The Perfumed Oil Of Nard

September 24, 2006
日本キリスト教団 頌栄教会牧師 清弘剛生 Pastor Takao Kiyohiro, Shoei Church, Church of Christ, Japan
Translator M.A.F., Indiana, USA
Mark 14:1-9

1. "I clearly say to you. Everywhere through out the world wherever the gospel is proclaimed what she has done will be spoken of as a memorial," (verse nine). That's how Jesus said it would be. What she did would even be told even on this small island nation in the Far East. It is the story I read to you for today's gospel reading. We can't help but admit that it is a truly strange thing. It is not a big enough event to rock society. It hardly seems to be a newsworthy item. But, the fact is it has been told and it has reached our hearing as well. [Can we] really say that what she did has any kind of meaning for us separated from it so far by time and space?

A Beautiful Deed?

2. I will begin by reading to you verse three. "Jesus was at the house of Simon the man with a severe skin disorder in Bethany, and when he came to the seat at dinner, a woman simply came with a plaster pot with very expensive perfumed oil of nard in it, she broke it, and poured the oil on Jesus' head," (verse three).

3. This is "what she did." Please try to imagine this scene. It is dinner time. A woman came in bringing a jar of perfumed oil there with her, all of a sudden she poured out the oil on Jesus' head. She didn't pour it out in just a small little trickle. She broke the jar and poured all the perfume that was inside it on him. It seems pretty easy to me to imagine the kind of situation this caused. Jesus was having dinner, [but] then he must have become all sticky with oil in his hair, his beard, and his clothes. The oil probably trickled down even into his dinner. The hard work done for his meal was caput. To begin with, the oil poured all down his head was of no use. The entire room was filled with the smell of choking perfume. It was no longer fit to eat in. It was a truly annoying thing done to Jesus. Of course, even for everybody else around seated at the dinner table, it was a very very annoying conversation.

4. Who in the world is she? Why did she ever do such a thing? In The Gospel According To Mark no explanation is given. Later on Jesus certainly did say, "She anointed my body with perfume in advance, and made preparations for my burial," (verse eight). But, this was surely not something that she had planned out. Normally one would daub oil on a deceased person and bury him or her, I've never heard any stories where they would anoint [a person] with oil while alive and make burial preparations that way. That said, I just don't know why she came up with such an act that lacked so much in common sense.

5. With that said, there is more to understand. The perfumed oil was not cheap at all. It was expensive for sure. It is a fact that she had used all of it, in whatever form it was, for Jesus. Said another way, you might even say that she presented it [like an offering] to Jesus. Since it was for Jesus, though some kind of expensive oil, she did not feel the slightest regret of having squandered it away. I suppose it must have been an expression of her love for Jesus with all her might, an expression of thanks with all her might towards the savior who had loved her with God's love.

6. But, what ever her intentions, there is no denying that it was an act lacking in common sense. If taken as an act lacking in common sense, there is no getting around criticism. The Bible says the following. "Some persons were there and they were indignant and spoke to one another, 'Why did she waste the oil like this? This oil could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and donated to the poor.' Then, they found severe fault with her," (verses four and five).

7. It is a quite naturally expected criticism. Any way you think about it, it was wasteful. When considering the three hundred denarii, for the typical worker it was about a year's worth of wages. If in today's money, it would be roughly about one million yen [roughly $12,000]. She drained it away in an instant. What's more the effects of it, when looked at objectively, was nothing except an annoyance to both the said Jesus and those around him. I mentioned earlier that this must have been an expression of her [showing all the] love and thanksgiving that she possibly could. However, if it were an expression of thanksgiving, you might have expected there to be plenty of [alternative] methods more laden with prudence. Were we in that place, [I'm sure] we would have joined with the others in blaming her wrong, don't [you think]?

8. However, while the people unanimously criticized her, Jesus had this to say, "Leave her alone to do what she did. Why are you causing her trouble? She has done a good thing to me," (verse six). Don't you get a feeling of a spectacle of some king coming into your mind? Not even wiping his dripping head, but drip-drops of oil working its way down from his hair and beard, I think Jesus spoke with not one [sign of] annoyance on his face [and said], "Isn't that nice? Why are you bothering her? She has done a good thing to me." Given an alternative translation, the phrase "a good thing" can be "a beautiful thing." The Lord expressed the actions of this woman as "a beautiful thing."

Just By Grace

9. That being said though, we must be temperate here in [any] deliberate glorification of this particular act of hers. The perfumed oil that she had poured was certainly expensive. She offered it up to the Lord without any reluctance, unsparingly. She presented it all, nothing was left. Therefore, we can surmise that her heart was totally sincere and pure. As a matter of fact, even though the scripture does not say a single thing like this, we are so ready, not even aware of it, to imagine her a beautiful woman whose heart is pure. And we also imagine as if this beautiful woman did such a very very beautiful act.

