Perfume for Jesus

By Charlotte Gleason

Recently, I read Mark’s account of the woman who poured “pure nard” (14:3) over the head of Jesus. I realize this passage blends and contrasts with the other gospels: Luke describes the woman wiping Jesus’ feet with her hair, and John claims the woman was Mary. My Martha-mind likes to believe this impulsive act could be done by none other than Mary. Who else would be so impractical?

Honestly, this entire scene makes me squirm. I imagine Mary shouldering her way to Jesus as he reclined at the table, cracking the vial on the nearest hard surface and sobbing as the perfume poured over her hands onto his head. I imagine the room being overpowered with scent, like walking into Bath and Body Works, and I imagine the awkward glances, eye aversion, and raised eyebrows. Shortly after the silence, I imagine the lectures and the “scolding” (Mark 14:5). I can almost hear the exasperated sighs. Mary strikes again.

But I often fail to picture Jesus’ response, maybe because his response is so foreign to my own. Jesus stops the criticism with a single command: “Let her alone” (Mark 14:6a). He follows this command with his pronouncement that “she has done a good deed to Me” (Mark 14:6b). We do not hear Mary’s explanation for her behavior. Who would have listened to her? Jesus speaks on her behalf, quieting her critics, and reassuring her. At this point in Mark’s account, I admit to shrugging and thinking to myself, “Mary got lucky. She didn’t even know what she was doing.” I know – I’m a little cynical.

Two verses down, however, Jesus’ words stopped me: “She has done what she could” (Mark 14:8). This woman may not have known exactly why she needed to pour perfume on Jesus’ head, but she recognized Jesus deserved such extravagance. Not only had Jesus performed miracles and challenged the religious leaders, he had ministered to her, a woman in a world where she often did not have a voice.

I closed my Bible and wondered if I am doing what I can. Do I spend more time doing what the world expects or what I want instead of doing the work of Christ? And while Jesus is not reclining at my table, I wonder what I might offer. I wonder how I might sacrifice my time, my money, or my reputation to further God’s kingdom, knowing my God will defend me.