The Anointing of Jesus

While He was in Bethany at the house of Simon who had a serious skin disease, as He was reclining at the table, a woman came with an alabaster jar of pure and expensive fragrant oil of nard. She broke the jar and poured it on His head. (Mark 14:3, HCSB)

Mark doesn’t name this woman, but John tells us that it was Mary, sister of Martha and Lazarus, the man whom Jesus had raised from the dead.  She took a very expensive perfume—worth almost a year’s wages to a working man—broke the bottle it was in and poured it over his head and body.  It was such a volume of perfume that it reached all the way to his feet, and Mary wiped his feet with her hair.  It was an extraordinary moment.

Judas the betrayer [we know from the passage in John] is NOT HAPPY with this waste of money! “Why didn’t she sell that expensive perfume and give it to the poor?” He asks. Now, if we didn’t know any better we would think at this moment that Judas Iscariot is the chief disciple.  He has been listening to Jesus; Jesus’ teaching has entered his heart and he has compassion for the poor.  What a great guy!

John explains for us: “He didn’t say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief. He was in charge of the money-bag and would steal part of what was put in it.” (John 12:6, HCSB) Ouch.  Chief disciple award, revoked!

Back to Mary because I want to think about her for a moment.  Why did she anoint Jesus?  None of the gospel accounts tells us why she anointed him.  We do know that anointing was a common cultural habit.  The NIV Application Commentary on Mark says: “Anointing was common at feasts in the ancient world. Is she extending to him customary courtesy with uncustomary extravagance?” We obviously cannot know for sure, because no one explains.  However, Richard Lenski raises an interesting possibility.  He comments: “Jesus had again and again announced his death by violence, by crucifixion at the hands of the Gentiles. What if the disciples failed to grasp just what Jesus meant? Why should not one heart at least realize that Jesus meant exactly what he said? The character of this woman is such that it ought not to surprise us so much that, where dull-witted men failed, she saw that Jesus was now going straight to his death-by crucifixion as he had said.”

Perhaps when Jesus replied to the disciples who were indignant at the perceived waste of money and said she has anointed my body in advance for burial (vs. 8), he meant that Mary was the only one who actually took to heart what he had said repeatedly about having to die.  We cannot know for sure, but it is an intriguing possibility.

What we do know from the accounts of this incident is that Mary did not defend her actions to the disciples. Lenski writes: “Mary herself is silent and offers no defense. We learn from her that it is not always necessary to defend ourselves-our good actions speak for themselves, and the only thing essential is that Jesus approves them.”

It’s also amazing to me that Jesus makes this weird comment at that moment: “I assure you: Wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be told in memory of her.”” (Mark 14:9, HCSB) Huh?  What?

Amazingly, here I am at Clairmont Coffee in St. John’s, Michigan, fulfilling that exact prophecy as I drink excellent coffee and eat donuts from Cops and Donuts [Side note:  Great coffee shop.  Highest Recommendation.  Great people.] I’m not the only one either.  We’ve been talking about what Mary did since almost the moment that she did it 2000 years ago.  Chrysostom, who died in 407 AD, writes: “The Persians, the Indians, Scythians, Thracians, Samaratians, the race of the Moors and the inhabitants of the British isles celebrate a deed, performed in a private family in Judea by a woman who had been a sinner.”

Indeed, Mr. Chrysostom, they certainly do.  And they do in St. Johns, Michigan also.

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