Mark's account of the woman's extravagance in Mark 14 seems an age away from 21st century London. We don't carry pure nard around with us (well, I don't!) and as Christians we value Jesus' death. Don't we? Mark's words to us this week are an enormous challenge, if only we'll listen.

The scene is set simply, with Jesus sitting back at the dining table of Simon the leper, when out of the blue, a woman arrives with an extremely costly gift which she pours over Jesus' head. The ointment was worth 300 denarii - about £26,500 in today's terms. Understandably, ‘There were some who said to themselves indignantly, "Why was the ointment wasted like that? For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor". And they scolded her. But Jesus said, "Leave her alone."' (v4-6)

Leave her alone, Jesus? Leave her alone?! She's just wasted a huge amount of money! 26 grand! We feel their indignation, until Jesus explains that her response is reasonable in the context of his death (v8).

Why is Jesus worthy of such a remarkable gesture?

Read on, and we start to see why the woman's actions are entirely appropriate. Jesus tells us she is anointing His body for burial - she knows He's going to die, and so does Jesus. But this is no ordinary man, and no ordinary death. It's no coincidence that all this is happening at Passover time. Jesus' last Passover meal with the disciples is full of significance, as Jesus puts Himself in the place of the lamb. Just as the blood of the lamb spread on the doorposts at the original Passover (Exodus 12) was shed as a sacrifice in place of the Israelite firstborn sons, so Jesus' blood will be poured out for His disciples as He dies in their place.

Mark helps us to see the value of this death in the second half of the passage. In a section reminiscent of Mark 11:1-10, Mark uses repeated words again to draw our attention to what is going on: the Passover. Indeed, Jesus makes the connection explicit in vv22-25. Jesus' death is the new Passover. Just as the Jews remembered the time when a lamb was killed as a substitute for a child to save the life of the firstborn son (Exodus 12), so now Jesus will be killed as a substitute for mankind, to save the lives of Christians everywhere.

We may think of ourselves as more spiritually aware than those at the house of Simon the leper, but would we be so different? Wouldn't we respond with "This could have been sold and £26,500 given to the poor?" Or "This could have been sold and thousands of gospels given to unbelievers?" Or "This could have been sold and financed the family of a gospel worker in an under-resourced part of the country?" This woman didn't spend the money on gospel work (good though that would be). She was so overcome with gratitude that she poured out the ointment as an extravagant gesture of thanks, to show the value was in nothing else but what Jesus was about to do.

Questions to ponder

  • How valuable do you consider Jesus' death? Is that evident in the way you speak? The way you act?
  • We are not called to be irresponsible with our money. How can you use your finances to demonstrate the value you recognise in Jesus' death?
  • How is Communion a helpful way of reminding each other of the value of Jesus' death?
  • When was the last time you took time out to contemplate Jesus' death and its implications? When was the last time you thanked Jesus for it? How does Mark 14 help to inform our prayers?