Online Bible Study – Scripture: Mark 14:3-9

Scripture: Mark 14:3-9


The Narrative Lectionary actually assigns two Scripture passages for this week. One is the Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. The second is the anointing of Jesus’ head by an unnamed woman, and it this passage that we’ll be studying.

This story occurs almost immediately after the apocalyptic predictions at the end of chapter 13, which we talked about last week. The first two verses of chapter 14 recount the continued plot to kill Jesus and that story picks up again after the verses we are considering today.

The first thing we are told is the location of the story. Jesus is at the house of a man known as “Simon the Leper.” In the Bible the word leprosy can refer to a number of diseases, so Simon may not have been suffering leprosy as we know it. It is also possible that Simon had been healed of his leprosy by this point. The text has several people gathering at his house and that is unlikely if he had an active disease. It may be that he retained the name even after he had been healed in the way that sometimes happens.

A current example of how people stick with the naming of something even after it has ceased to fulfill that function comes from our own St. Paul’s. The Peter Pos Resource Centre was known as The Chapel for a number of years after it ceased to be a chapel. The name was kept even thought it no longer applied.

We don’t know why Jesus was at Simon’s house or how long he had been there. Bethany was only three kilometers (two miles) from Jerusalem where Jesus was spending a lot of time so it’s possible he was there only for a day or two. He was likely teaching as he so often did. Either way he is sitting at the table when our story begins.

As he sits there a woman, who is not named, enters and opens a jar of costly ointment or oil, and pours it on his head. It is easy for a modern reader to miss the significance of this action. This kind of anointing was done for kings and to prepare the dead for burial. In the case of Jesus it is of course both, although Jesus only mentions his death. Finally, an argument breaks out over the woman’s action since the ointment was costly and the money could have been used to help those in need. To put the cost of the ointment into perspective it was worth three hundred days wages for the ordinary worker.

The interesting thing about this story for me is that both parties to the argument have valid views.

No one would argue that selling something expensive and giving the money to the poor is a bad thing nor is that what Jesus is saying here. On the other hand, doing something for a person who is near death is also a good thing.

We do it ourselves, visiting, bringing flowers, doing whatever we can to show our love and to make a person who is dying more comfortable. Jesus is not criticizing the observers’ concern for the poor. His problem is their condemnation of the woman’s actions and their lack of understanding of the situation.

When we read stories in the Bible, we want to imagine ourselves as the person who does the right thing, the one that Jesus praises. It’s equally important to imagine ourselves as the person who makes mistakes and gets things wrong.

Putting ourselves in both positions helps us to see ourselves clearly and grow as disciples Jesus.

There are a few question below to help you think about that.

Food for Thought

Imagine yourself in this week’s text.

  • What can you see, hear and smell?
  • How do you react to what happens?
  • Do you have any questions for Jesus? Ask them. What does he say in reply?
  • When have been like the women in the story and acted wisely in your care of another?
  • When have you acted like the crowd in the story?
  • How can you best care for others at this time?