A Stunning Reversal

Jesus pouring water

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. Mark 14:3 (NIV)

Toward the end of Jesus’ life there’s a stunning reversal. As men of rank and privilege conspire against Him, a woman expresses her love and devotion for Him. Women – not men – are the ones who remain faithful to Jesus in His final days.

Picture the scene in Mark 14:

Jesus is at the home of Simon the Leper, eating with a social outcast and sinner (another reversal). And around the table dipping their bread into a bowl of olive oil, the inner core of disciples, the men. The women were in the kitchen (culturally in their rightful place). When suddenly, in total disregard for social etiquette, a woman crashes their party. Before the men can object she approaches Jesus, breaks open a jar of spikenard, and pours it over His head. In stunned silence the men watch the oil run down Jesus’ face and into His beard. And as the sweet musky scent of the perfume is filling the room Jesus just sits there, with a trace of an untroubled smile.

The men begin to mutter indignantly. Here’s a woman who has rudely interrupted their supper and taken it upon herself to anoint Jesus. Who did she think she was? They’re flabbergasted. Her irrationality is mind-boggling, the most expensive perfume in the ancient world. What a waste!

But the men missed what the woman saw. On three prior occasions, Jesus had tried to warn the disciples that He must suffer and die. And each time He told them about the trials and troubles to come, they’d dismissed His warnings. Here was a woman who got it. Here was a woman who understood what may be inappropriate in some situations, may be appropriate in other situations. The opportunity to do the right thing comes and goes quickly. We must act when we can.

Here was the Messiah, in the flesh, in their midst. And He didn’t have long to live. Incarnations are fleeting. This woman knew she had to seize the day – to do something while she could. So she ignored the gender taboos, negated her savings and became a fool for love. It’s not surprising that the men were mad. And it’s not surprising that Jesus said, “Leave her alone” Mark 14:6 (NIV).

Messiah, the name literally means “Anointed One.” The men had seen Jesus heal the sick, feed the multitude, calm the storm, and raise the dead. They’d heard Him say, “I and the Father are One.” They’d been with Him for three years with countless opportunities to anoint Him King of kings and Lord of lords, but they didn’t do it. It took a woman, someone (according to Jewish culture) at the same level as a Gentile or a dog, to pour the oil over Jesus’ head and symbolically proclaim Him to be the Anointed One of God.

A stunning reversal. “Many who are first shall be last, and many who are last shall be first.” Jesus was anointed Messiah, not by a king, not by His disciples, but by a woman. The woman did what she could. She gave all she had. Will we do what we can? Will we give what we have? Will we remember? Author and speaker, Max Lucado says, “There is a time for risky love. There is a time for extravagant gestures. There is a time to pour out your affections on one you love. And when the time comes – seize it, don’t miss it.”

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