As the events have progressed from the triumphal entry of our Lord Jesus Christ into Jerusalem to dinner with friends in Bethany, so has the drama or signs in the heavenly skies. No longer is the moon in the constellation of Arieh (Leo), the Lion of Judah, but it has shifted to Bethulah (Virgo), the Virgin. The moon is now waxing gibbous before it phases to its fullness. Likewise, at the dinner in Bethany, the memorial story of Mary of Bethany will point to the final phase of Jesus’ life – his death and burial.
Jesus was staying in Bethany, a small village below the Mount of Olives at the house of Simon the Leper. Could it be that Simon the Leper was the father or relative of Lazarus, Martha, and Mary, or that he was Lazarus himself? Earlier, Lazarus’ death had given Jesus the opportunity not only to demonstrate that death is conquered by Him, but that Lazarus being brought back from the dead would be symbolic of Christ’s future death and resurrection. However, Lazarus’ sister would symbolically anoint Jesus for his soon approaching death and burial.
Because Matthew’s Gospel tells us that after two days is the feast of the Passover, then we know that this story of the dinner meal takes place on Wednesday evening (April 1, 33 AD). As Lazarus dines with the others, Martha is serving. Dinner would have typically included bread and wine, a metaphoric foretaste of Jesus’ death. Where is Mary? In the Gospels written by Matthew and Mark, the woman who anoints the Savior is unnamed, but in the Gospel of John, she is identified as Mary. Jesus formerly had told Martha, when she was anxious and disturbed about her sister, that Mary had chosen the good portion. Now we see Mary choosing the spiritual portion, but in a prophetic sense.
Mary has an alabastron of very precious ointment, a pound of unadulterated spikenard to be precise. Spikenard, grown in the Himalayas, has an earthy aroma, and is used for special occasions. Breaking the seal, she pours the spikenard on her Savior’s head while he is reclining. John adds in his Gospel story that she wipes Jesus’ feet with her hair. Since the head represents nurturing and the feet represent authority, Mary is anointing the Lord in spiritually strategic places. The odor of the spikenard, signifying the presence of the Holy Spirit, permeates the house.
While Matthew discloses that ALL the disciples were indignant at the wastefulness, Mark shares that SOME were rather indignant. However, John states that JUDAS Iscariot is the one that asks why this ointment wasn’t sold for three hundred denarii and the proceeds given to the poor. If a man’s daily wage were one silver danarii, then three hundred denarii was about a year’s wages. Not that Judas cares for the poor, because he was a thief pilfering from the moneybag. His attack against Mary provokes the others to murmur against her.
Jesus comes to her defense acknowledging that she had done a good work while his disciples surely have the poor always with them, but they would not always have Him. He reminds them the purpose of the anointing is for his burial. Jesus desires this particular story to be told where ever the Gospel is to be preached as a memorial to Mary. Then Judas, true to his nature, went and covenanted with the chief priests for thirty pieces of silver, about a month’s wages.
We know that Jesus loved Martha, her sister, and Lazarus. Martha had a servant’s heart, Lazarus had experienced being brought back from the dead, and Mary was fond of sitting at the feet of Jesus hearing the Logos, the living Word of God. Her action of anointing Jesus was inspired because of a heart brimming with love for her Lord. While the breaking of the alabaster seal was symbolic of the body of Jesus being broken for all and the ointment symbolic of Christ’s burial, the ointment also represents the Holy Spirit being poured out upon our lives. Halleluiah!