticizing, murmuring against my colleagues, my friends and my family. And usually I mask my real reason behind an attempt to “protect” the Lord and his resources. That method won’t work. It takes too much money, too much time. It leads away from our goal. You quit too soon. You’re not serious enough. You don’t carry your weight. etc. etc.
This reminds me of that sneaky scarcity mentality again—”Stay in your lane, woman. The funds are limited. Don’t do anything too extravagant. Don’t show us up.”
Perhaps the most beautiful thing I can do for Jesus is not criticize or rebuke or sternly warn someone about their good service. It may not appear the most effective or the most efficient, but Jesus calls it praiseworthy and noble. Instead, I need to encourage myself and others to use our gifts to love and serve Jesus in our own unique ways.
Who do you need to stop bothering?
What beautiful thing can you do for Jesus today? Or for one of his children?
Lord Jesus, this account reminds me that you do not look at service as I often do, evaluating efficiency and results. You accepted this woman’s extravagant gift. You praised her for doing what she could. Teach me to stop being filled with righteous indignation and criticizing others’ good service according to my standards. Instead lead me to do what I can for you.