Monthly Archives: February 2009

3 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. 4There were some who said to themselves indignantly, “Why was the ointment wasted like that? 5For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor.” And they scolded her. 6But Jesus said, “Leave her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. 7For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you want, you can do good for them. But you will not always have me. 8 She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for burial. 9And truly, I say to you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.” (Mark 14:3-9, ESV)

In addition to the highly instructive (and sobering) tale of the woman sacrificing her valuable ointment to anoint the Lord, this passage provides us with a valuable reminder about priorities. Note the word reminder: There is nothing particularly new in this short article, no unique insights, no special revelations. Sometimes, however, reminders are just as powerful and necessary as fresh insights; in fact, often they are more so. We are always in need of being reminded that there are more important things than the material world around us. To be sure, we have material needs, and they are an integral, unavoidable quality of our mortal lives. We need work, food, shelter, transportation and a host of other material things. Nevertheless, it cannot be denied that we sinful human beings frequently care far more passionately about material things than we should.

This story is not the only account in the gospels that deals with the tension between material and spiritual values. For example, when the Pharisees complained that his disciples ate grain on the Sabbath (Matthew 12:1-8), Jesus reminded them of the Old Testament accounts of David unlawfully eating the bread of the Presence in the temple and the priests profaning the Sabbath with impunity. Then he pointed out, “Something greater than the temple is here.” Truly for the woman who gave up all her precious ointment, something greater than perfume was there. Unfortunately, the woman’s critics could not grasp that the material does not—must not—outweigh the spiritual.

While it is very easy for us to become critics of the critics in this passage, standing comfortably distant from the events of the story, we truly delude ourselves if we think we are all that different. I fear that we are just like those faultfinders of so long ago. Contrary to the Bible’s principles, our culture—like our Middle Eastern counterpart of yore—widely emphasizes material results as the prime criterion for determining value. One of the most poignant commentaries on this prevalent problem of pragmatism is Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:31-33 (ESV):

31Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

Time and time again the scriptures remind us of this spiritual priority with indisputable clarity; yet how often are our lives preoccupied excessively with the “here and now” of this world instead of the “there and later” of the next life? How often do we truly seek to lay up treasures for ourselves in heaven that shall never wear out? Our culture looks upon “forward thinking” with great favor, and this is an admirable quality, for prudence and thinking ahead are always wise. But how much of our looking ahead includes the kingdom of God? Let’s make the pursuit of the kingdom of God and his righteousness always our first priority and leave the rest to him.

3 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. 4There were some who said to themselves indignantly, “Why was the ointment wasted like that? 5For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor.” And they scolded her. 6But Jesus said, “Leave her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. 7For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you want, you can do good for them. But you will not always have me. 8 She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for burial. 9And truly, I say to you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.” (Mark 14:3-9, ESV)

If we miss the sobering teaching of this passage, then we are not being careful readers. How many times have we read this passage and walked away from it thinking, “That was nice of that woman to pour that ointment on Jesus’ head. What a worshipful gesture.” Indeed, that is part of the import of this account, but somehow this description does not do justice to the full weight of the text. There are many accounts in scripture of people making worshipful gestures to Christ. From Nicodemus’ nighttime visit to learn from the Master to the penitent thief’s confession on the cross, there are various accounts of people expressing praise to Jesus and honoring him as Lord. So what makes this woman’s story any different?

The answer to this question lies in verse five, where Mark tells us that the ointment was worth 300 denarii—300 days’ wages for an unskilled laborer. Using the U.S. federal minimum wage of $6.55 per hour, that amounts to a net $52.40 per eight-hour day for a net 300-day total of $15,720.00. That is a new car, a down payment on a new home or possibly a complete college education. Some might dispute the accuracy of this figure on the basis that the purchasing power of today’s dollar is different from that of the first-century Roman denarius. Nevertheless, one fact remains clear: This was an enormous amount of money, a small fortune that one would certainly be foolish to throw away on frivolous pursuits. Yet this woman, in one of the greatest stories of self-sacrifice and piety in the Bible, breaks the alabaster container and empties its entire contents—every last precious drop—on the Lord’s head. In modern terms, she poured away the chance for a new car, a new mortgage or a higher education. Talk about liquidating your assets.

Notice that this woman did not count out drops of the valuable liquid for the Lord, saving some for herself. She was not the least bit anxious about the amount of perfume she was parting with. No ledger, no accounting, no worries. On the contrary, what was first and foremost on her mind was the worship of her Lord. That devotion swallowed up all material worries in one ravenous act of piety. All that mattered to her, all that she saw in her mind, was Jesus and what she was going to do to honor him. If she worried at all, it was probably that perhaps she unwittingly withheld a drop that should have been devoted to the Christ. At that moment in time, Jesus Christ was her all in all, and the material goods of this world could not hold a candle to the immense value of worshiping her Lord.

What a godly example! I submit that this woman’s act of sacrifice has been matched only seldom. I challenge you to find a Christian in your own midst who has sacrificed as much. I can’t say that I have. Doesn’t this woman’s selfless act of devotion put us to shame? Do we value our possessions and wealth more than the Lord? Let us be honest with ourselves. If there is any accounting to be done, any ledger to be kept, let us perform a rigid, ruthless accounting of our own hearts on this matter, and let us keep a severe, meticulous ledger on our own devotion to the Lord. Let the condition of our hearts be the subject of our accounting, and let the debits in our devotion to the Lord be the things that we cut.

Are we to sell our houses and all our valuables and donate them to the church? Not necessarily. It would probably be a stretch to say that Mark intended such a meaning. The value of this passage lies in its ability to remind us—and perhaps rebuke us—of what our priorities should be. When it comes to our money and possessions, we must always bear in mind that something greater than our possessions is here. Let’s live out this truth in our lives, recognizing that no sacrifice is too great when done for the Lord.

LOVE. It’s a common word—perhaps so common that we have forgotten the depth of its meaning and all that it signifies. Certainly its meaning can vary from one individual to another. Most likely to most people in our society, the word connotes nothing more than a tidal wave of romantic affection that floods the soul, sweeping one off one’s feet. Indeed, the culture abounds with this meaning of love and even reinforces it. Continue reading

What is sanctification? Most of the time the word is used, it refers to growth in Christlikeness, an increase in Christian character throughout the course of a believer’s life. The Bible does not teach only that our lives should bear fruit; it also teaches that our spiritual fruit should increase.

Strangely, though, some object when you admonish them to strive for an increase in Christlike character in their lives. Continue reading

Chapter Three of William Fay’s book is entitled “Overcome Your Fear” and attempts to eliminate the reader’s fears of doing evangelism by addressing six common objections: “I’m afraid of being rejected,” “I’m afraid of what my friends will think,” “I don’t think I can share with my coworkers,” “I don’t know enough,” “I’m afraid of losing my friends and relatives,” and “I don’t know how.”
Continue reading