Each of the Gospel writers includes a story of a woman anointing Jesus. They have some similarities and some major differences. It’s important, therefore, not to compare them or figure out which one is correct, but to attend to what each writer hoped to get across with his version of the story. John’s account takes place ‘six days before the Passover’ in Bethany, a town on the outskirts of Jerusalem. It marks the end of Jesus’ public ministry and the beginning of his final week.
Prepare to listen. Remember today: The LORD has done great things for us, and we rejoiced. (Psalm 126:3)
Read John 12:1-8
1Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 2There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. 3Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. 4But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, 5‘Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?’ 6(He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) 7Jesus said, ‘Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. 8You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.’
During the meal, food still warm on the table, Mary took a pound of pure nard and anointed Jesus’ feet, wiping them with her hair. Most people usually buy far less than a pound of perfume; closer to half an ounce, and not necessarily of the pure stuff. Mary had a pound of the very expensive (300 denarii equaled a year’s worth of wages for a day laborer) pure nard, found only in India. Why she had it and where she got it from, we don’t know. As a result of her behavior, ‘The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.’ This can only mean the meal was ruined, tasting of strong perfume. It’s understandable that Judas was annoyed. Not only had his food been ruined, but money had been wasted, money that could have been given to the poor; although John adds a parenthesis revealing Judas’ crooked ways. Judas’ reaction isn’t uncommon. Some of us have made similar protests when a church plans to spend money on beautifying the church building instead of supporting the poor or a missionary or our favorite cause. Mary’s extravagant and generous ‘waste’ is an overflow of her deep love for Jesus and her awareness that something ‘bad’ was about to happen to him. She gave wastefully to demonstrate her full surrender to Jesus and her willingness to live only for him. Jesus willingly accepts her offering and affirms Mary by telling the people of her insight into what few then understood—Jesus must suffer and die.
What are you willing to give to demonstrate your love for Jesus today?
Respond to Jesus in prayer
Lord, help me live more like Mary, giving extravagantly to demonstrate my love for you today. Amen.
Go and live obediently in the world, in loving surrender to Jesus.
Reading the Bible has always been essential to followers of Jesus. I've been reading, studying, teaching and writing reflections on biblical texts for as long as I can remember. I invite you to read the Bible with me during the Lent and into Easter Sunday.