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Jesus Anointed at Bethany (Mark 14:3-9)

Analysis and Commentary

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Jesus is Annointed

Jesus is Annointed

    3 And being in Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he sat at meat, there came a woman having an alabaster box of ointment of spikenard very precious; and she brake the box, and poured it on his head. 4 And there were some that had indignation within themselves, and said, Why was this waste of the ointment made? 5 For it might have been sold for more than three hundred pence, and have been given to the poor. And they murmured against her.
    6 And Jesus said, Let her alone; why trouble ye her? she hath wrought a good work on me. 7 For ye have the poor with you always, and whensoever ye will ye may do them good: but me ye have not always. 8 She hath done what she could: she is come aforehand to anoint my body to the burying. 9 Verily I say unto you, Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached throughout the whole world, this also that she hath done shall be spoken of for a memorial of her.
    Compare: Matthew 26:6-13; John 12:1-8

Jesus, the Anointed One

Jesus being anointed with oil by an unnamed woman is one of the more interesting passages during Mark’s passion narrative. Why does she choose to do it? What do Jesus’ comments say about his ultimate feelings about the poor and destitute?

The identity of this woman is unknown, but other gospels say she is Mary, sister of Simon (which would make sense, if they were in his house). Where did she get a box of precious oil and what was originally planned with it? The anointing of Jesus is performed in accordance with the traditional anointing of kings — appropriate, if one believes that Jesus was the king of the Jews. Jesus entered Jerusalem in royal fashion and would be mocked as king later before his crucifixion.

An alternative interpretation is offered by Jesus himself at the end of the passage, though, when he observes that she he anointing his body before “the burying.” This would have been read as a foreshadowing of Jesus’ execution, at least by Mark’s audience.

Scholars think that the value of this oil, 300 denarii, would have been around that made by a well-paid laborer over the course of an entire year. At first, it seems that Jesus’ followers (were they just the apostles there, or were there others?) had learned his lessons about the poor very well: they complain that the oil had been wasted when it could have been sold and the proceeds used to help the destitute, such as the widow from the end of chapter 12 who appeared to donate the last of her own funds to the Temple.

What these people don’t realize is that it isn’t about the poor, it’s all about Jesus: he’s the center of attention, the star of the show, and the whole point for their being there. If it’s all about Jesus, then an otherwise frivolous expenditure is not out of line. The attitude displayed to the poor, however, is utterly appalling — and has been used by various Christian leaders to justify their own appalling behavior.

Granted, it is likely impossible to completely eliminate the poor in society, but what sort of reason is that for treating them in such an instrumental manner? Granted, Jesus may only expect to be around for a short period of time, but what reason is that to refuse to aid destitute people whose lives are miserable through no fault of their own?

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