Why this waste of perfume? (Mark 14.4)
This story has confused me in the past. I wondered why Jesus was not being practical or cost effective with how resources are used. Jesus cared for the poor and the resale value of the perfume would have met many of the needs of the poor. Jesus seemed to be saying that it’s OK to pour out expensive and limited resources on Him. (Perhaps this was the justification used by the Church hundreds of years ago when it was building very expensive and ornate temples at the cost of taking care of the needs of the poor.)
But perhaps Jesus is saying that there will always be work to be done. No matter how much you do, there is always more. This world is broken so as much as we try to fill up the cistern, we can never fill it up because the cistern is cracked and the water constantly leaks out. Maybe the point of doing the good work is not so much to help Jesus (who needs our “help” as much as a mother needs her child to help wash the dishes) or to help others, but in doing the good work, we get closer to the heart of Jesus. We should avoid letting our focus be on accomplishment of a goal (which is a very western and capitalistic approach but that is a post for another day), but our focus in service should be to express our love for Jesus — to pour out the very best of what we have for Jesus in an extravagant lavish way, much like how the Father pours is grace and love out to us. In pouring out her expensive perfume for Jesus, this woman was going all-in with Jesus. Like Mary, she was choosing the finer thing. She was choosing to be present to Jesus and choosing to fully trust and surrender to Him.
What is my alabaster perfume that I’ve been saving all these years? What would it mean to pour this out onto Jesus’ head? What changes would need to happen so I would be willing to break the jar and pour all of it out, leaving behind what is rational and cost-effective in other people’s minds?
There are two kinds of people in today’s passage. One is Pharissess and scribes (14:1-2), those who planned and wanted Jesus’ death and the other is the woman who poured out expensive perfume to Jesus, the one who has done beautiful thing to Jesus. At the end of the day, in fact, there are always only two kinds of people – those who do evil thing to Jesus and those who do good thing to Jesus. How about those who don’t do anything or do not belong to neighter (good or bad) like disciples or crowds? There are all those who would potentially do evil things to Jesus and in fact they did. There is no grey area in faith. All or nothing. All of those who try not to give up anything (both this world and Jesus) will fail. All of those who try to have both (this world and Jesus) will fail. Only those who give up all for Jesus will stand with him.