This Sunday I am preaching on Mark 14, the lead up chapter to the trial and crucifixion of Jesus. And I’ll tell you what, a bigger bunch of cowards, murderers, brutes, deniers and betrayers you could not find in history. The chapter is replete with men who commit shameful acts or refuse to commit noble ones. It’s a galling series of ugly, ungodly acts committed by unmanly men on the Son of Man.
And one beautiful, godly act committed by a true woman. In a culture in which a woman’s testimony was not acceptable in legal settings, and in which her place at the table was not even at the table, this event stands out:
Now the Passover and the Festival of Unleavened Bread were only two days away, and the chief priests and the teachers of the law were scheming to arrest Jesus secretly and kill him. 2 “But not during the festival,” they said, “or the people may riot.” 3 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. 4 Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, “Why this waste of perfume? 5 It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages[a] and the money given to the poor.” And they rebuked her harshly.6 “Leave her alone,” said Jesus. “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. 7 The poor you will always have with you,[b] and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. 8 She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial.9 Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”
In this chapter everybody is about to do something. They are about to be indignant. They are about to betray. They are about to plot. They are about to set up for Passover. They are about to fall asleep whilst Jesus prays. They are about to rescue Jesus through violence. They are about to accuse Jesus falsely. They are about to deny him.
Well the men are at least. The one woman in the story knows that there is nothing that she can do to plot or plan or scheme. She simply breaks open a costly jar of perfume, and in full view of them all, and to her immediate shame, but her everlasting glory, she anoints the head of the one who is about to die for her.
Everyone around her and Jesus sees waste, or an opportunity to showcase their self-righteousness. Jesus sees a beautiful thing.
We have just had International Women’s Day. This unnamed woman is the truly international woman. And for two reasons. First, just as Jesus prophesied, all over the world wherever the gospel has been proclaimed what she has done has been told in memory of her.
And second, if we were to describe the average Christian in the world today, the person most representative of the gospel of Jesus, it would not be a powerful man in a bishop’s court. It would not be a bearded bookish professor in an academic setting. It would not even be a man.
In actual fact, the average Christian today is a Latin American or an African woman who is 24 years old. Picture a poor woman living in a village in Zimbabwe or in a slum in Peru.
Just like this woman in Bethany. Nameless and scorned in the culture by all those except those closest to her. Known and loved and honoured by the Jesus who knows a beautiful thing when he sees it.