A Deed to be Praised and Imitated

When a woman poured expensive ointment on Jesus’ head during a dinner at Bethany near the end of his life, Jesus announced to everyone at the dinner, “Truly I tell you, wherever the good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.”

Nowhere else in any of the Gospels did Jesus suggest that anything anyone else had done would be told all around the world.  He did not claim that everyone would hear about the faith of the centurion, or about Peter walking on water, or about the blind man seeing again, or about Zacchaeus’ dramatic repentance, or about the feeding of the 5000, but he said it about this woman pouring ointment on his head!

Pericles, who was responsible for the construction of the Parthenon in ancient Greece, argued that it was the duty of an Athenian woman to live such an inconspicuous life that her name would never be mentioned among men either for praise or for shame.  The thinking in Greek culture was that a woman should live in such a way that she would never even be noticed.  But this woman caused a great stir when she broke open her alabaster jar and poured the ointment on Jesus’ head.  Jesus praised her and announced that she would go down in history for it!

Mark reports that the people at the dinner “scolded her,” complaining “in anger” that the ointment could have been sold for the price of at least 300 days’ wages, and the money given to the poor.  But Jesus defended her and affirmed the value of what she did, and he declared that what she did would be “proclaimed in the whole world!”

What is going on here?  Why is Jesus so impressed by her deed?

To answer that question, consider the setting where this took place.  They were eating a Middle-Eastern meal, vibrant with the aroma of delicious food.  There would have been the smell of freshly baked unleavened bread, since this was in the days leading up to the Passover.  There would have been the aroma of red wine.  There would have been the smell of dates, and figs, and fresh grapes, and cooked onions, and Jerusalem cheese, and pickled herrings, and honey pie.  Quite possibly, there would also have been the smell of barbecued lamb or goat.  These aromas would have warmed the nostrils and the souls of all the guests.

Then the woman arrives, not with a hot dish made from her grandmother’s famous recipe, but with an alabaster jar of very costly ointment of nard.  When she breaks the jar and pours the contents on Jesus’ head, she fills the room with a new and beautiful aroma—the aroma not just of nard, but of love and devotion. 

Apparently, there is nothing that thrills Jesus’ heart more than that!

Henry David Thoreau once advised, “Behave so the aroma of your actions may enhance the general sweetness of the atmosphere.”  That’s what this woman does, and such a deed deserves to be shared around the world!

Henrietta Mears once remarked, “God does not always choose great people to accomplish what he wishes, but he chooses a person who is wholly yielded to him.”  That’s what Jesus finds in this woman, and that’s what he decides should be shared all around the world.

One other aspect to this story should be mentioned.  In breaking the alabaster jar, this woman made a great personal sacrifice toward Jesus.  Jesus, in turn, tells the people at the dinner that “she has anointed my body beforehand for its burial.”  It is Jesus who will be making the greatest sacrifice—giving his very life for us.  There is something incredibly beautiful when the sacrifice of Jesus is greeted by a person’s own sacrifice of devotion and love.  When that happens, the world ought to hear about it so that we can be inspired by it and imitate it.  That’s why her story continues to be shared throughout the world. 


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