Summary: Jesus seeks followers who will break and spill out their lives for him.
Becoming Extravagant Lovers; Mark 14:1-11; 1st Lent; 1st of 7: “All for You” series; The Promise; 03-05-06; Darryl Bell
Today is the first Sunday in Lent, the period of 40 days of preparation before Easter. For centuries Christians have used this season to evaluate their lives and come closer to God. I hope that will be true for us this year as well. We’re beginning a new series of messages today that I’m calling, “All for You.” It looks at what Jesus went through, all for you, the last few days of his earthly life. We’ll work our way, section by section, through the last three chapters of Mark’s gospel as we experience with Jesus the agony and the tension and the struggle that led eventually to his victory on Easter Sunday.
The story begins two days before the Passover celebration. This was the annual festival that celebrated God delivering Israel from slavery in Egypt. The Jews had sacrificed lambs and put their blood over the doors of their homes. Then, when the angel of death passed through Egypt killing every oldest son, he “passed over” those houses and Israel was saved. It was the story of Israel’s redemption in the past, and it anticipated the redemption that the Messiah would bring. Every man who lived within 15 miles of Jerusalem was required to attend, but it was far bigger than that. It was the dream of every Jew to celebrate Passover in Jerusalem, and they came from all over the known world. The population of Jerusalem then is estimated to have been 60,000 to 120,000. Some scholars estimate there were an additional 100,000 pilgrims there for the Passover. Barclay estimates as many as 3,000,000 pilgrims. I doubt it was that high, but whatever the number, it was a festive time. We could compare it to a state fair, or even a huge, seven-day version of a OSU-Michigan game tailgate party. Not necessarily the drinking, but the festive spirit.
Jesus had been gaining popularity, and the religious leaders were becoming concerned. They were looking for an opportunity to capture and kill Jesus. “But not during the Passover,” they agreed, “or there will be a riot.” Walter Wink has said, “Killing Jesus was like trying to destroy a dandelion seed head by blowing on it” (quoted in David Garland, NIV Application Commentary: Mark, p 515).
In this tense setting, Jesus is having dinner in the home of Simon the Leper. Apparently Simon had had leprosy and been healed, but the nickname stuck. The custom was to recline at the table on low couches like chaise lounges, resting on their left arm and using their right hand to eat. As they are eating, an anonymous woman enters with an alabaster jar of extremely expensive perfume. It was a mark of hospitality to put a drop or two of perfume on the head of a guest who comes to your house. But this woman didn’t stop at a drop or two. She broke the jar, presumably the neck of the bottle, and poured the whole thing over Jesus. The NLT says she “broke the seal,” but the Greek indicates it was the bottle itself that she broke. We don’t know what was in her mind. She may have broken it because she intended to use it all. She was taking none of it back home. There was a custom that if a very distinguished guest used a glass, they would break it so that no lesser person would ever use it again. That may have been in her thought as well.
Whatever her reason; imagine the reactions around the room. The powerful aroma fills their nostrils. Some are in shock. Some see her as an intruder. Some are very practical and see this as a huge waste. I tend to be pretty practical myself, so I can understand why they thought like that. In the Greek it says they estimated the value of the perfume at 300 denarii. One denarius was the daily wage of a laborer. So figuring $8.00 an hour, eight hours a day, this jar of perfume was worth more than $19,000. That’s a lot of denarii for one bottle of perfume! It’s even more than I’ve spent on perfume for Jackie! There was a tradition of giving alms to the poor at religious festivals. Imagine how many poor people that could have helped. So they started getting on her case for this waste.
But she wasn’t counting and measuring her gift. She was giving it all, broken and spilled out. No holding back. Her devotion wasn’t “practical,” it was extravagant.
And Jesus received it with gratitude. It was a great gift. Leave her alone, he said. Why berate her for doing such a good thing to me? (v. 6). In fact, he saw meaning in it that she probably didn’t even think of. It was the custom when preparing dead bodies for burial, first to wash them. Then they were anointed, and the flask that held the perfume was broken, and pieces of it were laid with the dead body in the tomb. That’s what this woman was doing without knowing it. Jesus said, She has done what she could and has anointed my body for burial ahead of time (v. 8). He had the cross in view. He knew what was coming, and her devotion meant a lot to him.