We are looking at three different occasions in the story of Jesus when three different women respond to him in a seemingly spontaneous outpouring of praise and adoration. Two of these women weren’t even of the sort that most people – in Jesus’ day or in ours – would have given even passing notice except perhaps to look down on them. Today we look at the third of these women. This one, along with her brother and sister were dear friends of Jesus in whose home he had been entertained on occasion.
“Six days before the Passover, Jesus therefore came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. So they gave a dinner for him there. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those reclining with him at table. Mary therefore took a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. (John 12:1-3).
This occasion is strikingly similar to the one we looked at yesterday, and yet very different in some significant ways. The event we looked at yesterday took place in a Pharisee’s home, a place where Jesus was under scrutiny and where he was not warmly welcomed. The woman in that story probably was a stranger to Jesus who had come to understand and appreciate who he was and what he could do for her. When Jesus allowed her to touch him he came under criticism from the self-righteous Pharisee.
As in the account in Luke 7, there is on this occasion a feast, but at this feast there are the dear friends of Jesus, Mary, Martha and their brother Lazarus whom Jesus had not long before raised from the dead. This feast was probably given in thanks for what he had done, a feast of love and gratitude. These friends were not rich people. Some people think Lazarus may have been chronically ill, maybe for most of his life. If so, this could explain why he had never married as all Jewish men were expected to do and why he lived with his two sisters in Bethany, (“house of the poor,” or “house of misery”).
Matthew also records an event similar to this, (Matthew 26:6-13), which would have been about the same time which was said to have taken place in the home of Simon the leper whom Jesus had probably healed at some time. There is speculation that Simon and Lazarus were the same individual, but that is uncertain. Tradition also has it that he is either the father of Lazarus or the husband of Martha, but again, there is no way of knowing this to be fact. Although there are certain differences between the accounts of John and Matthew, there are enough similarities that it is generally assumed that this is the same event recorded by by both.
Keep in mind that following the raising of Lazarus the Jews had decided that Jesus must be killed to prevent the Romans from striking at them for the apparent unrest Jesus was creating by his teaching and his miracles. Jesus had, in fact, gone into hiding with his disciples in “a town called Ephraim.” For him to appear in public at this time was to risk arrest and death.
Yet he not only appeared in public, but at a feast given in his honor. Bethany was about 1.5 miles (about 2.4 km) east of Jerusalem. This was the beginning of the week of Passover and the last few days before Jesus would be betrayed by Judas, tried and crucified. On this occasion, however, there was feasting, friendship and thanksgiving.
Did Mary know about what had happened at the house of Simon the Pharisee? If she did she may have been determined that he was royally welcomed to this Simon’s house. While Martha, so like herself when we first meet these sisters, (Luke 10:38-42), busied herself serving, Mary took a container of extremely expensive perfumed ointment and anointed Jesus with it and wiped the excess with her hair.
The NET Bible translators comment –
Nard or spikenard is a fragrant oil from the root and spike of the nard plant of northern India. This aromatic oil, if made of something like nard, would have been extremely expensive, costing up to a year’s pay for an average laborer.
In doing this lowly act Mary was doing what a slave would ordinarily do. No one would have dared ask her to do this. It was a purely voluntary, deeply humble and submissive act on her part. It was an act Jesus would emulate just a few days later in that upper room in Jerusalem when he would wash his disciple’s feet (John 13:1-16).
Did she deprive herself to buy this ointment? Would her family suffer because of this impulsive act? Could she have done others some real good had she given it to the poor? Judas said she should have done that – but he really wasn’t interested in the poor.
We have no way of knowing how Mary could afford such a lavish gift, but whatever the cost to her she considered it well worth it. Love knows no bounds and does not reckon cost. Love pours itself out without reservation asking nothing in return. There is no way to contain it. Jesus was a dear friend who had done something so wonderful for her brother she just had to show him how much she loved him and how grateful she was. So great was her love and so deep her gratitude she thought Jesus was worth spending all that money on. And Jesus accepted this impractical overflowing of love and thanksgiving without rebuking her!
It was Judas Iscariot who objected to Mary’s extravagant use of this precious ointment.
Judas Iscariot, the keeper of the money-bag, asked why the ointment was not sold for three hundred denarii instead (about a year’s wages, as the average agricultural worker received one denarius for 12 hours work) and the money given to the poor. (Wikipedia).
“Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it” (John 12:5-6).
What hypocrisy! Pretending to be interested in helping the poor when he was only thinking of how he might steal this large sum of money. What a contrast between his feigned benevolent and the pure exuberant love of Mary! Judas would sell Jesus for 30 pieces of silver – the price of a slave – in just a few days. (Matthew 26:15). Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Leave her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of my burial.” (v. 7).
Mary freely gave a gift, which, if valued in comparison was worth far more than Judas’ price of betrayal. But think of the gift Jesus would give in just a few days from this time. He gave a wonderful, indescribable, inexpressible gift! There is no way man can estimate its value.
“Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!” (2 Corinthians 9:15).
“…you were ransomed … not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.” (1 Peter 1:18-19)
How should we respond to the wondrous gift he so lavishly bestowed on us? Should we – may we – like Mary pour out our love and gratitude toward him in overt, enthusiastic expressions of love and gratitude? Will he accept spontaneous demonstrations of our love and thanksgiving?
How would we do that today since he is not here personally? Remember what Jesus said in this narrative? “For the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me” (v. 8). What better way to show our love for our Savior than to show the poor, the strangers, the sick, those who are in prison the love Jesus has bestowed on us? How? By showing our love for them! By showing our love for the poor we will be doing it unto him. “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me” (Matt. 25:40). This will be, as Jesus said, the basis on which we will be judged in the last day.
Love doesn’t have to be planned and programmed! Be spontaneous!