Gospel Of Mark Bible Study
Brother Todd  

What Is Spikenard?

What the Bible says about Spikenard and the Woman who Wasted it. 

Jesus was anointed on the head and feet by Spikenard.  

Gospel of Mark Bible Study:  Mark 14:3-9

I have a question, “Is it Biblical to just do what you can?” Have you heard the statement before, “just do what you can!” I am asking today, is that Biblical? Are there people in your life that don’t understand your faith? Are there people that don’t understand your acts of worship? Are there people that criticize you because of it? Are there people that misunderstand your giving or generosity? Sometimes there are people that misunderstand. Does any of this sound like family by any chance? It sounds like I am talking about family, but it can also be social media, and all online platforms. If you say anything online, it seems like some will take offense to it. Maybe that will be the case of this article on spikenard and the woman who wasted it. 

What is Spikenard? And what does it have to do with life in Christ?

In Mark 14 there is the story of when Jesus was anointed on the head with Spikenard. This passage in Mark is what this Bible study is all about. Keep reading and you will learn what Spikenard is, how the Bible uses, and why one woman got severely criticized for using it. 

Few people know what Spikenard is. Most English translations translate the word as “pure nard.” The names for Spikenard include nard, nardin, and muskroot.

Spikenard is a flowering plant that produces a dark red oil. This oil has been used for centuries in perfumes, cosmetics, and as a medicinal oil. The plant is native to the Himalayan region and is also found in India, Nepal, and China. The oil is extracted from the plant’s roots and is used in many ways. Spikenard oil has a sweet, musky scent that is said to be calming and grounding. It was often used in meditation and prayer. 

How is Spikenard used?

The oil is also used in to treat a variety of conditions, including colds, headaches, and mood swings. Spikenard oil is gaining popularity in the Western world as a natural remedy for anxiety and stress. The oil is also being studied for its potential to treat Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. If you are looking for an oil to add to your collection, spikenard is a good option. The oil has a wide range of uses and benefits, and it is sure to become a staple in your home. Spikenard is Biblical too. 

Biblical Usage of Spikenard

Spikenard is a plant mentioned several times in the Bible. In the Song of Solomon, the bridegroom compares his bride to spikenard, saying her branches or thighs are like nard plants (4:13,14). In John’s gospel, Mary anoints Jesus’ feet with spikenard, an act which Judas criticizes as being too expensive (12:3). Spikenard was a very expensive perfume in Bible times, so its mention in the Bible is often seen as an indication of luxury or extravagance. However, the spikenard plant also had a range of medicinal uses, so it was not just a luxurious item. It was also used as a flavoring for food and drink. The spikenard plant is mentioned in the Bible as an example of luxury, but it also had a range of practical uses. Because it smelled so good, the oil of spikenard was used in making perfumes. Spikenard was very expensive. 

Let’s Look into Mark 14:3-9 In Depth. 

Mark 14:3, “While he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the Leper.” This is Jesus, while He was at Bethany, he was at Simon the leper’s house. We can probably assume that Simon had already been reached by Jesus. We can probably assume that Simon had been cleaned from his leprosy, probably healed by Jesus, yet the stigma stayed with him. This man contracted a disease, and his name went from “Simon” to “Simon the leper”. 

In our work, we know all about the stigma because we work in leprosy colonies. We know how it hurts the whole family. We’ve worked in some areas where people aren’t as afraid and leprous persons can get on the bus. We also work in some areas where they can’t even get on the bus. The stigma exists within the government and the people.

Jesus was hanging out at Simon the leper’s house. We are talking about the outcasts of society being the very place Jesus goes to fellowship. He had already touched these people’s lives but what happens next in this house is phenomenal. It gives us a glimpse into the upside-down Kingdom. God’s Kingdom isn’t like the kingdoms of this world.

Thailand still has a King, the King is respected and revered, you must hang a picture of him in your office or restaurant. I made the mistake of googling him and learned about him. The king is not lining up with the kind of kings that I like to serve or worship. In the kingdom of God, Jesus said the way up is down. If you need to find your life, lose it. 

Everything about Jesus and his kingdom is going to manifest itself outside of paradigms, in ways it was not expected. We would expect Jesus to come in a public way that would be recognized. But he came and was born of a poor, virgin woman. She gave birth to him in a manger, so destitute and humble that he was born where animals live and eat. 

Click here for a more in-depth look into the book of Mark

Jesus was Anointed with Pure Spikenard

At Simon the lepers’ house, as he was reclining at the table, pure spikenard was poured over his head. When kings were anointed in Israel, they were anointed on the head. This is an interesting fact of God’s upside-down kingdom. First Jesus is hanging out with societal outcasts, and at this location he receives a double anointing; to be king and for burial. No one else was going to do it. No official ceremony, just in the presence of those that Jesus loved. He was then crucified, raised to life, and went on to be exalted to His throne, at the right hand of the Father. Do you see the picture? Jesus’ inauguration to be king was by death and resurrection. His treatment by the world was as a criminal. It was unexpected. 

How Much is Spikenard Worth?

He is anointed on his head with pure Spikenard. Some who were there had a negative reaction, “why was the ointment wasted?” Who is this woman? Three hundred denarii were about a year’s wage. The average wage in America is $50,000 a year. Most of us don’t have any asset that we can give like that. When you think of that from that perspective it shows that this is one awesome act of worship and gift that she gave for the King. It was one of the most expensive things given to Jesus before he died. Regrettably, the act of worship wasn’t seen as an act of worship or a great gift by those around him, they criticized her. 

If we look at John’s account (John 12:1-8), Mary, Lazarus’ sister was the one who poured out the Spikenard on Jesus. The person who had a problem was Judas. Think about that. Judas the one who didn’t want to worship Jesus had a problem with the one who did want to worship Jesus. Judas the one who was filled with Satan is the one who came against the one who wanted to anoint Jesus. Jesus strongly defends her here. “Scolded her…” This was a harsh scolding, “What are you thinking woman? What are you doing? Wasting a year’s wage on him?” Jesus said, “leave her alone! She has done a beautiful thing for me.” The word here in some translations is “don’t bother her.” 

Sometimes language used in English translations of the Bible is passive. Jesus wasn’t saying, “oh, please guys just stop bothering her, so we can move past this.” He was saying, “Stop it! Check yourself, what are you saying and doing this for?” In the Greek, the word “trouble” used in this passage carries a meaning like, ‘the beating of the chest in grief.’ “What in the world are you doing? Open your eyes!” or crying out loudly, “Why, why are you doing this to her?” is a more accurate picture than just troubling or bothering her.  Some other translations say, “Why criticize her?” “Criticism” is a little stronger than “bother” in English. When I hear someone say bother, it doesn’t carry the same weight as criticize. If you think about it, it might have been a direct criticism of Jesus himself. 

What Does Spikenard Have to do with the Poor

Jesus goes on to say, “for you will always have the poor with you…” This scripture has been used by preachers and pew sitters alike to justify not caring for the poor. Jesus was not saying that. What Jesus was doing was quoting a scripture in the Old Testament in Deuteronomy about how to treat the poor. In that passage by using the phrase, “for you will always have the poor with you” Jesus is making a direct reference to Deuteronomy 15:11 where Moses himself said the same thing. Those that heard Jesus that day lived and breathed the Old Testament, so they knew exactly what who he was quoting. When Jesus said that He wasn’t making an excuse for her, she could have used this spikenard for the poor, but instead she spent it on Jesus. 

Deuteronomy 15:7-11.  ESV

“If among you, one of your brothers should become poor, in any of your towns within your land that the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother,but you shall open your hand to him and lend him sufficient for his need, whatever it may be.Take care lest there be an unworthy thought in your heart and you say, ‘The seventh year, the year of release is near,’ and your eye look grudgingly[a] on your poor brother, and you give him nothing, and he cry to the Lord against you, and you be guilty of sin.10 You shall give to him freely, and your heart shall not be grudging when you give to him, because for this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake.11 For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore, I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.’

This passage that Jesus referenced says you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against the poor. Was Jesus negating ministry to the poor? Not at all. He was upholding it. God didn’t even want someone looking grudgingly on the poor. Some pastors and pew sitters use this one verse to negate all ministry to the poor. Jesus was saying you will always have the poor with you, so you ought to be giving to the poor whenever you want, in other words not under compulsion, but regularly. You ought to be helping the poor and you ought to be worshipping Jesus and giving to the Kingdom the way this woman did. Her gift was an act of worship and a gift to Jesus’ ministry. It met a felt need… anointing Jesus for burial.  Paul told us not to give under compulsion, but out of a heart that was touched by God and reached by Jesus. It is highly unlikely that Jesus was dismissing the teaching of Moses concerning the poor and relieving all future ministry from including it. Jesus cares for the poor too much. He also cares for the one who gives to the poor. By referencing this scripture in Deuteronomy Jesus was upholding the blessing mentioned in this passage for those that give to the poor. Jesus wouldn’t want to rob you of this blessing. 

Mary was already touched by Jesus and was acting in response to what God had already done. Giving shows where your heart is at. Mary broke the flask and poured the expensive spikenard oil out on Jesus.

