Between the conspiring of the religious leaders to kill Jesus and the devastating betrayal of a close friend, we have the opportunity in the Gospel of Mark to pause and smell the sweet fragrance of faithfulness, the aroma of devotion to Jesus that permeates the air from an act of sacrificial love. Let us linger there for a while and breathe in its bouquet.
“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Eph. 5:1-2 NRSV).
A loving sacrifice is a fragrant aroma. Just as Jesus in love offered himself as a sacrifice so that we might be reconciled to God, we too are to live our lives in fragrant faithfulness acting in love towards God and one another. In Mark 14:3-9 we encounter a nameless woman who anoints Jesus’ head with a very costly perfumed oil. This faithful disciple of Jesus breaks an alabaster vial of nard, and pours the entire contents on Jesus’ head, she saves none for herself. It is possible that this alabaster vial of perfume could have been a family heirloom. Not only would it have had sentimental value, but the perfumed oil would have cost about a year’s worth of wages. It would have been a luxury item, something to hold onto or use for a special occasion. For this woman, anointing Jesus was such a special occasion.
This anointing of Jesus’ head is symbolic of Jesus being anointed as king and priest. She recognizes who Jesus truly is and know that he is more than worthy of her sacrifice and anointing. Others who were at the table with Jesus scold the woman in anger claiming that she is wasting money that could have been used to feed the poor. While the poor are a concern, those at the table miss what so many others in the gospel accounts miss, they have the Messiah with them. God in the flesh is sitting at the table with them and they do not realize it. Jesus does not rebuke the woman, instead he commends her for her act of devotion and faith. She “performed a good service” for Jesus (Mk. 14:7). She served him in a way that she was able; Jesus says, “She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for its burial” (Mk. 14:8). Jesus concludes, “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” (Mk. 14:9).
This story of true faithfulness occurs immediately after the chief priests and scribes are diligently seeking a way to have Jesus killed (Mk 14:1-2) and if immediately followed by Judas going to see the chief priests so that he might betray Jesus. Surrounded by hate and betrayal is the fragrant offering of love from this woman towards Jesus. It demonstrates true faithfulness and loyalty while others surrounding Jesus are brewing the stench of treachery. How might we not only remember what this woman did, but emulate it in our daily lives? How might our lives be lived so that we too would exude fragrant faithfulness in our love for God?