Third in a series of devotions for Holy Week written by United Methodist pastors.
Scripture: Mark 14:3-9 CEB
Jesus was at Bethany visiting the house of Simon, who had a skin disease. During dinner, a woman came in with a vase made of alabaster and containing very expensive perfume of pure nard. She broke open the vase and poured the perfume on his head. Some grew angry. They said to each other, “Why waste the perfume? This perfume could have been sold for almost a year’s pay and the money given to the poor.” And they scolded her.
Jesus said, “Leave her alone. Why do you make trouble for her? She has done a good thing for me. You always have the poor with you; and whenever you want, you can do something good for them. But you won’t always have me. She has done what she could. She has anointed my body ahead of time for burial. I tell you the truth that, wherever in the whole world the good news is announced, what she’s done will also be told in memory of her.”
All four gospels speak of a woman anointing Jesus. Mark simply calls her “a woman” who owned a jar filled with costly perfume while Luke calls her a “sinner,” implying sexual immorality.
Was she someone of means who could easily afford to waste such a valuable substance with one extravagant gesture, or was she a woman whose financial situation was precarious but who nevertheless prodigally anointed Jesus?
Either way, when the disciples scolded her, Jesus proclaimed that her act of generosity would be remembered whenever the gospel was proclaimed.
Sarah Ryan and Mary Bosanquet were early Methodist preachers who were very different from one another. Sarah was an uneducated servant who was “married” three times without being divorced; Mary was well-read and belonged to a well-to-do family. From the Methodists, Sarah discovered that Christ’s grace was freely offered to her, too, and recognizing God at work in her, John Wesley appointed her housekeeper of the New Room.
Later she mentored the younger Mary Bosanquet, and they formed a household with other Methodist women to nurture and educate the poorest children of their area. Similar to the disciples, Mary’s family felt her inheritance wasn’t being used wisely, but with Sarah’s help, Mary continued to pour out her resources freely on others, reflecting in her journal:
I would be given up, both soul and body, to serve the members of Christ. My firm resolution was to be wholly given up to the church, in any way that he pleased.
- What treasure do I possess that I want to recklessly share with Christ and with others?
- How can I honor Jesus with that which means most to me, despite objections or misunderstandings?
Lord Jesus, Lamb of God, you freely poured out your precious life for us after first joyfully accepting the extravagant offering of the woman who anointed you with expensive nard. Fill us with your Holy Spirit of generosity so that we, too, may follow the example set by her and by Mary Bosanquet and Sarah Ryan, giving without counting the cost, being motivated by nothing but love of you and of neighbor. May it be so! Amen.
The Rev. Dr. Donna Fowler-Marchant is an elder in the North Carolina Conference currently serving a circuit just outside London in the Methodist Church in Britain. She’s the author of a wonderful new book titled, Mothers in Israel: Methodist Beginnings Through the Eyes of Women. Media contact: Joe Iovino, United Methodist Communications