“Jesus answered, “Leave her alone; she has kept it for the day of My burial.For you always have the poor with you, but you do not always have Me.”” (John 12:7–8 HCSB)
In John 12.1-11, we have a rather bizarre episode in which Jesus, Lazarus and others are at a feast and Mary anoints Jesus’ feet (entire body perhaps if we compare the parallel passages) with what must be some of the most expensive perfume in history [roughly a year’s wages for a laborer which would be what, $25,000 to $35,000 in today’s money!].
It isn’t until we get to vv. 7-8 that Jesus’ words make sense of the whole episode. He tells the indignant Judas [and probably indignant others] that Mary has kept the perfume in preparation for his burial. You will always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me, he tells them, which is nothing more than a restatement of Deut. 15.11: “For there will never cease to be poor people in the land; that is why I am commanding you, ‘You must willingly open your hand to your afflicted and poor brother in your land.’” (Deuteronomy 15:11 HCSB)
Is Jesus insensitive to the poor here? Not at all. His emphasis is upon the fact that he is temporary and the poor are permanent on earth. The disciples and Mary will have only a very limited amount of time in which to serve Jesus and interact with him on earth, then he will be gone. Mary [whether she understands it or not, we aren’t sure] takes advantage of that time. The disciples, despite all the warnings beforehand from Christ, are caught by surprise when he is killed by the Romans/Jewish authorities.
Mary’s anointing is the beginning of the (sort of) end for Jesus. In short order he will be captured, tried, and condemned to death for no good reason at all [at least from a legal perspective, from the framework of God, Jesus is delivered up according to his predetermined plan so that we the guilty might be declared innocent and so enter into eternal fellowship with God, but that is getting ahead of the story].