Sandwiched between hostility and disloyalty, there is a beautiful story of devotion. The religious leaders were scheming to kill Jesus. And Judas was selling his soul for a few coins. A woman enters the room while Jesus is reclining at the table and anoints him with costly perfume.
Meanwhile, Jesus was in Bethany at the home of Simon, a man who had previously had leprosy. While he was eating, a woman came in with a beautiful alabaster jar of expensive perfume made from essence of nard. She broke open the jar and poured the perfume over his head.Mark 14:3 NLT
It is well above my skill level to determine if the stories in Matthew 26, Mark 14, and John 12 are the same. The Greek scholar A. T. Robertson (Harmony of the Gospels) believes they are. (The story in Luke 7 seems to be different). Rebecca Mclaughlin, in her research writing Jesus Through the Eyes of Women: How the First Female Disciples Help Us Know and Love the Lord, agrees that those three retellings are the same story.
What makes this story significant?
The woman’s extravagant devotion, the expression of her love speaks to Jesus’ worth. In those days, costly ointments were stored in alabaster bottles. The ointments were used for medicine, cleansing, and rituals. Nard was imported from India. The value of this bottle of nard suggests that it may have been a family heirloom. Hers was an example of sacrificial love.
The extravagance of our love is but an infinitesimal symbol compared to the price of his love for us, but Jesus both accepts it and gives us all the more.IVP New Testament Commentary, Matthew 26
Foreshadowing Jesus’ Burial
[Jesus says,] “She has poured this perfume on me to prepare my body for burial. I tell you the truth, wherever the Good News is preached throughout the world, this woman’s deed will be remembered and discussed.”Matthew 26:12-13 NLT
This woman could not know that Jesus was about to be executed. None of Jesus’ followers seemed to understand His teachings about the impending events of the week. Her purpose was unrelated to His death. She is memorializing Jesus’ death for the ages to come – without even knowing it. Hers was an act of worship, a gift of thanksgiving for all He had done for her and her family. Unwittingly, she has put the preparations for his burial in motion.
Nothing given to Jesus in love is ever wasted. Her act of worship not only brought joy to the heart of Jesus and fragrance to the house but also blessing to the whole world. Her devotion encourages us to love and serve Christ with our very best. Such service blesses others in ways that perhaps we will know nothing about until we see Him.Warren Wiersbe, Commentary
An extreme contrast
But Judas Iscariot, the disciple who would soon betray him, said, “That perfume was worth a year’s wages. It should have been sold and the money given to the poor.” Not that he cared for the poor—he was a thief, and since he was in charge of the disciples’ money, he often stole some for himself.John 12:4-6 NLT
Then Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve disciples, went to the leading priests and asked, “How much will you pay me to betray Jesus to you?” And they gave him thirty pieces of silver.Matthew 26:14-15 NLT
The gift was astounding. Matthew and Mark tell us that others were questioning and indignant that the woman would “waste” the ointment.
They wanted her to sell it to help the poor. Jesus defends her and her devotion. He says that the poor will always be with them – the implication is that he would not always be there. Jesus is not saying we should not give alms to the poor. The care of the outcast, the poor, the widow, and the orphan is a thread throughout all scripture.
Judas objected to the woman’s lavish gift, noting it was worth a year’s wages. His concern wasn’t about the value of the money or caring for the poor. He had already stolen from the disciples’ money bag. And he was plotting how he might betray Jesus. Judas was disloyal and disingenuous.
In a few days Jesus will pour out a gift of great value for you and for me. As Jesus dines with His disciples, He tells them about His death, how His blood will be poured out as a sacrifice to forgive the sins of many!
And he took a cup of wine and gave thanks to God for it. He gave it to them and said, “Each of you drink from it, for this is my blood, which confirms the covenant between God and his people. It is poured out as a sacrifice to forgive the sins of many. Mark my words—I will not drink wine again until the day I drink it new with you in my Father’s Kingdom.”Matthew 26:27-29 NLT
We can be extravagant in our worship
because of the extravagance of Jesus’ sacrifice.
Almighty God, you have given your only Son
To be for us a sacrifice for sin,
And also an example of godly life:
Give us the grace to receive, thankfully
The fruits of this redeeming work,
And to follow daily in the blessed
Steps of his most holy life;
Through Jesus Christ, your Son our Lord,
Who lives and reigns with you
And the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
(Collect, Anglican Prayer)