Jesus Anointed by Mary in Bethany John 12:1-11
Updated: Feb 1
The days began early before dawn as usual, but in the last weeks since Lazarus was almost lost to us by death, breakfast time with him held a special moment for me and my sister Martha. Lazarus was known all through town as a man devoted to God, and even more notable for his hospitality as was my sister. Not having a mother for years, Martha took on the role to teach me sewing, cooking, gardening and how to care for others with our hands. Martha would organize delicious feasts, and her cooking could be smelled all through the Mount of Olives. It was not a surprise as Passover was approaching that Lazarus received word that Jesus and the disciples were coming for dinner.
There was much to prepare, but first I ran up the slope to enjoy the olive trees where I could do my prayers and enjoy a few moments thanking God for His goodness and provision towards our family. The spring blooms on the olive trees were bursting forth, and the fragrance was wafting through the morning midst making my heart truly full. But troubling me was the message that Jesus repeatedly shared about his future. He spoke of being whipped, persecuted and sentenced to die and then he would rise again. This didn't seem like a parable. I just took it to God and prayed for Jesus to endure what he was to face. What could I do to help Jesus? How could I possibly thank God for allowing His son to find us and meet our needs? What could I possibly do to express my love for His love towards us?
With the glorious aroma surrounding my thoughts, I remembered my dowry of the pint of pure nard saved for a gift to the one I would marry one day. I could use it at his burial that he speaks of, but he isn't staying in the grave! So why wait! If I poured out the aromatic oil on Jesus, the fragrance of beauty would surround him with a lasting reminder of my love poured out. "Yes!" speaking up to God with great conviction that this was surely pleasing to Him! I ran back down the slopes toward home with joy in my heart and excited to express my worship to Jesus later that evening.
The guests had arrived and all were served and enjoying each other at the table. Martha once again made the evening extra special with her extravagant selections. Now, I had my chance to slip to my back room for the spikenard and cracked open the seal so beautifully waxed and wrapped carefully with colorful dyed strings. What a privilege to use this oil for such a grand purpose.
To get Jesus alone was a near impossible task, so I entered the room filled with people. My heart and eyes were set on the One who spoke love, truth and life. Falling down before him, I popped off the last barrier to the ointment and poured out the fragrance on his feet. Quickly, the rich aroma filled the entire room. My hair had cascaded around my hands as I had dropped down. The soft tendrils perfectly provided a delicate touch as I spread the oil.
I blocked out everyone, but was reminded that I was in a room filled with people when Judas Iscariot objected harshly and very impatiently, "Why wasn't this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was a year's wages!" Stunned and a pang of hurt delved deep into my heart as my actions were misread- did I do something displeasing? Would Jesus think likewise?
Jesus quickly retorted, halting my thoughts, "Leave her alone, it was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me."
I looked up into Jesus' soft, kind eyes and knew that my actions directed by my heart were understood and welcomed. He gently raised me to my feet and sat me at the table in fellowship. Jesus touched my life as my chosen one, the dowry was well spent.
Questions for Reflection:
The account of a woman anointing Jesus with oil occurred three times in the Bible. Out of the three occurrences, do you see yourself in one of them?
Every occurrence the woman involved had a different lifestyle or relationship with Jesus?
In Luke, the possible prostitute or "sinner", came to Jesus with a gratitude of healing, cleansing and the saving grace of a new life within her.
In John, Mary was a beloved friend- companion of Jesus who spent many enjoyable hours together, learning about spiritual life, and she had the deep appreciation of her brother being returned to life. (maybe like those who are second generation Christians or seasoned Christians)
In Matthew and Mark, there was an unknown woman who heard, probably listened to and obeyed what he taught and was so "changed" or "touched" that she wanted to worship him with the most valuable thing that she owned. Maybe she gave up bitterness for forgiveness, maybe she gave up hate for love, or lust or a purer lifestyle. Whatever she obeyed- she knew her life was changed.
Why do you think God wanted all three stories shared?
The account of Jesus being anointed with oil by a woman is recorded in the four Gospels (Luke 7:36-50, John 12:3, Matthew 26:6-13, Mark 14:3-9) and often mistakenly thought of as all the same event.
