The Anointing of Jesus on Saturday
In our last study we considered the fact that there has always been, and there continues to be, two different responses toward Jesus. People either love him or hate him, even if their animosity toward him is a secret one.
We see this in an event that happened on the Saturday before the crucifixion of Jesus in a private setting in the village near Jerusalem. “Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus was who had been dead, whom he had raised from the dead. There they made him a supper” (John 12:1-2a). The parallel passage in Mark 14:3 tells us that “he was in the home of Simon the leper.” It seems apparent that Jesus had healed Simon from a disease that humanly speaking is incurable. Simon then invited Jesus to supper to give him honor, an opportunity to express thanksgiving for all that Jesus had done for him. He held Jesus to be precious and dear.
Something remarkable then happened. There was an unimaginable expression of care and devotion on the part of Mary the sister of Lazarus and Martha, something that Jesus said would never be forgotten. It would be “spoken of in memory of her” if throughout the world wherever the gospel would be preached (Mark 14:9). “There came a woman with an alabaster vial of very costly perfume of pure nard; and she broke the vial and poured it over his head” (Mark 14:3). The apostle John, an eyewitness, adds this statement: “Then Mary took a pound of very costly oil of spikenard, anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped his feet with her hair” (John 12:3).
The oil had come from the Himalayas near modern India and Nepal. The expenditure was significant. She had just spent in a matter of minutes what would amount to an annual wage for the average working man.
Her affection and allegiance to the Savior ran deep, and her actions reflected the kind of spiritual perception that few people had. She knew that Jesus, perhaps sooner than most people realized, was going to be buried. The Messiah was going to die.
In the same house at the same event, we find Judas, a man without love. He did not care for Jesus, and he most certainly had no concern for the poor, although he pretended to be a man of charity and compassion for those in need. He objected to what Mary had done, even though it was none of his business as to what Mary decided to do with her own resources. “But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, who would betray him, said, ‘Why was this fragrant oil not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?’” (John 12:5). The reality is that Judas only cared about Judas. His affections centered in himself. The apostle penetrates to his core motivation directing his readers to what was really going on: “This he said, not that he cared for the poor, but because he was a thief, and had the money box; and he used to take what was put in it” (John 12:6).
It is interesting that Judas and his warped perspective caught on, at least for the moment. “But some were indignantly remarking to one another, ‘Why has this perfume been wasted? For this perfume might have been sold for over three hundred denarii, and the money given to the poor.’ And they were scolding her” (Mark 14: 4-5).
Jesus though rushed to her defense and provided the true perspective of what she had done: “Let her alone; why do you bother her? She has done a good deed to me. For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you wish you can do good to them; but you do not always have me” (Mark 14:6-7). He then added, “She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for the burial” (Mark 14:8).
Jesus needed this expression of love and encouragement in the private confines of the home of Simon the leper. When Mary wiped his feet with her hair, he found strength in her love for the coming ordeal. There would be a renewal of his fortitude as he remembered that there were disciples who truly cherished him.
People would be for him, and people would be against him in the coming week. Even the thieves who were crucified with him would take opposite sides. One of them would revile him (Luke 23:39), while the other would realize that he is the Savior and would bring the fateful petition: “Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom” (Luke 23:42). In our next study we shall consider what happened on Monday in a public event in the temple.