It was “very expensive perfume” (Mark 14:3). Her critics said it was worth more than a year’s wages (v. 5). Perhaps in their anger they were exaggerating as people have been known to do when objecting to something, so let’s put it at a year’s wages. I found some perfume online from Bloomingdale’s that is $5,500 for an ounce but there was nothing that was close to a year’s wages (about $50,000 according to the Census Bureau).
The perfume is identified as nard or spikenard. It comes from a plant that is native to India. It is mentioned by Homer in the Iliad and by Solomon in the Song of Solomon. For those in Jesus’ time who were able to afford it, it would have been used only for the most special occasions—funerals and weddings and even then it would be mixed with olive oil or something else to make it last longer. This was perfume for a lifetime.
We don’t know if she purchased the perfume specifically for this occasion or if she already had it. What we do know is that she was moved to bring it, break it, and pour out all of its contents on Jesus. Though the text doesn’t say it, it’s likely she rubbed it into His scalp. It was a highly personalized, recklessly extravagant gesture–but that’s what people do when they love.
Some present were critical of her actions. It was called a “waste” (v. 4). The perfume could have been sold and the money given to the poor they complained. “And they rebuked her harshly” (v. 5). They are trying to measure an act of devotion with spreadsheets, calculators and a sudden overwhelming “interest” in the poor. It’s a pitiful attempt that says much more about them than the woman (a lot of criticism is like that). It’s difficult to understand how something so obviously pleasing to their Master could be met with such venom on their part.
Jesus goes right to her defense. “Leave her alone” (v. 6). What she has done is “beautiful.” Her decisive act of tenderness touches Jesus because He sees it as it relates to His upcoming death–something obviously on His heart and mind. In less than 48 hours, cruder, coarser hands will touch his head. They won’t be loving–they will mash a crown of thorns into His scalp and what will stream down his face won’t be perfume, but blood. What she does is timely, comforting and consoling. The others (identified as the disciples by Matthew in 26:8) have offered no such comfort to Jesus. Instead, they have responded to His upcoming crucifixion by arguing over who was the greatest or suggesting Jesus didn’t know what He was talking about. This woman has taken advantage of the opportunity to minister to Jesus.
What she has done in Jesus words, is “what she could.” This is not meant to diminish her actions but to personalize them. She has shown her love and devotion in a complete and full manner. Others may show their devotion differently, but she expressed her love in her way. And in memory of her, Jesus says, “wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be done will also be told” (v. 9).
Is there a jar in your life that needs to be broken?