Who Was The Woman With the Perfume?

by Christine Sine

Today I am winding up my time at OMSC where I have been teaching a course on spiritual renewal.  Yesterday we were reflecting on the story in Mark 14 about the woman who poured the perfume on Jesus feet at the house of Simon the leper and I thought that I would share some of my thoughts with you.  It happened 2 days before passover and the day before the Last Supper.  

My thoughts focused on “Who was this woman?”  Though we are given details about where it occurred, the extravagant cost of the perfume and even the container that it was in, we are given no details about her.  There has been much speculation over the centuries about who and what she was but no one can be sure.  And of course most people tend to assume the worst and think that she was a prostitute.    

To the disdain and rejection shown by those eating at table with Jesus we add our own disdain and rejection to this woman.  It is possible that her rejection was just because she was a woman.  After all we forget that in Jesus time and culture the women would not have been eating together with the men.  Or she might have been rejected because she was doing something that made the dinner guests feel uncomfortable – the generosity and extravagance of her gift might have been contrasted with their own lack of giving.  Or perhaps she was someone unacceptable within the society – if not a prostitute then maybe ill or poor, or maybe she was a Gentile.  We don’t know for sure. 

This story occurs in the same chapter as the account of the Last Supper and the foretaste of the communion feast and yesterday morning as i read through this chapter, for the first time I found myself asking why.  And I wondered is it because this story challenges us to think about all those that we still exclude from the communion table.  Jesus has embraced the outcasts and is eating at their table – the tax collectors, and Simon the leper are there but they are unwilling to welcome this woman.

I think that this woman is unnamed because she represents all the nameless and rejected ones in our society whom we still refuse to welcome to our table – people that we arn’t willing to listen to because they are different from us or unacceptable in our own Christian culture.  

This is something that has been very much at the forefront of my mind as I have interacted with my very diverse group of students. This has been a good time for me to evaluate again my own willingness to include and exclude.  Who, I wondered am I still unwilling to welcome to my table?  Whose voices am I unwilling to listen to and whose offerings am I unwilling to embrace?  I think it is a good question for all of us to ask ourselves periodically

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Carmela D'Amico May 8, 2009 - 1:13 pm

Thank you, Christine, for sharing your thoughts on this. It’s something I’ve thought a lot about, too.


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