In between two tragic developments of opposition against Jesus in Mark 14:1-2 and 10-11 we have the contrast presented in Mary’s anointing of Jesus. Jesus receives this act of devotion, defends its high purpose, and establishes its significance for perpetuity. In this passage we are searched by God’s Word as to our devotion to Christ. Do you love the Lord Jesus? What precious possession have you parted with to prove that love? How dear is He because of His death for a sinner like you?
One of the obvious subjects the passage brings up is the responsibility to the poor. We read “there were some who were indignant among themselves, and said, ‘Why was this fragrant oil wasted. For it might have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor.'” To which Jesus replied, “For you have the poor with you always, and whenever you wish you may do them good; but me you do not have always.” The meaning of Jesus here is there are many opportunities for Christian compassion to be shown to the poor. There will be no shortage of avenues of need, yes, far more than could be met. It is a reference to Deuteronomy 15:11. At this situation, though, the plight of the poor was of lower level concern compared to teh opportunity to display godly care for the body of the Savior.
This teaches us that love for neighbor (i.e. the second great commandment – Matthew 22:39) is a legitimate calling but it must not displace love for the Lord with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength (i.e. the first great commandment – Matthew 22:38). It is easy for the church to get into the work of social welfare, but this must serve as a simple reminder that our first calling is to love God as He deserves. This is not to minimize care for the poor, but to understand the essence of the Christian devotion – love to the Lord Jesus and service of Him.
Christ’s suffering was increasing and the cross was looming in front of Him. The window of opportunity to show care and support for the Savior was closing. Here was a final opportunity for Mary to show her love. So she gave precious anointment for the anointing of Jesus. “She has done what she could. She has come beforehand to anoint my body for burial.” First He defends her by saying she has done what she could. He knows her limitations. He knows that He is moving forward to complete His work. He praises her for what she did. This is a beautiful statement of Jesus’ acceptance of our affection. This is not an excuse for mediocrity, but it is a recognition of limitation and a willingness to still receive what the loving heart gives.
Then there is the timing – Mary had insight into what lay ahead for the Master – “she has come beforehand to anoint My body for burial.” Her anticipation led her to action, especially as she grasped the ramifications of Christ’s death. The body needed to be tended to and shown proper respect and attended with proper value. Notice, though, that this act of faith fixed on Jesus’ death and burial. That is where all true faith orients to – the substituionary death of Christ for His people. Do you believe in Christ as the One Who died and was buried for your sins? Does your faith see the absolute necessity of Him doing what He did to save His people? No act of devotion is seen too big, in comparison to what Christ has done!
Christ gives a glowing commendation for Mary, “whereever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be told as a memorial to her.” Yes, many poor will always be around. Yes, many acts of devotion will be rendered. But this one loving act of service will go down in inspired writ as a memorial to her. What a lasting consolation, that Christ would not just receive it in anticipation of His death, but promise that it will endure through the resurrection even to attend the spread of the Good News…to us!