v 9. I tell you the truth, wherever the Good News is preached throughout the world, this woman’s deed will be remembered and discussed.”
And so it has been, which is why we are reading it today! It was an unexpected and outrageous act of kindness. Jesus knew what it cost this woman to be so generous, and the significance of what she did.
What a huge contrast there is between the first nine verses of this reading and the last two! On the one hand a woman sacrificing a massive and costly store of precious perfumed ointment, and on the other a money-grabbing disciple ready to betray Jesus, selling Him for 30 silver coins. Whilst Jesus benefits from the generous anointing of one woman, He sees all-too-clearly the mean-spirited betrayer setting up arrangements for His arrest and crucifixion. In my experience we major on Judas, the betrayer, rather than on the woman who gave her all to Jesus. We tend to see him as a major player in the drama that follows, but in reality it is the woman who occupies centre stage with Jesus and who is more to be talked about than Judas.
The woman in question is often identified as Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus, who also lived in Bethany. Mark 11:11 identifies Bethany as the village where Jesus stayed during the days leading up to Good Friday, and it was there that both Simon, the ex-leper, and Mary and Martha lived. A feast such as this one was largely the preserve of the men, so Mary’s arrival is both unexpected and counter-cultural. Jesus cut through the negative, raised-eyebrows syndrome to commend Mary as a model of generous giving. He could have enlarged on the generosity of Simon, who used his home to entertain Jesus and his disciples; He could have said some harsh words about Judas and his plan to betray Him; but no – it is Mary who is talked about, with the spotlight focussed on her generosity. The other disciples are quick to criticise her, with Mark recording ‘So they scolded her harshly ‘ (v 5). But Jesus will have none of this. ‘Leave her alone. Why criticize her for doing such a good thing to me? ‘ (v 6) With the cross looming ever-closer, this act of loving generosity must have touched Jesus very deeply, so deeply in fact that He planned to have it remembered for all time in Christian discussion.
My guess is that many of us have been on the receiving end of kindness from other people when we have least expected it. We do well to express our gratitude, following Jesus’ example, for He was a Man like no other in appreciating kindness.