What have you done?

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 14:3-9, NRSV

Have you done something for anyone without your name remembered? Was it something profound to that person, or would you have known that? Were you recognized later, or were you vaguely memorialized with or without your awareness? These were questions that might be asked of my community after reading Mark 14:3-9. With scandals seemingly emerging one after another, sometimes the hidden and not so hidden deeds done with good intentions are brushed aside in favour of the scandalous. A jar of expensive nard (14:3) wasted to greet a guest looks terrible to an outsider of a mystery. It is expensive, why would you have not used it for something immediate, tangible, and readily comprehended (14:4)?

Perhaps you know something that your opponents do not. You are accused of wastefulness, expending resources into a gesture that makes little sense (14:4). “Give your treasure to the needy,” says one guest at this meal (14:5). “Turn those sacred items into ready funds to do the work you should be doing.” Is not Christianity a useful religion, compelling you to turn your eyes to the poor and ever scolding you about your guilt? You say this during the Mass, “Through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault…” striking your breast with each utterance. You strike your breast as you break that jar (14:8).

That person whom you did a good service recognizes what you have done, what you carry like a precious secret more important than expensive ointment (14:3). This moment is more important to you than giving your gift for a cause always present (14:6). For a brief moment, this person is before you. For this moment, you gave your ointment as a deed for him (14:8). Perhaps someone will recall that you held to what you understood, or what impulse compelled you to anoint him without understanding. Perhaps your accusers will not. You can slip away as the theological story goes on, because the one who received from you is the one who mattered. He remembers you, and you have done well for the gospel (14:9). May the other guests and anyone who saw you give you peace, and spare you from further troubles (14:6). Perhaps one day, they too may know.

Excerpt from my incomplete DUTY AND THE ANOINTER: Exegetical Paper for Mark 14:3-9 — Theological Interpretation.

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