53. Mark 14:1-9: The Anointing
The chief priests and scribes are plotting a quiet way to put Jesus to death. That’s the backstory here and for the rest of the gospel (vv.1-2).
The Anointing at Bethany
Jesus, meanwhile, King Jesus, Messiah Jesus, is dining among his people, Simon the leper and his friends in Bethany. Maybe he was a former leper who had been healed by Jesus. If his leprosy was active he could not have hosted this party in his home.
The woman, likely a prostitute though not Mary Magdalene, enters the party. She goes directly to Jesus, bearing a vial of “costly ointment.” In an act of devotion she breaks the jar and pours it over his head. An impulsive act, perhaps, wasteful according to her critics, Jesus nonetheless accepts it, commends it, and recasts it as anointing of “my body beforehand for its burial” (v.8).
Other members of this gathering are p.o.’d by her action and angrily upbraid her for not selling the ointment and giving the money to the poor. Whether this is a genuine concern or a reaction to this woman and Jesus’ attention her is hard to tell. It may be telling that shortly we will hear of Judas grabbing at 30 pieces of silver for betraying Jesus!
Jesus’ defense of this woman valorizes her action and makes it part of the gospel’s proclamation throughout the world (v.9). As important as that is, more important still, especially in light of the history of the church on this matter, is his defense of her in general, her presence and testimony among this crowd and in the church. Yes, in the church. This story can hardly be read as anything other than what Myers calls “an unambiguous instruction that places the struggle against patriarchy at the heart of the message of the church” (Myers, Say to This Mountain, 184).
So this (disreputable?) woman anoints Jesus for burial. Jesus, it seems, is one step ahead of his opponents. They scheme to kill him; he’s already planning his burial. And his victory, as seen in his confidence that the good news about him will spread into the whole world (v.9).
There is a slight allusion here to Paul’s claim in 1 Cor. that the powers that be did not know what they were doing in crucifying Jesus.