An Outrageously Extravagant Gift for Jesus

September 14, 2011

Welcome to the first entry of The Gentle Savior blog!
About once a week I’ll be posting reflections and musings here about the interactions between Jesus and women described in the Gospels. I hope this blog will be a place where we can ask questions of each other and of scripture. I won’t pretend to know and understand everything about God or about difficult issues raised in the Bible. We’ll just be honest about our questions and try to help each other understand Jesus a little better.

Lynn Bell


While [Jesus] was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of a man known as Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head. Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, “Why this waste of perfume? It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor.” And they rebuked her harshly. (Mark 14:3-5)

Why in the world would a woman do something like this?  What would compel you to take a year’s worth of earnings, buy a ridiculously expensive bottle of perfume, and then pour out its entire contents on one person?

To some of the men in the room, this act was an unfathomable mystery. All they could perceive was the frittering away of valuable resources by an irrational female. Anointing is one thing, but did she have to break the jar and use it all?

Although John (12:4-6) pins the grumbling solely on Judas and his nefarious motives, Mark blames multiple castigators. Matthew (26:8-9) identifies them specifically as “the disciples,” which sometimes means the Apostles but not always. Regardless of exactly who these folks were, they so incensed they felt a harsh rebuke was in order, paraphrased as follows:

“If you didn’t want the perfume, did it occur to you to think of all the hungry people you could have fed on a year’s wages! You know how often Jesus has instructed people to sell their possessions and give the money to the poor. Now, instead, the money is gone, and he’ll be smelling like a perfume factory for days. What a senseless waste.”

For just an instant, this woman probably feared she had made a terrible mistake, her good intentions colliding with the harsh judgment of pragmatism.
Who was this poor sister? John’s Gospel tells us:

Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. (John 12:1-3)

Some minor details differ slightly, but the timing, location in Bethany, and subsequent conversation all associate this event with the one described in Mark. Upon learning this woman’s identity, we are astonished that the disciples would dare reprimand such a close friend of Jesus in his very presence. And knowing this was Mary, we are also a little less surprised at the impulsive generosity of her act.

After all, Jesus had respected Mary’s intellect and welcomed her to sit at his feet and learn his teachings (Luke 10:38-42). He had gracefully born her disappointment when he had failed to prevent her brother’s death (John 11:32). He had wept with her in her grief (John 11:33-35), then he had restored Lazarus to life (John 11:38-44). In this moment, he knew exactly what prompted her high-priced sacrifice—maybe overwhelming gratitude, speechless adoration—maybe a little contrition for her moments of doubt. Maybe she had heard him speak of his imminent death and was filled with sadness that she would soon lose her dear friend. Maybe it was all of these emotions and more. Jesus knew, and he immediately rose to her defense.

“Leave her alone,” said Jesus. “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial. Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.” (Mark 14:6-9)

Jesus not only knew her reasons, but he understood a greater significance to this anointing than even she was aware of. His crucifixion was mere days away. Women would come to anoint his body on Sunday morning, but the tomb would be empty. Depending on his bathing and laundry habits, the scent of this libation may have lingered with him throughout the horrific hours of the Passion. Mary had prepared him for burial—the only human who would be able to experience that privilege.

It was a beautiful thing she had done to him—an act that came from an overflowing heart. An act of a woman who “did what she could” in a man’s world. “Where others were moderate, balanced, and measured in their response to Jesus, this woman was extravagant: she poured out on him what was most precious to her,” writes Mary Healy in her commentary The Gospel of Mark.

For Judas, Jesus’s supportive acceptance of this nonsense was the last straw. He went directly to the chief priests and offered to betray Jesus to them (Mark 14:10-11).

A few decades later, however, Christians who found themselves facing martyrdom no doubt took courage from this story. How comforting it must have been to remember that Jesus once commended a woman who recklessly “wasted” on Him everything most precious.

I am left asking myself, “What would compel me to give such a reckless, extravagant gift to my Savior? And what form would that gift take in today’s world?

What about you? What do you think?

Feel free to post your thoughts!

Read the Bible study chapter on Mary and Martha.

8 responses to “An Outrageously Extravagant Gift for Jesus”

  1. Jackie Conner says:

    Thanks for sharing your link. It is awesome. I know you have worked long and hard to bring this to fruition. I pray that many women will come to know Jesus the way you do through this blog. May God Bless all your efforts to bring Him glory and women comfort by understanding Jesus better.

  2. Pat says:

    This is such a beautiful story. One woman who without hesitation, but with passion and with a singular purpose demonstrated her devotion and love for her Lord. I love the last question you asked regarding what would compel me to give such an extravagant gift to my Savior and what form would that gift take for me.

  3. LynnBell says:

    Pat, I still haven’t figured out the answer to that one. 🙂

  4. Tam Mathews says:


    What an extravagant gift You have and give so freely to others. I imagine most people would consider “time” an extravagant gift and yet in all the years I have known you, this gift (time) is offered to others over and over again! You are compelled to tell a beautiful story “anew” and share your extravagant gift with all who seek. — Looks so much like a Father we both know!

    –Lovely Gift — Your Friend, Your Sister, Tammy

  5. Pam Laird says:

    Lynn what a wonderful window you have created for this world to look thru to our precious Savior Jesus. I see Jesus in you and Thank God for you and your very sweet gentle spirit which you so freely give of yourself to others. What an awesome gift you have for helping others see the good in themselves no matter where they came from or what they have done. I love you and miss seeing you

    Love and Prayers your friend and sister in Christ

  6. Mona Lisa says:

    I believe that this woman saw the true worth of Jesus and wanted to show Him how much He really meant to her, such that she was willing to give her all to Him. As she approached Him she was probably overcome with awe and could not fully express herself with mere words, so she started weeping. She knelt before Him in front of everyone and didn’t care what they thought as she wept at His feet and wiped her tears with her hair. Now to a woman, her hair is her crowning glory. She laid it all at His feet and poured out the most precious aromatic oil to show Him and others just how deeply she felt towards Him and how important He was to her. She loved Him deeply and wanted Him and the whole world to know it. Love that is expressed extravagantly is proof of a deep relationship with the person whom you value above anything else. Contrast this with the disciples who had a more functional relationship with Jesus. They wanted Him to take over the Roman empire, they wanted Him to choose which one of them would sit at His right side, they wanted the positions of honor. And sadly enough, none of them saw the true worth of Jesus the way this woman did. She loved Him lavishly and deeply and was not afraid to show it. How courageous are we when it comes to showing the world how much we really love Jesus? Do we really see His worth to the extent that we don’t care what others say when we demonstrate our undying passion and love for Him. What holds us back from showing Jesus how much we love Him publicly? Are we afraid to say His name in public for fear we’ll be branded as Jesus freaks? What are we willing to lay down at His feet that demonstrates our total surrender to His Lordship over our lives.?

    • LynnBell says:

      Thank you for your lovely thoughts! You made some very insightful points and even touched on another issue I am planning to write about in one of my upcoming posts. I like the way you think!

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