Why did Jesus say this? Jesus was calling Judas out. He was saying you will always have the poor with you and should be ministering to them and you are not doing that. You’re not ever ministering to the poor, as a matter of fact you are stealing from them. Jesus wasn’t relieving us from caring about the poor, he was giving us a reason for both giving to ministry and to the poor. He was giving us a reason to not use the poor as an excuse to not worship God through giving generously. 

In other words, we cannot refuse to give something God is calling us to give to and say it is going to the poor instead. If Jesus calls you to break open a jar of oil and pour it on him, you do it. If Jesus tells you to sell your car or give it to somebody, you do it. You simply obey because God will repay. Judas had coming to him what was coming to him and so did Mary. 

Jesus is saying stop looking for the loophole in my kingdom. Stop looking for the loophole and do what I tell you and lead you to do. Jesus wasn’t giving an excuse. You hear this scripture to defend peoples lavish and luxurious lifestyles. Preachers say, “our ministry is not to the poor” Are those things blatantly wrong? Not my place to judge but don’t say that you are not called to minister to the poor because of this verse that didn’t mean what you think. 

There are over 300 scriptures about helping the poor, all of them positively affirming helping the poor. My favorite is Proverbs 19:17 “Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will repay him for his deed.” 

There is not an interest rate higher to be accrued than when you give to the Lord. God sees it as if you are giving money to him. You are lending to God, and he will repay. We are talking about the one who has everything. Everything that you need. God will supply all of your needs according to his riches according to his glory. 

This teaching was birthed one morning as I sat on my porch meditating on psalm 113:4, “Exalted, who is like the Lord.” It paints this awesome picture of how great God is, how exalted He is, how high He is. And then what does it say, “he stoops down, he raises the poor from the dust. He lifts the needy from the garbage heap.” You know that has kingdom of God written all over. Jesus does not look at one person by their net worth. God in all his great glory who does He help even raise up? The poor. 

Jesus goes onto to say, “But you will not always have me.”She has done what she could.” It is scriptural to do what you can. I asked the question is it scriptural to do what you can? And am answering it now. This lady did what she could, “she anointed my body for burial.” The very presence of Jesus was there, and he was saying to Judas and any other naysayers, “you’re not going to give to the poor Judas, because you don’t now, actually you steal from them, and you don’t really care that God is with you right now either.” 

Sound familiar? We have the presence of God because of the Holy Spirit, yet we neglect the presence of God and neglect the needy who we can help. Why am I passionate about this? 

Recently our ministry gathered leaders from people all over the world who haven’t been able to fellowship since the onset of the global pandemic. One such leader who lives in a slum by her choice, living incarnationally like Jesus, is totally sold out. She began to pour her heart out about the people who have criticized her for asking for support because they don’t want to create dependency. This lady is making disciples among the poor in a predominantly Muslim slum. This saintly couple is truly doing the stuff and from the Body of Christ she gets criticism, we should be like here you go as much as we can give you. It is hard to find people who are truly doing it to that extent, but our ministry helps many like them. She also works as a professor to provide for herself and family. We should get behind her and support her! “Who gives to the poor lends to the lord.” 

And truly I say to you wherever the gospel is told, what she has done will be told to the whole world.”  So much of Mark’s Gospel comes back to missions. We are telling her story 2000 years later. Talk about long lasting fruit! The people who are honored are those that gave extravagantly, Jesus who gave his life and Mary who gave her jar. Jesus is completely shaming judas and honoring her. God will repay. We know the gospel needs to go to the world, Jesus ties the great commission into this story. 

We could start with a bible story like this. It might build better bridges than saying, “you’re a sinner and going to hell.” Sometimes we like to summarize things so quickly, when we are talking about a whole story here. Her story is a part of the Gospel. 

People don’t always understand your sacrificial living, but it will bear fruit. You worship and your giving are a part of God’s story, don’t forget it. When you give to somebody that is in need, it is part of God’s story! When you help those people who are suffering, it is a part of God’s story. So do what you can! We spend too much time trying to make excuses to not do what we can. Let’s do what we can.

A Prayer

Lord, I pray that you would make me like Mary, who used what she had and met a need that you had. Let me serve you in that same way that Mary did, willing to be all-in, and give you extravagant acts of worship. 

Lord, I pray that your Holy Spirit would seal the deal in our hearts with a passion to give to ministries that are both preaching the Word and caring for the poor. We honor your Word, and we want to put it into practice. Teach us where we are making excuses and teach us where we are right ton track, confirm that to us. Help us to do your will. Help us to not neglect anybody that you might be calling us to touch, reach, and bless. Let us not turn anyone away. Thank you, Jesus, let us do what we can. Let us be a part of your mission. 

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