Truly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her. (Matthew 26:13)
She kept nothing back.
Jesus was reclining at table with friends, when a woman approached him — and had the nerve to make everyone there uncomfortable.
This proved to be one of the most awkward and perplexing moments for his disciples in all their time with him (at least in what we have recorded in the Gospels). The woman “came up to him with an alabaster flask of very expensive ointment, and she poured it on his head” (Matthew 26:7). Mark tells us it was “pure nard” (Mark 14:3), an aromatic perfume oil, often used in special acts of devotion. Soon “the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume” (John 12:6).
This was not a common everyday anointing oil, but a kind of luxury oil, for special occasions, that was “very costly.” How expensive? On the spot, one of the disciples — John tells us it was Judas (John 12:4–5) — calculated it could have been sold for more than 300 denarii. At the time, the denarii was an average day’s wage for a soldier or common worker. Which means this special oil represented more than an annual income for the average Israelite.
A Beautiful Thing
Unsurprisingly, the disciples are disturbed by this, even “indignant” (Matthew 26:8). They ask the obvious question that everyone in house must have been thinking: “Why this waste?” If only we’d sold this luxury oil, think how far the proceeds would have gone in relieving poverty!
But Jesus doesn’t share their miserliness. Here he finds extravagance utterly appropriate. The kingdom he brings resists mere utilitarian economics.
He sees in this woman’s “waste” a worshiping impulse that goes beyond the rational, calculated, efficient use of time and money. For her, Jesus is worth every shekel and more. Far from being disturbed or indignant, Jesus, the Anointed one himself, says what she has done is “a beautiful thing” (Matthew 26:10).
Wherever the Gospel Goes
Jesus then makes one of the more stunning promises: “Truly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.”
Why would he say that? Because she was one of the first, if not the first, to catch a glimpse of Jesus’s true significance. This was no mere teacher and miracle-worker. He was not just another rabbi. He was not another prophet. He was not another mere human king. She saw that his worth — far beyond all she could say — was worth her all. And she didn’t break her alabaster jar begrudgingly. She broke it in joy. She offered it in glad worship.
She knew that the nard wasn’t close to the most valuable thing in the room. Jesus was the surpassing value. And here we are, two thousand years later, stilling telling her story.
Great Pearl, Great Treasure
Not that her story is unique. Jesus invited each of us into it. He tells us about a merchant in search of fine pearls, “who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it” (Matthew 13:45). He said his kingdom is like that. The merchant “sold all that he had” — he kept nothing back — to obtain such a pearl.
Jesus also told about a man was walking through a field and stumbled over a treasure that had been hidden there. “Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field” (Matthew 13:44). The man kept nothing back — “he goes and sells all that he has” — to obtain a treasure of such value. And that is what stumbling onto the value of Jesus is like.
Keep Nothing Back
We have no report of any words from the woman who broke her alabaster flask to anoint Jesus. But if she had explained herself, perhaps she would have sounded like the apostle Paul, when he vocalized the glorious exchange of values to the Philippians:
Whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him. (Philippians 3:7–9)
The woman, the merchant, the man in the field, and one so formidable as the apostle Paul — they each kept nothing back. Because in Christ they found their true treasure of surpassing worth, their one great pearl.
Still today those who truly find Christ find such joy. And when we find that joy, when we see him for who he really is, how can we not lay at his feet, in glad worship, our whole lives, our every ounce, our every breath?