Matthew now tells us of the events that lead up to Jesus' death and resurrection. In our passage for study Matthew sets the scene with a contrast. On the one hand we have a beautiful act of devotion undertaken by a woman who is aware that Jesus' death is imminent, while on the other hand we have the murderous plotting and planning of Judas and the religious authorities. So, the final battle begins.
v1-2. The Passover festival is close at hand and Jesus again warns his disciples of his impending arrest and execution. He does so again using the title, "the Son of Man". Daniel, writing in his prophecy about "the Son of Man", describes him as the glorious coming one, but Jesus makes the point that the messiah's glorious victory comes by means of a degrading death.
v3-5. The religious authorities have obviously had enough of Jesus' messianic pretensions and so members of the high-priestly family, along with other key players, meet to develop a strategy for his arrest and execution. Given Jesus' popularity and the public disorder that could follow his arrest, disorder that would prompt action from the Roman authorities, Jesus' arrest necessitates careful planned.
v6-7. Meanwhile, Jesus is staying in Bethany at the home of Simon the Leper and while he is there a woman takes some expensive scented rubbing, or embalming oil, and anoints his head. John tells us that it is Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus.
v8-9. Mark tells us that "some" of the disciples respond negatively to the woman's actions, John says it was Judas who was tetchy, but Matthew tells us that all the disciples, more or less, disapproved.
v10-13. Jesus steps up and defends the woman's actions. First, he points out to his disciples that his time with them is short, whereas the poor will always be with them. They will have plenty of future opportunities to assist the poor. Second, Jesus explains the women's actions; she has, in a sense, embalmed his body in preparation for burial. Third, the significance of her actions is so profound that what she has done will remain as an integral element of the gospel story.
v14-16. In contrast to the woman's act of loving devotion, Judas, one of the twelve apostles, enters into negotiations with the religious authorities for the payment of thirty pieces of silver, probably equivalent to 6 months wage for a laborer, say $20,000 - a tidy sum for an unemployed troublemaker. All Judas has to do is provide the authorities with the moment and place where Jesus can be arrested, concealed from the public eye.
I recently digitized my family photographs and wove them into a family history. When one of my mates did this some time back I told him (with tongue in cheek!) that he obviously feared his imminent death and was searching for immortality. In Australia we call this poking the cocky, and as my father, who suffered from this disease, would always remind me and my children, who also suffer from this disease, "your grandfather was thrown out of the Sussex Inlet Progress Association for poking the cocky!" Anyway, do I fear my imminent death?
It's only natural to hope that some memorial remains marking our journey through this shadow land, something more than the scribbled words "I was here" - usually with a date, but no name for fear of prosecution! Those of us who have packed up the belongings of a deceased parent know well that when the moth and rust that doth corrupt has done its thing there is little to show for a life's journey.
Yet, there was a woman whose memorial will stand while ever the gospel story is told. She knew that Jesus' death was imminent and she marked it with an act of love, a prefigured embalming of his body. The disciples didn't understand the significance of her act, but Jesus did, and so he predicted that "wherever the Good News is proclaimed all over the world, what she has done will be told too, so that she will always be remembered." And so it is, even to this day.
I am reminded of a freedom fighter, or terrorist, depending on your perspective, who was executed many years ago. He resisted the Roman occupation of Palestine and was probably a very famous man in his day, but there is little remembered of him now, except that he asked this bloke who was crucified next to him, "when you get to your kingdom remember me."
When I'm dead and gone and those who knew me are dead and gone, my memorial will be nothing more than a carved name on a headstone, and the chances are, that's the way it will be for you too. What we need is a memorial of eternal significance. There is such a memorial, a memorial of faith, an eternal and everlasting memorial that leads to eternal life. Our faith in Christ may not issue in an act of love like Mary's, but in the end what matters is that Jesus will remember all who put their trust in him.
1. Why did the religious authorities seek to arrest Jesus in a "sly way?"
2. What significance does Jesus draw from his anointing?
3. What motive/s drove Judas to betray Jesus?
4. Discuss the memorials that last.