10. But, as we've seen earlier, when viewed objectively, one cannot claim at all that what she did was a beautiful act. It was foolish, it was extremely lacking in common sense, what's more, it was only a public nuisance, a truly annoying act to the other people. What about this house of Simon's? Unavailable for at least a whole month, he would have to live in the choking smell of the perfume. Was her love really pure? We might be able to say yes. But, when we change perspectives, we could also say that it was in the form of a childish, egocentric love, putting just her thoughts first, unthinking of [Jesus] and everyone else there.

11. Of course, we are not fault finders. It is truly an extreme figure that we see in her. Though it may not be as extreme as that, things that resemble it can be found a lot every day among us. When we're bustling about with everything we've got thinking [it's] "for them," is it really really "for them?" When we're bustling about and we claim that it's for society, it's for others, is it really really for society, for the other people in it? Or is it really that we're putting just our own feelings first, not concerned for the other person, far from being for the other person, we just have lots and lots of times when we hurt the other guy, we hurt those around the other guy, and we become a total nuisance to them?

12. And the same thing could be said about what we're doing in regard to Jesus. We also say it's "for Jesus." We are not just talking either, we may do something meaning it from the heart thinking it's "for Jesus"; but, if seen from Jesus' view, we may be doing something that has completely missed the mark. Don't you agree? Indifferent to the will of Christ, not even considering what Jesus wants us to do, I think we're running around so many times just going by our own wrong impressions and false assumptions.

13. How about the worship and the service we offer [God]? We make preparations for them indeed with a ton of work and we may intend to offer up "fine" worship with a pure heart. The pastor is the worst in wrong impressions and false assumptions. [I] intend to serve Christ with [my] best. Yet, though I think that way in whatever ministry [I'm doing], I think I'm probably doing what humans do, I'm only doing something akin to putting perfumed oil on Jesus' head and making him sticky all over.

14. But, today's message from God is given to us just the way we are. Jesus said, "Why are you causing her trouble? She has done a good thing to me." -- The truly important thing is not that the perfume she poured was expensive. It is not even that she had a sincere and pure heart. The important thing is not anything about "her." The important thing is that Jesus looked at the truly ridiculous act of hers as "a beautiful thing" and that he had accepted it. It is all about the grace of Christ and that alone.

15. We see here the grace of the Lord joyously accepting the foolish ministry of a human being. Just by his grace Christ calls it "a good thing," "a beautiful thing." That is the very place where the basis lies for us as well to be able to serve Jesus. Jesus says in verse eight about her that "she did as much as she could [or, she did what she could]." Jesus accepts her that way. Therefore, with peace of mind, we should do "what we can."

A Ministry Used As Preparation For Burial

16. Then, Jesus went on to say some more about the lady's doing "what she could," and said, "She did what she could. In short, she has anointed my body with perfumed oil ahead of time, and made preparations for [my] burial," (verse eight).

17. So far a number of times the Lord has been giving an advanced notice of his passion and suffering. Even here at this point the Lord has stated that "I will not always be with you," (verse seven). Fully sensing the time was evidently near in which the Lord would be crucified, he had given this statement. In short, it means that as [the man of God] heading for the cross, Jesus accepted this woman's act.

18. She must have been bewildered at Jesus' statement because never even in her dreams did she imagine that she herself was actually making burial preparations for Jesus. What!, it was for [your] burial prepartions, don't even say such a thing even in jest! She may have shouted something like that in her heart. However, what Jesus had said was right. Except for her, there was no one after all, who was ready to apply the oil to the body of the Lord. It was the day before the Sabbath when Jesus was executed, and before the sun set, he was taken down in a great hurry, and he was buried without having the perfumed ointment applied, but was only wrapped in just linen. Upon the Sabbath day's dawning out, when the women came to his tomb with the fragrances, Jesus had already been resurrected from the dead and was not there. Therefore, it really was this woman indeed who was the one and only person who had applied the oil to Jesus' body.

19. The act of ths woman, which at first glance was extremely lacking in common sense, went beyond her own thoughts, and certainly did become the prepartions to bury Jesus. As a ministry the way she did it, this act of hers was used in God's plans. It was not because she had superior insight. Unknowingly she took part in it, just by God's grace alone, what she did was used as preparatory for the death of Christ. In this manner then, it had become a sign that pointed to the cross of Christ and the salvation that came to fulfillment on it. And because of that alone, the Lord said, "I clearly say to you. Everywhere through out the world wherever the gospel is proclaimed what she has done will be spoken of as a memorial."

20. This thing even has great hope in it for us. Just as her act was used, by the Lord's grace, the Lord can make use of our own foolish ministries as something that points to his salvation. He can use them in a way that goes way beyond our own thoughts. Embracing this hope, we want to go on serving the Lord from here on. With peace of mind, let's offer up "what we can" to the Lord.