This chapter of Mark’s Gospel begins with, what we might call, the final countdown to the suffering and death of the Lord Jesus Christ. Up until now we have seen Him as our Prophet and Teacher, but soon He will be revealed as our Great High Priest. It is time to focus upon the events leading up to His sacrificial death on the cross.
“After two days was the feast of the passover, and of unleavened bread: and the chief priests and the scribes sought how they might take him by craft, and put him to death. But they said, Not on the feast day, lest there be an uproar of the people” (Mark 14:1-2).
The cunning craftiness of the religious leaders is never out of the picture. They were determined to destroy Jesus by whatever means possible. This evil scheming went all the way to the top, “Then assembled together the chief priests, and the scribes, and the elders of the people, unto the palace of the high priest, who was called Caiaphas, And consulted that they might take Jesus by subtlety, and kill him” (Matthew 26:3-4). Their plan was put on hold when someone suggested that the people would turn on them if they killed Jesus during the day of preparation for the Passover. They were back to their wickedness soon enough, “Now the next day, that followed the day of the preparation, the chief priests and Pharisees came together unto Pilate” (Matthew 27:62).
These men thought that they were able to put an end to Christ, but in reality they were helping to reveal Him as the true Messiah, the only one who can save sinners, “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me” (John 12:32). They were planning to make the Lord vile and contemptible by crucifying Him as a common criminal, but in fact God turned it around for glory. They sought to kill Him secretly, but instead His death was very public. They thought it was the end of the matter, but it was really only the beginning. “Surely the wrath of man shall praise thee” (Psalm 76:10). “Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD, and against his anointed, saying, Let us break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us. He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh: the Lord shall have them in derision” (Psalm 2:1-4).
“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” (Mark 14:3).
The woman, moved with compassion, broke an alabaster box of precious ointment and poured it over Jesus’ head. This woman was Mary, the sister of Lazarus and Martha, “Then took Mary a pound of ointment of spikenard, very costly, and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped his feet with her hair: and the house was filled with the odour of the ointment” (John 12:3). It seems that she both poured it on His head and anointed His feet. She humbled herself further by drying Jesus’ feet with her hair. Mary loved to sit at Jesus’ feet, “Mary, which also sat at Jesus’ feet, and heard his word” (Luke 10:39). Once again we find Martha busy at the table, while Mary was at the feet of the Lord, “There they made him a supper; and Martha served: but Lazarus was one of them that sat at the table with him” (John 12:2).
“And there were some that had indignation within themselves, and said, Why was this waste of the ointment made? For it might have been sold for more than three hundred pence, and have been given to the poor. And they murmured against her” (Mark 14:4-5).
Who was Simon the leper? If he was a leper then surely he was not at the gathering. Was his son, Judas, acting as head of the house? “Then saith one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, which should betray him, Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred pence, and given to the poor?” (John 12:4-5).
Judas was the chief critic, but the other disciples quickly sided with him against the Lord. “But when his disciples saw it, they had indignation, saying, To what purpose is this waste? For this ointment might have been sold for much, and given to the poor” (Matthew 26:8-9). Judas, if the spikenard had been sold, would have pocketed the money (the equivalent of a year’s wages). “This he said, not that he cared for the poor; but because he was a thief, and had the bag, and bare what was put therein” (John 12:6).
“And Jesus said, Let her alone; why trouble ye her? she hath wrought a good work on me. For ye have the poor with you always, and whensoever ye will ye may do them good: but me ye have not always. She hath done what she could: she is come aforehand to anoint my body to the burying. 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” (Mark 14:6-9).
There are some of the greatest words of honour bestowed on anyone anywhere in Scripture. While others ridiculed Mary, the Lord Jesus praised her for what she had done. There was no reason for their reaction, apart from selfishness and greed. They did nothing, but she did what she could for the Lord. This commendation has a similar ring to it as the one Jesus spoke about Mary to Martha, “Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:42).
Jesus states that what Mary did should always be included in the preaching of the gospel message. Why is this? She exemplifies what true dedication is all about. Her act was an expression of deep devotion and love for her Lord. The Christian faith does not require us simply to go through the motions of religion, as was the case with the hypocritical religious leaders, but teaches that the believer should have a personal relationship with Christ and serve Him no matter the cost.
This study opens with the callousness of the chief priests, who claimed to be servants of God, and ends with a picture of what a true servant of God is. The Lord is not looking for education, ordination or personal piety before we can come to Him. He simply asks us to break our alabaster box and give Him our all. “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise” (Psalm 51:17).