Counting the cost: Mark 14


Today’s reading: Mark 14.

How much are you willing to give to follow Jesus?

This chapter has as its bookends two remarkable people. The first is a woman with a jar of expensive perfume.

While he (Jesus) was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of a man known as Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head. Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, “Why this waste of perfume? It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor.” Mark 14:3-5

The woman gave extravagantly. The custom was to pour a few drops of oil or perfume on a guest. She poured out the entire jar. The perfume was expensive, so much so that a common laborer would have spent an entire year’s wages to buy it. She broke the jar as she poured it out, signaling that she would never honor anyone else with this gift again. She held nothing back. She gave everything.

The second person is Peter, the disciple who was always out in front, who always said what others may have been thinking but wouldn’t put in words. Peter had promised to give everything, even his life, to follow Jesus. Now Jesus was under arrest, and Peter waited in the shadows to see what would happen.

When the servant girl saw him there, she said again to those standing around, “This fellow is one of them.” Again he denied it. After a little while, those standing near said to Peter, “Surely you are one of them, for you are a Galilean.” He began to call down curses on himself, and he swore to them, “I don’t know this man you’re talking about.” Immediately the rooster crowed the second time. Mark 14:69-72

Peter wasn’t willing to pay the price to follow Jesus – on this night. His reluctance contrasts with the lavish giving of the woman with the perfume. He counted his life too dear and the likelihood of pain too great. We remember the fragrant aroma of the woman’s gift with joy. Peter’s hesitation makes us sad, but sympathetic, for which one of us wouldn’t have made the same calculation? Praise be to God that by his grace Peter was given another chance and the next time he held nothing back.

There is one more remarkable person in this chapter who also held nothing back: Jesus. He counted the cost and found it to be a bargain. His kingdom, the pearl of great price, was worth all he could give and much more. “Jesus … for the joy set before him endured the cross, despising its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2).

Love can see that there are things, the chance to do which comes only once. It is one of the tragedies of life that often we are moved to do something fine and do not do it. It may be that we are too shy and feel awkward about it. It may be that second thoughts suggest a more prudent course. It occurs in the simplest things–the impulse to send a letter of thanks, the impulse to tell someone of our love or gratitude, the impulse to give some special gift or speak some special word. The tragedy is that the impulse is so often strangled at birth. This world would be so much lovelier if there were more people like this woman, who acted on her impulse of love because she knew in her heart of hearts that if she did not do it then she would never do it at all. How that last extravagant, impulsive kindness must have uplifted Jesus’ heart. – Barclay, Daily Study Bible

Image “The Meal in the House of the Pharisee,” by James Tissot

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