Thursday, May 15, 2008

Break and pour (for one time use only)

And while he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he was reclining at table, a woman came with an alabaster flask of ointment of pure nard, very costly, and she broke the flask and poured it over his head.

Mark 14:3

The account of Jesus' anointing by "a woman" at Bethany in Mark 14 is one of the most beautiful in all the gospels (see also Matthew 26, Luke 7 and John 12). John identifies the woman as Mary, the sister of Lazarus, although his account differs from the synoptics and it's possible that these incidents don't all involve the same woman. Whatever the case, I'm attracted to this woman's act of scandalous extravagance, even though it goes against the grain of my thrifty nature. I might have been among those scolding her for being wasteful! But she caught a glimpse of Jesus' true worth that the others missed. She recognized that Jesus isn't the means to an end, he is the end. She was like the man who sells all he has to acquire the "pearl of great value."

The Reformation Study Bible provides some helpful context that emphasizes the costly, unique nature of this act of sacrifice. The fact that she broke the flask is especially significant. Not only was she annointing Jesus' body for burial, she was painting a picture of the ultimate costly, one-time sacrifice made at the cross a short time later.

pure nard. A rare perfume made from the root of a plant grown in the Himalayas. Its value of "three hundred denarii" (v. 5) was roughly equivalent to a year's wages.

broke the flask. To prevent loss, amounts suitable for a single application where sealed into flasks that were then broken at the neck at the time of use. According to John 12:3, the flask contained twelve ounces of perfume.

John's account also tells us that "the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume." It must have been an intense sensory experience for all those in Simon's house that day. It was an act impossible to ignore. It provoked strong reactions and revealed much about the hearts of those provoked. To Jesus it was "a beautiful thing" that would be remembered "wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world." Imagine the oil running down the head of Jesus -- our Prophet, Priest and King -- dripping onto his beard and robe, just as described in Psalm 133.
Behold, how good and pleasant it is
    when brothers dwell in unity!
It is like the precious oil on the head,
    running down on the beard,
on the beard of Aaron,
    running down on the collar of his robes!
It is like the dew of Hermon,
    which falls on the mountains of Zion!
For there the LORD has commanded the blessing,
    life forevermore.

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