1 It was now two days before Passover and the Festival of Unleavened Bread. The leading priests and the teachers of religious law were still looking for an opportunity to capture Jesus secretly and kill him. 2 “But not during the Passover celebration,” they agreed, “or the people may riot.”
3 Meanwhile, Jesus was in Bethany at the home of Simon, a man who had previously had leprosy. While he was eating, a woman came in with a beautiful alabaster jar of expensive perfume made from essence of nard. She broke open the jar and poured the perfume over his head.
4 Some of those at the table were indignant. “Why waste such expensive perfume?” they asked. 5 “It could have been sold for a year’s wages and the money given to the poor!” So they scolded her harshly.
6 But Jesus replied, “Leave her alone. Why criticize her for doing such a good thing to me? 7 You will always have the poor among you, and you can help them whenever you want to. But you will not always have me. 8 She has done what she could and has anointed my body for burial ahead of time. 9 I tell you the truth, wherever the Good News is preached throughout the world, this woman’s deed will be remembered and discussed.”
10 Then Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve disciples, went to the leading priests to arrange to betray Jesus to them. 11 They were delighted when they heard why he had come, and they promised to give him money. So he began looking for an opportunity to betray Jesus.
The juxtaposition here could not be more stark. Like Hemingway, Mark’s brevity contributes to the tension. An anonymous woman pours out her life savings onto Jesus’ head (nard came in an lidless alabaster container, it only opened by breaking, an early example of one-time use disposable packaging). Not because she knows he is about to die. Jesus provides that interpretation of her act. She acts solely out of focus on, devotion to, Jesus. It was strong stuff and she poured it in his hair. I wonder if he could still smell it a little as the wind blew through his hair while he suspended in mid-air. Other smells were there too of course. Competing smells. But maybe her gift was still lingering enough to give some measure of sweetness to Jesus’ last moments of struggle.
A trusted disciple loses focus and does the unthinkable. The religious leaders weren’t even going to attempt anything until after the Passover crowds had left Jerusalem. Their timetable was a week out. But an opportunity falls in their lap and they seize it violently. There is much speculation about Judas’ motivation. Why did he do this? Other Gospel accounts give some indication (though none clearly explains his motive), but Mark does not discuss it. Perhaps from his view it did not matter. No motive can explain this. Any explanation that lessens the blow of the betrayal is a detriment to the story. It occurs as a brute fact, with no foreshadowing or explanation, it just is. In this way, it stands as a warning to us all. Keeping our focus on Jesus leads us to do beautiful, amazingly generous things. Losing that focus leads to pain for us and those around us and at times to unspeakable evils. Take hope from the woman. Take warning from Judas. Keep your compass pointed toward Jesus.
New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.