“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. But some were there who said to one another in anger, ‘Why was the ointment wasted in this way? For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii, and the money given to the poor.’ And they scolded her. But Jesus said, ‘Let her alone; why do you trouble her? She has performed a good service for me. 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. She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for burial. 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.’
Then Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve, went to the chief priests in order to betray him to them. When they heard it, they were greatly pleased, and promised to give him money. So he began to look for an opportunity to betray him.” ~Mark 14: 3-11
“She has done what she could.”
These are powerful words.
It may not seem like it upon first hearing, but, truly, they are.
Isolated from the rest of the text, it can give a feel of, “Well, it wasn’t great, but she did the best she could with what she had.” As if to say “what she could” was sub par in some way.
But, grounded within the the context of this night as well as the context of the second half of the gospel of Mark “she has done what she could” becomes a powerful statement.
You see, building up to this night, Jesus announced three times that he was going to die. Three times he told his disciples news that shocked them, angered them, confused them, side-tracked them.
It was news they never expected to hear.
News that, again, upon first hearing, sounded like the end of everything meaningful and good they had put their hope in.
News that made them question their security, their future, and even Jesus (notice Judas’ response).
“I’m going to die—a brutal, humiliating, painful death after being betrayed and rejected. But, after three days I will rise again.”
Did they even hear the “rising again” part? If they did, they couldn’t comprehend what it meant. The weight of death was bearing down hard on their hearts and minds.
Nevertheless, they journeyed on with Jesus toward Jerusalem. Finally, after a week full of difficult encounters, emotionally charged conversations, and growing dis-ease and tension among the religious leaders toward Jesus, they made it to Bethany.
At the home of a friend, they sat down to a meal. A woman—who many believe to be Mary of Bethany—sister to Martha and Lazarus, and close friend to Jesus—broke open a jar of expensive ointment and proceeded to anoint Jesus with it, pouring it over his head.
And that’s when the fussing began.
“Why did you waste that expensive ointment like that? We could have done some good with it! We could have helped the poor!”
But Jesus defends her actions.
“Let her alone. Why do you trouble her? For you will always have the poor with you, and you can show kindness to them whenever you wish; but you will not always have me. She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for its burial.”
Jesus’ statement about helping the poor has nothing to do with his view of loving and helping others in need. He was all for that. And he reminded them that they could do that WHENEVER they wanted. The emphasis here is the difference between “you will always have” and “you will not always have.” They wouldn’t always have the opportunities with Jesus they had in these moments.
I think this woman understood that.
You see, by this point, she, too, would have heard Jesus’ shocking news. She, too, would have had to struggle with what that could mean, would mean, for her and everyone she cared about. But while everyone else at the dinner seems to have avoided —in one way or another— Jesus’ words about his impending death, this woman seems to have come to a place of trusting acceptance of Jesus’ words that is markedly different from those around her.
Even in the face of the most terrifying and painful uncertainty she had likely ever faced, she chose to trust Jesus; she chose to honor Jesus—to worship Jesus—making it clear that she was with Jesus no matter what.
Her actions lie in stark contrast to Judas’ actions.
After the meal was over, Judas met with Jesus’ opponents and sold out. He just couldn’t go there with Jesus. To Judas, this was nothing but bad news. Death meant failure. Death meant defeat. Death meant it was all over. Death meant he had been wrong about Jesus.
Judas didn’t understand that there is no resurrection without a death. To get to the abundant, miraculous, jaw-dropping, life-giving reality God had in mind for the world, Jesus and those who followed him would have to first walk through the valley of the shadow of death.
I’m not sure that this woman fully understood all of that. I’m not sure she perceived the full implications of her actions. I think she just chose to keep believing and keep loving Jesus even when her own future was uncertain and her preferred outcome was clearly not going to happen.
She couldn’t change what was coming.
She couldn’t get her way.
She could acknowledge Jesus even in her disappointment.
She could worship him.
She could continue to surrender to him.
She could still give her best to him.
She could move forward with him even though the future looked terribly bleak.
She could still trust him — even in the death.
And so, she did what she could.
She just kept saying, “Yes,” to Jesus. She wouldn’t stop saying, “Yes. I love you. I honor you,” to Jesus.
Perhaps she was reaching back to another tough word Jesus had spoken when he said,
“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves, take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?” ~Matthew 16: 24-26
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about this concept of saying, “Yes,” to Jesus.
I said, “Yes,” to him years ago when I surrendered my life to him. But there have been many other times when I have said, “No,” when it would mean my discomfort, my dis-ease, my sacrifice, etc.
Unfortunately, I can’t grow if I’m constantly saying, “No,” to the Holy Spirit.
But what if I said, “Yes?”
What if I said, “Yes,” to everything I knew the Holy Spirit was leading me toward, instead of, in my way I do it, saying, “No,” to Him.
What if I gave every amount of money I knew God wanted me to give?
What if I forgave every person I knew God wanted me to forgive?
What if I spent time with God the way He desires me to?
What if I just paid attention and said, “Yes,” to every opportunity to share His love, every opportunity to be spiritually healthier, every opportunity to be physically healthier?
What if I stopped saying, “No,” to Him and just said, “Yes,” every time?
The season of Lent starts with Ash Wednesday on March 6. This is the time in the Christian year when we focus on taking our own spiritual journey with Jesus to Jerusalem and, ultimately, to the cross. Many times during Lent we focus on saying, “No,” to things we perceive may distract us from wholeheartedness with God.
What if during Lent this year we focused on saying, “Yes?”
I wonder what would happen if, for forty days, we chose to say, “Yes,” to every nudge of the Spirit.
Yes to serving.
Yes to forgiving.
Yes to listening—to God and to others.
Yes to staying silent when we want to speak out of frustration and emotion.
Yes to giving.
Yes to new opportunities to grow and mature spiritually, relationally, emotionally.
These things don’t magically happen within us. Kingdom living takes choosing God’s “yes” over our own comfort and preferred outcomes. But God’s “yes” leads to abundant life, joy, and peace.
Would you be willing to try this experiment with me?
I would love some company in it. And I would love to hear how it goes for you. I’ve already had some really cool things happen, little bursts of joy and satisfaction within me as I’ve said, “Yes,” to others as the Spirit led when my laziness really wanted to say, “No.”
In those moments, I felt God smile on me and say, “You have done what you could.”
One last thing.
This woman from Mark 14 was able to say, “Yes,” because Jesus said, “Yes,” first. His “yes” empowered her “yes.” And his “yes,” reaffirmed God’s “yes” to us and for us. Every single promise God ever made was fulfilled the night Jesus said, “Yes” to doing his Father’s will over his own.
Listen to what the Apostle Paul said about that:
“For all of God’s promises have been fulfilled in Christ with a resounding, “Yes!” And through Christ our “Amen” (which means “yes”) ascends to God for his glory.” ~ 2 Corinthians 1:20
I’ll be praying for you, that you will find the courage and strength to say, “Yes,” even when it’s uncomfortable or difficult—even when the road ahead is dark and uncertain. I know you can do it, because Christ has already said, “Yes,” to you.
Lord, I want to be like this woman. May I be known for my humble, worshipful trust of you. May I worship you when my plans blow up, and not betray you to my own ideas of what is best. May I say, “Yes,” to you in the now, even in the face of uncertainty. May I persevere through my disappointments and the difficult roads you lead me on. And may I experience the fullness of joy and life you promise to those who say, “Yes,” to you. In Jesus’ name I pray, Yes, Amen.