A few days before his death, Jesus attended a dinner party with his disciples. A woman arrived with an alabaster jar of pure nard, an extremely expensive perfume, broke the jar and poured the oil on Jesus’ head.

Most people in the room disapproved of the gift. Mark says the men were “indignant” and rebuked the woman harshly for not selling the nard and giving the money to the poor instead. Yet Jesus defended her:

“Leave her alone,” said Jesus. “Why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. For you will 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. And truly, I say to you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her” (Mark 14:6-9).

When the woman anointed Jesus with her precious oil, it showed that she understood that Jesus was worthy of such extravagance. Clearly, she grasped this better than even Jesus’ loyal disciples who condemned her gift. As James R. Edwards points out in his commentary on Mark, “The disciples’ condemnation of the gift demeans the woman and her gift, and also Jesus, whom they regard as unworthy of such extravagance.”

The value of a gift

Not everyone is able to give such an expensive gift, of course. A few chapters earlier, Jesus similarly commended another woman, even though her gift was of little monetary value: the widow who could only afford to put two copper coins into the temple treasury.

To his disciples, he said, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on” (Mark 12:43-44).

Though the phrasing is different, Jesus recognizes both women for the same motivation: “she has done what she could” and “she has put in everything she had.” As Edwards writes, “For Jesus, the value of a gift is not the amount given, but the cost to the giver.”

Jesus’ extravagant gift

Mere days after the woman anointed Jesus, he went to the cross. Jesus was arrested, given a sham trial, sentenced to death, beaten, mocked, and nailed to a cross.

Along the way, Jesus could have stopped what was happening at any time. He was certainly powerful enough, as he had demonstrated throughout his years of ministry— when he had healed the sick, brought back the dead to life, cast out demons, and even calmed the storms and walked on water.

And yet, he willingly went with the soldiers who came to arrest him. He stood before the chief priests and Pilate silently, though he could have brilliantly defended himself with Scripture. He endured horrific physical torture and did not heal himself, though he’d healed dozens of others throughout his ministry. He endured separation from the Father, the most painful aspect of all.

As he hung on the cross, he was mocked for not displaying his power: “And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads and saying, ‘Aha! You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself, and come down from the cross!’ So also the chief priests with the scribes mocked him to one another, saying, ‘He saved others; he cannot save himself. Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe’” (Mark 15:29-32).

Why did he persevere through such terrible things when he could have easily escaped? Because this was his gift to you and me. As he hung on the cross, he took on our sin and paid for it with his life. He paid our penalty so that we could be forgiven and offered eternal life.

In the passion, Jesus gave “all that he had,” including his very life. In fact, even more than his life—he gave us his righteousness.

If the value of a gift is determined by how much it costs the giver, then no more extravagant gift has ever been given. The women gave up all that they had because they believed he was worthy of it. Jesus, in giving up all that he had, shows us how much we are worth to him!

What can you give?

As we ponder the depth of Jesus’ sacrifice throughout Holy Week, consider anew how valuable that gift is and worship him in response. Like the woman with the oil and the widow with the pennies, this looks different for each of us.

In our church, we have people whose physical and personal struggles make it impossible for them to attend every week; they may only be able to volunteer to serve a couple of times a year. But their service is as valuable to the Lord as the healthy person who can attend every week and volunteer regularly.

Similarly, some can contribute a lot of money and others a little. Some people have enormous talent in music or teaching, while others have average gifts. Some people have expendable time on their hands, while others are pressed on all sides. The amount matters less to the Lord than the heart with which it is given. If they are giving out of all that they have, they are giving lavishly to the Lord.

If you ever feel that you don’t have much to offer in service to the Lord—perhaps in time, talents or money—remember these two women, both of whom Jesus commended because they gave abundantly out of their stores, whether that was objectively a lot or only a little. Give to him generously out of all that you have; he is worth it all.

Photo by ORNELLA BINNI on Unsplash

Jamye Doerfler

Jamye holds her B.A. in English from Grove City College and her M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Virginia Commonwealth University. She is the wife of Peter, pastor at Redemption Hill Church in Pittsburgh, PA, and mother of three boys. She is the author of The Advent Investigator: A Fact-Finding Devotional for Students and Their Families. Read more of her work about cultivating a joyful, faith-filled family life at jamyedoerfler.com.