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Seeing the wood for the trees

While he was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of 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. Mark 14.3


Returning, briefly, to the story of Jesus' anointing by the mystery woman... the application of nard to Jesus' head in the gospels of Mark and Matthew becomes the anointing of Jesus' feet with tears and perfume in those of Luke and John. Are these separate incidents or are they different versions of the same? If the former, why does none of the gospels include both and, if the latter, why are the two versions so different? While scholars continue their scrutiny of biblical texts and extra-biblical evidence, what we can say is that all four versions share a common theme which is that the woman/ women in the story/ stories are commended for their devotion and percipience, while the men are condemned for their duplicity and meanness.


We should not misinterpret this as being a value judgment between the sexes. As so often in the gospels, what is at stake is how people respond to Jesus. Those who perceive his glory and behave with due humility, devotion and alacrity are commended while those who persist in judging others, while ignoring Jesus, are condemned. Are we more apt to express our faith through devotion to Jesus or in judgmental scorn for the behaviour of others?

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