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The Anointing at Bethany

12 Then, six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus was who had been dead, whom He had raised from the dead. There they made Him a supper; and Martha served, but Lazarus was one of those who sat at the table with Him. Then Mary took a pound of very costly oil of spikenard, anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped His feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil. But one of His disciples, Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, who would betray Him, said, “Why was this fragrant oil not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” This he said, not that he cared for the poor, but because he was a thief, and had the money box; and he used to take what was put in it. But Jesus said, “Let her alone; she has kept this for the day of My burial. For the poor you have with you always, but Me you do not have always.” -John 12:1-7

It was the week before Jesus’ arrest and death in Jerusalem.  He arrived with his disciples at Bethany, a suburb of Jerusalem, at the house of his friend Lazarus.  This is the same Lazarus whom Jesus raised from the dead only a few days earlier (John 11).  Lazarus had two sisters, Mary and Martha, who were serving dinner. This is the same Mary and Martha who hosted Jesus and his disciples in Luke 10:38-42.  So we could say that these were close friends of Jesus, especially so after Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead.

There seems little doubt that the supper was organized in celebration of Lazarus’ resurrection from the dead. It is impossible for us to fully imagine the excitement and awe surrounding and following that event.  Imagine the scene:  Jesus and the once-dead Lazarus, reclining together at supper.  This spotlight on Lazarus was an additional source of scorn for the Jewish leadership. They were already insanely jealous of Jesus, now the crowds surged also around Lazarus.  Of particular irritation to the Jewish leaders was that all this commotion was so near the Passover- the major national festival of the Jewish year.  They feared that the Roman authorities would take note of any unusual crowds and excitement, resulting in restrictions to Jewish authority in the city and the temple.  In fact, the Jewish leadership had conspired to capture and kill Lazarus, just as they had conspired against Jesus (John 11:9-11)

So the fact that the dinner was held was remarkable in itself, but another remarkable event took place during the dinner.  Mary, sister of Lazarus, produced an incredibly expensive jar of perfume and used it to anoint Jesus’ feet. This is remarkable because:

– The perfume, oil of Spikenard, was valued at an estimated year’s salary for a working man.

– While a lowly servant likely was assigned to wash guests’ feet as they entered the house for supper, Mary humbled herself to an even lower position by anointing Jesus’ feet during the supper. Not only so, but she let down her hair- something a Jewish woman would never do in public- to dry Jesus’ feet.

– The expensive perfumed oil was not too good for Jesus, despite Judas’ objection. It was not even too good for Jesus’ feet, for Mary believed Jesus’ words, that he was about to suffer and die for the sins of the world.

As for Judas Iscariot, here we learn the only other negative record concerning him. He was the holder of the purse, or treasurer, for Jesus and his band of disciples. He was a thief, helping himself from the bag which belonged to Jesus and the Apostles.  He objected to Mary’s actions, more concerned about the money than the truth about the fast-approaching need to prepare Jesus’ body for burial.

In all of this, Mary is a study of devotion to Jesus. The life of Mary is painted for us, in three memorable pictures, in each of which she is at the feet of Jesus.

  • Luke 10:39 Mary sat at Jesus’ feet and learned.
  • John 11:37 Mary fell at Jesus’ feet and worshiped.
  • John 12:3 Mary anointed Jesus’ feet and honored Jesus.

 Our place is also at Jesus’ feet, demonstrating our humility, our honor, our worship, our service. Only upon those who bow down at his feet can Jesus pour out his blessing of teaching as a precious and costly oil.

What an amazing and memorable dinner at Mary and Martha’s home! One day we, as believers in Christ, will sit as his table, at the wedding feast of the Lamb (Revelation 19:9). In heaven we will dine with him and rejoice in hearing His Word every day.  Until that day, may we recognize and appreciate the feast we have on earth, whenever our Lord serves us with preaching and teaching, and whenever he invites us to the Supper of his body and blood.

Thank you, Jesus, for pouring out upon us the costly oil of your Word and Sacrament during this earthly life.  We gladly sit at your feet to hear and  to learn and to be fed. Help us to look forward with faith and longing to the eternal banquet of your heaven. Amen.

-Pastor Anderson