Holy Week – Wednesday

She Did What She Could

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[a] 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,[b] and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. She did what she could.

Mark 14:3-8

I love this story! Jesus is absolutely the best. If your only experience with Christianity has been legalistic lists of rules and  judgmental comments and strong side eye– well, I’m telling you, you haven’t met Jesus. 

Mark and John both tell this story about Jesus. And it’s one of my favorites. 

Jesus was at a party at Simon’s house. As Jesus was eating the meal, a woman approached him. 

Many people think this woman was likely Mary, the sister of Lazarus and Martha. If so, this may have been the same Mary who sat at Jesus’ feet learning while Martha served the meal (Luke 10) — the Mary who disregarded the social norms of serving guests and, instead, sat as a disciple. In that story, Jesus also spoke up in Mary’s defense, “Mary has chosen the good part, and it won’t be taken from her.” 

Whichever Mary this was — Jesus is once again looking straight into people’s hearts, unswayed by social customs or the opinions of those higher in the power structure. 

Mary loved Jesus. She wanted to anoint him with this precious perfume. This perfume was so expensive that only a wealthy person could have afforded it. Some scholars say this was the most expensive anointing oil of ancient times.  And to pour out the entire thing on Jesus’ head and feet was ridiculously extravagant. But that’s what Mary did. She broke the exquisite box and poured every drop of this perfume onto Jesus’ head and feet. The fragrance filled the house. 

As she wiped the oil off Jesus’ feet with her hair, the men – particularly Judas – began to criticize Mary. Why hadn’t Mary sold this perfume for more than a year’s salary and given all that money to the poor? Why had she wasted the entire thing at once? 

Mary was too much. She dumped the entire bottle of perfume. She wiped Jesus’ feet with her hair. She interrupted the men. Again. She didn’t stay in her place. She wasn’t invisible. Like the perfume’s scent, she filled the room. 

Can you imagine how Mary may have felt? She knew her intentions were good. She was trying to do what she believed to be best. She loved Jesus, and this was the best way she knew to show him. She’d heard him predict his death. She knew the religious leaders were out to get him. She just wanted to show Jesus how much she loved him while he was still with her. She was doing the best she could, but people still were critical. 

And when the men complained and criticized, Jesus defended Mary. 

“Leave her alone. Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. . . . She did what she could.” 

Mary’s motive was love for Jesus, so Jesus wasn’t going to listen to the nonsense of these men. Not only did he know Mary’s heart, Jesus knew Judas’ heart. He knew Judas didn’t really care about the poor. He was just about to betray Jesus for some pieces of silver and the acceptance of the men in power. 

Don’t we still see this happen today? Sometimes the people in power, the people who claim prominent religious positions, are just waiting for their chance to betray Jesus for their own gain — while at the very same time, they’re loudly criticizing and ostracizing those who desperately love Jesus but who won’t stay inside carefully constructed religious boxes. 

Following legalistic rules and the social constructs of religion or society don’t equal love for Jesus. And Jesus isn’t fooled by any of it. Jesus wasn’t fooled by Judas, and he isn’t fooled by religious people greedy for their own gain today. He isn’t fooled by the people who abuse their position and behave dismissively to others — people who don’t fit their expectations but who love Jesus wholeheartedly. 

Do you love Jesus? Have you been looked down on by religious leaders because you don’t fit their expectations? Have you been criticized or dismissed, cast aside because you’re too much, because you interrupt the status quo? Are you giving Jesus every ounce of every beautiful thing you can and still feeling criticized or belittled? 

Friend, Jesus speaks up for you. Hear Jesus’ voice telling your accusers to leave you alone. You are doing what you can. And not only is it exactly enough, it’s beautiful to Jesus.

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