Apparently, there is good and then there is good! There is commendable or suitable and then there is most excellent and surpassing. There is praiseworthy and then there is precious. There is useful and then there is magnificent. There is a befitting thing and then there is a beautiful thing.
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. For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you want, you can do good for them. But you will not always have Me. She has done what she could; she has anointed My body beforehand for burial.”
(Mark 14:3-8 ESV)
I paused at this passage this morning because I always pause here. Whether it’s this account in Mark, or the parallel accounts in Matthew (26:6-13) or John (12:2-8), I can’t help but marvel afresh every time I encounter this act of such extravagant worship.
The whole scene is mind-blowing. Jesus is in the house of a leper for dinner. The “woman” of Mark’s and Matthew’s account is identified as Mary in John’s account. Mary as in Mary, Martha, and Lazarus of Bethany. Lazarus, Mary’s brother, is doing what no one ever imagined he’d be doing, living. Martha, Mary’s sister, is doing what Martha always does, serving. And Mary? Well, Mary is doing what Mary does best. She is at Jesus’ feet and causing a stink again — literally! (Lk. 10:38-42)
So, I’m hovering over this passage and what sticks out is that she has done a beautiful thing. But only the ESV and NIV render it this way. For the CSB it’s “a noble thing.” For the other standard translations it’s “a good thing.”
Okay, for me there’s a difference between a good thing and a beautiful thing. But apparently in the ancient Greek language it can be the same thing.
So what’s the x-factor that distinguishes good works from beautiful works (Mt. 5:16). That makes good fruit beautiful fruit (Mt. 7:17). That makes a “good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over” (Lk. 6:38) a beautiful measure (Lk. 6:38). Thinking maybe it goes from being just a good deed to a beautiful deed when it’s poured out for Jesus by faith.
She was anointing Him for His burial. That Jesus would die didn’t make any sense to her. Not from a theological point of view — she had been looking for a conquering Messiah. Not from a sentimental point of view — she had sat at His feet and been moved in the depths of her soul by His teaching. Not from a logical point of view — this is the One who had raised her brother from the dead, and now He was going to die? Nope. Didn’t compute. Yet she anointed Him for His burial.
Not that she was conceding death would win, but that she was believing that Jesus was who He said He was, “the resurrection and the life” (Jn. 11:25).
Jesus. Believing Jesus. Obeying Jesus. Loving Jesus. Exalting Jesus. Isn’t Jesus what makes a good thing a beautiful thing? I’m thinkin’ . . .
By His grace. For His glory.