We know for sure that the event in the book of Luke was very different from the other accounts. This is the only recording of a woman of bad reputation crying as she anoints Jesus' feet with her tears and perfume with her hair. In addition, it specifically states in the house of Simon the Pharisee. Jesus tells her that her sins are forgiven, her faith has saved her, and to go in peace. He also shares a parable that is not in the other accounts for the dialogue is completely different. This event also occurs early in his ministry.
In the book of John, we are completely sure that it is Mary, the sister of Lazarus and Martha, in Bethany- 6 days before passover for it is stated clearly. It is also before the Triumphal entry into Jerusalem when the palms and cloaks are laid down before Jesus as he rides a donkey, and praised and honored like a king. Mary uses her hair to rub in the expensive spikenard on Jesus' feet. Only Judas complained in this incident. There is no mention of Judas making his decision to hand him over to the Pharisees in his frustration of this waste of product/money. He is still happy to be in Jesus' inner circle...days later the Triumphal greeting was still aligning to his expectations that Jesus was going to be somebody.
Lastly, the accounts in the book of Mark and the book of Matthew are exactly the same in recording. A shocking THIRD account. This too took place in Bethany, but in the home of Simon the Leper (who obviously was healed by Jesus or no one would be near him), and it states clearly only 2 days before Passover. A woman came into the room with expensive perfume in an alabaster jar and ONLY anointed Jesus' head WITHOUT her hair involved. These two recordings clearly have a number of the disciples complaining about the waste of product/money that can be given to the poor. The response Jesus gave is very similar to the one with Mary. She has done this in preparation for my burial. Only, in this account he added, "She has done what she could" and that her act will be preached throughout the world in memory of her. Significantly, both these books state that this was the pivotal point that frustrated Judas Iscariot to betray Jesus, and he sought out the chief priests.
Interesting how there are 3 accounts of Jesus being worshipped with this action displaying a whole heart of dedication evident with the great sacrifice of the COST of the nard (The Bible states the perfume was expensive - a year's wage to purchase it). The message: worship God with your whole heart. A heart that is not divided with the most valuable assets of this world- money. The symbol of money on this Earth is gold, and it is mere asphalt in Heaven... the Bible describes heaven with "streets of gold". Let's give God what is valuable to him, our whole hearts.
Contrasted in the vignette, is the heart of Judas Iscariot. Judas was pillaging from the money bag that Jesus entrusted to him. Judas was a follower of Jesus for his own personal gain. Thinking that Jesus would deliver the Jews from the Roman oppression and then gain a powerful position for himself. When Jesus knew all along that Judas would be the one who would betray him and in fact gave warning to him with, "But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born." Look at the deep love of God and the savior in that knowing what they knew of Judas' heart, they did all they could to surround him with love, evidence of their truth, care and trust (money bag) by placing the "man of perdition" as one of Jesus' closest friends and followers. Money is the "final break" for Judas, and he left that dinner and sought out the chief priests to betray Jesus. His greed for money and lust for his selfish desires kept him from experiencing a touch by Jesus.
Mary in contrast takes her treasured dowry of a promised future for a good husband, and sees it as a reasonable gift to give to her savior. An abandonment to "trusting in her money for her future" to trusting God with her future. Jesus is represented a number of times as the bridegroom (by Jesus representing himself in parables) to the church (followers of Jesus). This is a beautiful picture of people choosing to love and spend their lives in companionship with God. Loving Jesus is likened to marriage, it is an intimate relationship of sharing your heart and life with another.
The act of worship we offer up, maybe loving a lonely neighbor by visiting for prayer, sending a card to someone encouraging their faith in God, helping someone who is burdened, but the greatest of all will be spending time at Jesus' feet listening and holding fellowship. If you want the sweet aroma around your home, just crack open the time on a busy day to spend in worship with God.
Finally, Jesus was anointed with oil on his head and his feet. Oil has always been a symbol in the Bible of the Holy Spirit. We too should be seeking the touch of the Holy Spirit over all areas of our lives covering our head with our thoughts and emotions to our feet marking the guidance of our day. We too should seek the touch upon ourselves and our loved ones by simply going to the feet of our master in request. Selah
Read the account as it is recorded in the Bible: