Mary anoints Jesus for his burial. 12:1-8

It was the Saturday before Palm Sunday and there was a supper in Jesus' honor in Bethany at which Martha acted as a waitress. After the supper Mary anointed Jesus' feet with some expensive perfume, drying them with her hair. Judas, claiming to be concerned for the poor, protested at the extravagance. John notes that Judas was a little light-fingured and was not adverse to dipping into the common purse which he carried on behalf of the disciples. Jesus lept to Mary's defense pointing out that she had anticipated his death with an act of inspired devotion.

The passage

v1. Jesus now moves toward the "Passover" event, namely the giving of his life for the salvation of his people. He comes to Bethany, just outside of Jerusalem, and stays (according to Mark) at Simon the Leper's home.

v2. Martha helps with the meal - she "waited on him", Moffatt. Lazarus is mentioned among the guests, but it is unclear whether it is his home. If it were his home his presence would be assumed.

v3. Mary of Bethany takes half a kilo of spikenard scented oil and anoints Jesus' feet. By doing this Mary takes a position of great humility, the position of a servant. A Jewish woman would never display her hair in public (only to her husband), but Mary openly uses it to wipe off the excess oil. Not using a towel indicates personal intimacy in the act.

v4. Matthew notes it was a disciple who was indignant; John identifies Judas. John notes it is Judas who would betray Jesus.

v5. The value of the oil is put at 300 denarii by Judas. A labourer was paid a denarii a day.

v6. John notes that Judas' indignation is not out of concern for the poor, but rather that he is a sneak-thief. This is the only occasion in the gospels where we are given an insight into the faulty character of Judas. Obviously, John is of the opinion that Judas betrayed Jesus for financial gain.

v7. Although scented oil is primarily used for festive occasions, Jesus recognizes the closeness of his death and interprets Mary's anointing as a symbolic embalming. He includes Mary in this interpretation. She might have intended initially using the perfume for the purpose of embalming Jesus' at a later date, although much more would be required, but her plan for the present is to symbolically embalm her living Lord while he is with her. Clearly Mary has sensed that Jesus is about to leave them through suffering and death.

v8. Jesus welcomes the action of Mary. The time when the disciples can express their love for Jesus is fast running out; the immediacy of his death supersedes the needs of the poor.

Extravagant Love

Jesus noted that, in the coming years, wherever the gospel is proclaimed, Mary's loving act would be remembered as a "memorial" to her, Mark14:9. Her anointing of Jesus, in the final week of Jesus' life, is an act of extravagant love.

Affection has different elements to it. There is the deep affection, or love, for someone which focuses on the spiritual self, the God-ward nature. With spiritual love the other's spiritual life fills us with great warmth; their love of Jesus fills us with love for them, for when we touch them, we touch Jesus. Then there is the affection of friendship - mutual compatibility. With friendship love the person thinks as we think, feels passionately about the things we feel about; we can speak for hours on end with them, debating, discussing, reviewing....., journing together along the pathway of life. Then there is the affection which focuses on the sensual, a physical bonding, sexual even, the electricity of male/female relationships, of hormones doing their thing.

In the anointing of Jesus we find the full range of affections. For Mary, she was anointing her Lord for his death. She was a true disciple who knew the mind of her master. She knew better than the apostles that her Lord was about to die. She could have anointed his head, but this was the Son of God whose feet she was not worthy to touch. Her act of humility demonstrates her faith in Jesus. This was an affection of the spirit.

Jesus was also her friend. He was the person she sat under, listening to his every word. He was someone she could call on when her brother was dying. He was someone she was willing to pay up for. Her friend was about to leave her, and love demanded an embalming before he went away. This was true friendship

Then there was Jesus the man. Only her husband should see her hair, yet without shame she exposed her glory before the gathered disciples and wiped the perfume away, and the whole house was filled with its fragrance. There was an element of sensual love in her behavior, yet pure, in that it could never be.

Our affection toward Jesus is something that can involve the whole person: body, mind and spirit. He is my Lord and God; he is my best friend; he is my lover (in the pure sense of the word). Our affection toward those within the Christian fellowship will also cover the same bases, in varying degrees: There is the unity, the spiritual bond, we share in Christ; there is the "being of the same mind", compatibility; there is the sensual touch. The love of the brotherhood will include one or all of these elements.

Let our aim be to retain integrity in relationships so that together we may be built up into Christ.


1. What was the point of the anointing?

2. Christian fellowship can promote very close male/female relationships. How do we maintain integrity in these relationships?