And while [Jesus] was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he was reclining at table, a woman came with an alabaster flask of ointment of pure nard, very costly, and she broke the flask and poured it over his head. There were some who said to themselves indignantly, "Why was the ointment wasted like that? For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor." And they scolded her. But Jesus said, "Leave her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to me." Mark 14:3-6
Shame cloaks this woman, but she moves through the narrative as a picture of someone acting contrary to the shame that should be her due. Luke’s parallel account of this scene alludes to her as a “woman of the city, who was a sinner” (Luke 7:37). What other woman could be so bold as to intrude on a gathering of men and anoint Jesus with expensive perfume? She must be aware of how this might seem; yet, she is silently extravagant. She speaks no words but is characterized by her actions and the responses others present.
When looking at what she did, we see a woman of extreme generosity. She anoints Jesus with ointment worth a year’s wages. It’s a sacrifice that might almost seem wasteful--something those who witness it point out with their question. Their perspective seems pious and right: why not give this money to the poor, to a better cause? They go so far as to scold her, implying public shaming. We can imagine her response at this point may be a telltale flush of her cheeks, a turning away and trying to appear small, a running toward the door.
But we are stopped in our tracks--and so is she--by Jesus's unexpected defense. She says nothing while Jesus rebukes those who have scolded her. He tells them to leave her alone as he calls her action beautiful. He reverses the shame they tried to hurl at her, calling her heartfelt, extravagant worship honorable.
This story is a picture of Jesus's honor given to those most weighed down with shame. The fact that he allows her--a shame-filled woman--to anoint him meant that he would willingly take on the shame of her story. She is beginning to be freed of the shame that others thought was her due, and so she is free to worship Jesus from the heart with extravagance. She acts with confidence, and that confidence is shown to be well-placed when Jesus rises to her defense, calls her action beautiful, and tells her accusers to leave her alone.
What do your accusers sound like? Who are they and what are their messages? What would it look like for you to defy them, trusting that Jesus's words of defense and honor are more potent than the shame they want to throw your way?
Perhaps your journey to free worship--bringing all you are and all you have to Jesus--starts with identifying how your accusers' shame has entrapped you. Turn your eyes away from them and toward Jesus, the one who willingly took all of your guilt and shame at the cross and gave you his righteous life instead. You are cloaked with honor, so worship extravagantly, doing beautiful things for the love of Jesus alone.
Suggestions for Prayer
- What in your own story feels shameful? Speak it aloud to God in prayer.
- Ask God to make his voice of commendation louder than your accusers' voices of condemnation.
- Ask God to show you what free, extravagant worship of Jesus could mean for you today, this week, and this year. Ask him for insight related to where shame held you back and how can you live free of its power.
Heather Nelson is a writer, counselor, and speaker. Heather writes regularly at HeatherDavisNelson.com and has been a featured writer at the Gospel Coalition, as well as a contributing author to the Journal of Biblical Counseling. She and her husband are parents to twin daughters and live in southeastern Virginia. She is the author of Unashamed: Healing Our Brokenness and Finding Freedom from Shame.