Meanwhile, Jesus was in Bethany at the home of Simon, a man who had previously had leprosy. While he was eating, a woman came in with a beautiful alabaster jar of expensive perfume made from essence of nard. She broke open the jar and poured the perfume over his head.
Some of those at the table were indignant. “Why waste such expensive perfume?” they asked. “It could have been sold for a year’s wages and the money given to the poor!” So they scolded her harshly.
But Jesus replied, “Leave her alone. Why criticize her for doing such a good thing to me? You will always have the poor among you, and you can help them whenever you want to. But you will not always have me. She has done what she could and has anointed my body for burial ahead of time. I tell you the truth, wherever the Good News is preached throughout the world, this woman’s deed will be remembered and discussed.” (Mark 14:3-9)
Bethany is located on the eastern slope of the Mount of Olives. (Jerusalem is on the western side.) This town was the home of Jesus’ friends Lazarus, Mary, and Martha, who were also present at this dinner (John 11:2). The woman who anointed Jesus’ feet was Mary, Lazarus’s and Martha’s sister (John 12:1-3).
Mary’s anointing of Jesus was very costly. An alabaster jar was an expensive carved vase—a fit vessel for nard, a highly valued oil derived from spikenard.
Where Mark says “some of those at the table” (Mark 14:4), John specifically mentions Judas (John 12:4-5). Judas’s indignation over Mary’s act of worship was based not on concern for the poor but on greed. Because Judas was the treasurer of Jesus’ ministry and had embezzled funds (John 12:6), he no doubt wanted the perfume sold so that the proceeds could be put into his care.
Jesus was not saying that we should neglect the poor, nor was he justifying indifference to them. (For Jesus’ teaching about the poor, see Matthew 6:2-4; Luke 6:20-21; 14:13, 21; 18:22.) Instead, Jesus praised Mary for her unselfish act of worship.
The essence of worshiping Jesus is to regard him with utmost love, respect, and devotion and to be willing to sacrifice to him what is most precious. How do you show to others that Jesus is a high priority to you?