Mark 14:3-9 – Will You Let Me be Your Servant?
3 While he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he sat at the table, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very costly ointment of nard, and she broke open the jar and poured the ointment on his head. 4 But some were there who said to one another in anger, “Why was the ointment wasted in this way? 5 For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii, and the money given to the poor.” And they scolded her. 6 But Jesus said, “Let her alone; why do you trouble her? She has performed a good service for me. 7 For you always have the poor with you, and you can show kindness to them whenever you wish; but you will not always have me. 8 She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for its burial. 9 Truly I tell you, wherever the good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.”
Mark tackled huge sociological issues of his day, issues that we still face in our own communities. Jesus addressed the issue of the poor with a call to servanthood.
While Jesus visited the house of Simon the leper in the city of Bethany, he was approached by an unidentified woman who possessed an alabaster jar filled with nard, a costly perfume procured from the Himalayan Mountains in India. The unnamed woman could be Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus as noted in the Book of Matthew recounting the same story. Regardless, the use of the expensive perfume disturbed several of the guests who rebuked the woman.
The argument of the guests included selling the nard, worth approximately 300 days wages, to provide for the poor. Jesus reminded the guests that the poor would always be with them, which is difficult to read. For all the energy devoted to solving the poverty issue, we have failed to eliminate the devastating effects of growing up poor. Jesus deliberately connected the issue of servanthood with poverty in this passage, which challenged their thinking about poverty, and should challenge ours.
Addressing the needs of the poor is still a relevant conversation. However, because Jesus connected the issue of poverty with servanthood, we must rethink our approach to eliminating poverty. Jesus didn’t say, “Don’t take care of the poor,” or “Don’t worry about the plight of the poor.” The fact that Jesus acknowledged the poor in this passage showed his concern about their circumstances. What Jesus lifted up in this moment was the woman’s gift and her willingness to be a servant (a devoted and helpful follower or supporter). She gave Jesus something that no one else in the room had given, the anointing of his body prior to death. She understood the significance of her actions, but the others in the room could only see the waste. Jesus declared that no action, when taken with sincerity, is a waste.
Isn’t this the point of being a servant? We are called to serve God by serving others. Imagine what it would be like if we committed our entire lives to serving others as a devoted helpful follower or supporter. If we performed our work for the benefit of others rather than our own selfish gains, how would that change our attitude at work? Doing for others in this way opens up new possibilities at eliminating poverty. Together we collectively address the issues of poverty from a place of servanthood. Over time, the need diminishes because of the provision provided on an ongoing basis from everyone. This only works, though, if everyone gives.
The unnamed woman reveals the most valuable lesson of all—the costly perfume can do no good as long as it stays in the jar. Whatever resources we possess can only do good if we engage them in actual activity. It is in the using of a thing that the thing derives meaning. The perfume becomes an issue because it is being used, not because it is sitting in a jar. Jesus exalts the woman for bestowing such a gift to Jesus, the one who gives freely to others. It is the relationship and the exchange of gifts that opens space for us to address issues like poverty. It is by becoming a servant that we are able to fill the need.