Then Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve, went to the chief priests in order to betray him to them. (Mark 14:10)
The chief priests wanted Jesus dead. But they couldn’t kill him in the open. No, the people liked him too much. And their public image was fragile enough as it was. Jesus had seen to that. The temple-cleansing. The parables. The shrewd evasion of every verbal trap they could drum up. They needed a way to pounce on him in private. And it had to be quick.
He was in Jerusalem, so the time was ripe. But Passover was in two days. Two days. What would they do?
At this point in Mark 14, we leave the chief priests to their bloodlust and hand-wringing and shift our attention to a house in Bethany, just a couple miles east of Jerusalem. Simon the leper was hosting a meal. Jesus, the disciples, and some others were reclining around the dinner table. And then she came. John 12:3 tells us that the woman was Mary the sister of Lazarus, but Mark is content to leave her nameless: “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” (Mark 14:3).
Very costly. In fact, for some at the table, it was too costly.
Traitor Among the Twelve
A year’s worth of wages fell out of the flask. And for some of the guests, the fragrance that filled the room became the stench of lost opportunity. “Why was the ointment wasted like that?” they complained. “For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor” (Mark 14:4–5). Stuff and nonsense. They didn’t care about the poor. What they really wanted was a bloated pouch of coins in the benevolence budget. At least, that’s what Judas wanted. Selling the ointment would give him a fresh stash of funds from which to filch (John 12:6).
Jesus rebuked the murmuring, much like he had the Sea of Galilee. But mutiny was afoot. Mark shifts his narrative focus from Bethany back to the chief priests. Judas, the spy, winded from the two-mile hike back to Jerusalem, found the religious leaders in their lair. Maybe he was seething from the shame he had received back at Simon’s house. Maybe his love for money had so muddied his thinking that he couldn’t get over the waste he had just seen. And not just waste, but waste that Jesus applauded. “She has done a beautiful thing to me,” Jesus said. “She has anointed my body beforehand for burial” (Mark 14:6, 8).
Maybe Judas was stewing over these words as he huffed his way over to the Holy City. Alright, Jesus. You’re ready for burial? I’ll make sure you get one. After all, I’d hate to see all that ointment go to waste.
Thirty Pieces of Silver
And so, Judas offered the chief priests the solution they had been waiting for: He would betray his master. But not without something in return. Mark simply records that the chief priests promised to give Judas money (Mark 14:11). The word “promise” suggests that Judas wasn’t surprised by the offer. It appears that he had pressed the priests for payment. Matthew tells us as much, in fact: “Then one of the twelve, whose name was Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, ‘What will you give me if I deliver him over to you?’ And they paid him thirty pieces of silver” (Matthew 26:14–15).
The drama of Mark 14 revolves around two characters — the woman and Judas — and their opposing reactions to Jesus. But there is a third character, an antagonist both sinister and stealthy.
Notice how quickly Judas and his fellow grumblers are able to appraise the value of the ointment at Simon’s house. Like veteran pawnbrokers, they could intuit at a glance how much something was worth. The nard had barely left the flask before they were calculating, “This ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii” (Mark 14:5).
Blind to the Value of Christ
And yet, the irony of Mark 14 is that Judas could see the value of the ointment rolling down Jesus’s head, but he couldn’t see the value of Jesus. He was a pawnbroker with cataracts. That’s why he took such offense at the woman. The woman, on the other hand, could see both the value of the ointment and the value of Jesus. That’s why she broke the flask.
“Judas could see the value of the ointment rolling down Jesus’s head, but he couldn’t see the value of Jesus.”
Spy Wednesday is a tragic reminder of 1 Timothy 6:10: “The love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.”
But Spy Wednesday is also full of hope, because it shows us that the beauty of Jesus can break the spell of financial gain. This is the woman’s message to us, a message that Jesus wanted us to hear again and again: “Truly, I say to you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her” (Mark 14:9).