Mark 14 gives us an intriguing story of Jesus, His disciples, and a single woman who seemed to understand more about the gospel than any of the male disciples at that point. By this point in Jesus’s ministry, the tension in Jerusalem was palpable, and the forces seeking to put Him to death were closing in. His arrest and murder were imminent. In the last calm hours before entering Jerusalem for the last few days of His life, Jesus sat at the table in the home of Simon the Leper in Bethany, the same city in which he had raised Lazarus from the dead. There, He allowed a woman to pour precious scented oil over Him.
“Then she broke the flask and poured it on His head. But there were some who were indignant among themselves, and said, “Why was this fragrant oil wasted? For it might have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor.” And they criticized her sharply” (Mark 14:3-5).
She Did What She Could
The Gospels of John and Mark tell very similar stories, likely the same story from different vantage points, of this woman who poured precious perfume over Jesus’s head and feet. In each account, her act seemed a terrible waste of resources to the disciples seated around Jesus. Theirs was not a wealthy ministry. They lived hand to mouth, as did the people who followed them. Why then did this woman squander this precious perfume, they mused aloud, pouring it out on Jesus, instead of selling it and giving the money to be dispersed among the poor?
Jesus stopped their condemnation quickly though.
“Let her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a good work for Me. For you have the poor with you always, and whenever you wish you may do them good; but Me you do not have always. She has done what she could. She has come beforehand to anoint My body for burial” (Mark 14: 6-8).
“She has done what she could,” Jesus told them. This woman understood what the disciples did not. The poor would endure, Jesus reminded them in verse 7, but Jesus would not always be with them physically. He had previously told them He was going to die, but the male disciples around Him never seemed to fully grasp or accept what He was saying prior to his death.
This woman did.
Why did she sacrifice her precious perfume, a hoarded resource in a poverty-stricken society, on Jesus? Because she alone in that room seemed to understand the sacrifice Jesus was soon to make for her. Her action was misunderstood by the men around her, but Jesus understood exactly what she was doing, “She has come . . . to anoint My body for burial” (Mark 14:8).
Jesus’ Sacrifice is Sufficient
While Peter attempted to thwart God’s plan for Christ’s death when he heard about it (Matt. 16), this woman, in contrast, did what she could to prepare His body for it. She did what she could to love Jesus well on the path He had explained He must take–the path to His death. She did not have the power to stop His coming death, but she did have the resources to prepare His body for His death. And Jesus received her sacrificial offering.
The cries of the world were consuming in Jesus’s day, and they still are in ours. There are more poor than we can adequately serve, more sick than we can cure, and more conflicts than we can solve. Earnest believers may despair as they look out at the needs of the world, the needs of their local community, or even just the needs in their immediate household. We can be wracked by guilt for our lack of stamina in the face of overwhelming struggles. Jesus’s words over this woman remind us that such vast needs are not ours to solve. They are His. He frees us then to sacrifice what we do have in worship to Him, always with an eye on His ultimate sacrifice, which was and still is sufficient for the needs of the world.