John 11:55-57 reads,
“Now the Passover of the Jews was at hand, and many went up from the country to Jerusalem before the Passover to purify themselves. 56 They were looking for Jesus and saying to one another as they stood in the temple, “What do you think? That he will not come to the feast at all?” 57 Now the chief priests and the Pharisees had given orders that if anyone knew where he was, he should let them know, so that they might arrest him.”
Passover was coming and many people were headed to Jerusalem to be cleansed and prepared for the feast. While the crowds gathered in the temple for ritual purification and wondered if Jesus would be coming, Jesus was in Bethany with Mary, Martha, Lazarus, the disciples and others in the home of Simon the Leper preparing for Passover in a much different way. Verses 1-3 read,
“Six days before the Passover, Jesus therefore came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. 2 So they gave a dinner for him there. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those reclining with him at table. 3 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.”
Jesus would be going to Jerusalem for the Passover. He didn’t need the ritual purification though. Instead, He was being prepared to be the ultimate sacrificial lamb. Mary anointed Jesus’ feet, and we know from the gospels that she also anointed His head with the expensive ointment. Jesus may have been the only one who truly understood that this act was one of appointment to a holy task and preparation for His burial.
Mary did it because was a very devoted and faithful disciple. She was so dedicated and ardent in following Jesus, she didn’t care about breaking the taboos of her society. Society said she should have been helping serve with her sister and the other women, but she chose to sit at Jesus’ feet and listen to Him speak. Society said she should not touch a man that wasn’t her husband or relative. But Mary not only touched Jesus as she anointed Him, she caressed Him with love and affection that shocked many people. She even used her hair which per societal rules should not have been down in public. And the jar of perfume she used was very expensive. She didn’t only use a small amount, she used the entire jar in worshipping Jesus. She was wholly committed to following Christ. She didn’t let other’s opinions sway her. It is her act that we remember and honor today. Some of the people gathered for dinner at Simon the Leper’s home we astonished by her actions, some were appalled, but of all the people there, it is Mary’s prophetic and pure worship that stands out as an example for us.
One of those aghast at Mary’s endeavor was Judas Iscariot. Verses 4-5 read,
“But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was about to betray him), said, 5 “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?”
His statement fits societal rules. Three hundred denarii was a year’s wages. Mary had just poured out a $10,000 bottle of perfume over Jesus in a startlingly sensual display. It looked like pure waste. But while Mary’s motivation was love, gratitude, and devotion to Jesus, Judas’ drive was greed. He was a thief in charge of the money and freely help himself to it whenever he chose. Jesus’ response is recorded in verses 8-9.
“Jesus said, “Leave her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of my burial. 8 For the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me.”
Jesus wasn’t saying, “Forget the poor, don’t take care of them, it is useless.” He reminded them of scripture. Deuteronomy 15:11 reads, “For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.”
He was saying, “Sometimes there are things which takes precedence over charity.” Donating 300 denarii to the poor was obviously what would normally have happened had they received such an extravagant gift for their ministry, but worshipping Jesus and preparing Him for His death was the priority at the moment. A gift like that would have had a small impact but wouldn’t have solved the problem of poverty. Jesus death and resurrection on the other hand had a huge impact that solved the problem of sin forever. Jesus was only going to be with them for a little while longer. In a week He would be the perfect sacrificial lamb. Only He knew that. The hearts of the people who called themselves followers were being revealed.
Judas said what many thought as they watched this woman tenderly and lovingly anoint Jesus. What he said sounded righteous. What Mary did looked wrong. In the eyes of those watching, her act bordered on sexual and looked wasteful and selfish. But Judas and Mary’s purposes revealed their true hearts.
Don’t be so fast to assume that something is as it appears. What are your motivations? Do you want people to say, “Look at her, she is a good person” or do you want people to look at you and say, “Look at her, Jesus is awesome?”