“Now the Passover of the Jews was at hand, and many went up from the country to Jerusalem before the Passover to purify themselves. 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?” 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.
“Six days before the Passover, Jesus therefore came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. So they gave a dinner for Him there. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those reclining with Him at table. 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. But Judas Iscariot, one of His disciples (he who was about to betray Him), said, “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it. Jesus said, “Leave her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of My burial. For the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have Me.”” (John 11:55–12:8, ESV)
We are now into the last week. Passover was coming close. The people had begun the pilgrimage from their homes to Jerusalem in order to purify themselves before the Passover. The whole nation was readying itself for this special time of their year. And with that preparation came the expectation that Jesus would again return to Jerusalem with all of the other Jewish males. They were on the watch for Him. The people were instructed to be on the alert and notify them if anyone saw Him. Truly the time for the big clash was about to happen, and anticipation was high.
Sure enough, six days before the Passover Jesus left the wilderness area of Ephraim in order to return to Mary, Martha, and Lazarus’ home in Bethany just a couple of miles from Jerusalem. This sixth day was most likely Saturday, the day before we read that He triumphantly entered Jerusalem. Happy to see Him they gave a dinner for Him there. Again, Martha was busy serving them while Lazarus reclined with Him at the table. This was a last moment of rest before everything would quickly change. This was the last night before Jesus made His public entrance and was recognized by the whole nation. It was the last night before people would go from bowing before Him to turning on Him and demanding His crucifixion. It was a time with friends, and they were enjoying one another. The sisters who so deeply loved him along with their brother who He had previously raised from the dead all embraced Him fully on that night.
It was as they were reclining that several pieces of the final plan were put into motion. The first piece unfolded when Mary took a pound of a very expensive ointment which we read was from pure nard and began to anoint His feet and then wipe them with her own hair. Imagine the scene as she lovingly massaged this ointment into His feet that had traveled so far for this time and then as she tenderly wiped His feet with her own hair. Everyone there must have had their eyes fixed on this and they all were taking in the scene. Mary had taken this expensive and special ointment and freely and delicately rubbed the feet of her Lord. This is what “anoint” means and this is what she did. It was a special act done by her showing her regard for Him, and there was no cost that she would not gladly pay in order to do this. The expense of the nard was not a barrier, nor did it give her pause to think what better might have been done with the money. This was truly a high tribute flowing from her love and devotion.
The next piece that began to fall into place was the response of one of the observers—one of the twelve, one of Jesus’ chosen disciples. Judas responded to this with revolt. He criticized the action pointing to how this very expensive nard could have been sold for 300 denarii and the money given to the poor. Three hundred denarii was a big deal to them. For many of the common laborers it would have amounted to a whole year’s wages, and here Mary was wasting it on feet. What a noble thought? How thoughtful Judas was toward the poor? Hogwash!! Judas did not care about the poor. Judas cared about his own pocketbook. We read in this passage that Judas was the keeper of the money bag and he had been embezzling from it. He had been stealing from it for his own gain, and if Mary had sold the nard and given the money to them to distribute to the needy then he would have had access to that money as well. Of course, this was no surprise to Jesus. He already knew this as we read earlier in John. But in the Father’s timing Judas rebellion had not yet been revealed and maybe not even come to a head until this moment when his true colors began to surface before everyone else.
Jesus told Judas to back off, to leave her alone. He said that what she had left was to serve another purpose. Mary was to be able to keep the ointment until it was used again at His burial. We already know that when Jesus called for Lazarus’ tomb to be opened that they were reluctant because of the stench that would burst out. It was not uncommon to cover bodies in expensive perfumes at the time of their burial in order to mask these smells.
These ointments were a key part aspect pointing to the real reason that Jesus came. Even in Matthew chapter 2 when the wise men came to see him they brought with them gold, frankincense, and myrrh (Matthew 2:11). When Jesus hung on the cross a drink of wine and myrrh was offered to Him in order to deaden the pain (Mark 15:23). And when Nicodemus joined Joseph of Arimathea to prepare Him for burial, Nicodemus brought “a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds in weight.” (John 19:39, ESV) Jesus told them to let Mary keep the ointment, setting it aside for the time when it would be prepared for use on His body at His burial.
While this Mary was not specifically identified as going to the tomb on the Sunday of His resurrection (the first day of the week), we read in Luke that the ladies had indeed prepared ointments for Him. “It was the day of Preparation, and the Sabbath was beginning. The women who had come with Him from Galilee followed and saw the tomb and how His body was laid. Then they returned and prepared spices and ointments. On the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment. But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared.” (Luke 23:54–24:1, ESV)
Truly, as Jesus had said the time of His death was close. The poor were going to be around for as long as man exists in this place, but He was here for a specific period of time and that time was at hand. And without Christ neither the poor nor the rich had any hope for life. Mary, and Martha, and Nicodemus cherished the time they had with Him, and I don’t think they took a single day for granted.