Life of Christ 145
Jesus is on the lips of hundreds of thousands of Jews traveling to Jerusalem for Passover. What think ye, that he will not come to the feast? (John 11.56) The common people saw the same crisis point coming that the Apostles saw. They knew that Jesus had not knuckled under in regard to His claims, and they also knew that repeated attempts had been made in Jerusalem on His life recently. The nation fully expected fireworks to result if Jesus chose to attend this year's Passover feast.
Jesus not only refused to be intimidated by all of the opposition, He had also long known precisely when His time would come. All the fury of hell was not going to prevent Him from keeping that appointment. (Isaiah 50.7) To Passover He went.He arrived on Friday, six days before the feast. He and His Apostles stayed at Lazarus' home in Bethany which was just 15 city blocks outside of Jerusalem. It was both convenient and friendly. On His arrival, Lazarus and his sisters accompanied Him to a celebratory feast (Matthew 26.6-13) laid on for Him at a nearby home. (John 12.2) This neighbor, Simon, must have been an influential man, for he maintained his position as a leader in Bethany even though he was a leper.
At this dinner, Simon would have sat at the head of the table. Lazarus, likewise, would have sat at table. Martha, typically, was busy serving. Where was Mary?
Years earlier, Jesus had been a guest at a similar dinner also in the home of a man named Simon. This particular Simon was a Pharisee, and since he was only interested in trapping Jesus in His conversation he was a rather poor host. In fact, he did not even instruct his servants to wash the dust of the road from Jesus' feet, as was customary. At that dinner, which is discussed in Luke 7, (see Life of Christ 63) a prostitute sneaked into the crowd surrounding the table. There, so moved with the compassion and mercy of Christ, she knelt at His reclining feet. She proceeded to wash His feet with her tears, dry them with her hair, and then anoint them tenderly.
Now, years later, in Judea, just five days before the crucifixion, a similar scene takes place. A woman, carrying a valuable perfumed ointment (spikenard, of Indian origin, and old, for Solomon mentions it) in an alabaster box kneels in a similar fashion at Jesus' feet. Tenderly, she liberally pours it onto His feet, and then wipes up the excess with her hair.
Although she did not stop the presses to announce her actions they would have been very noticeable nonetheless. Jesus' feet were not under the table, but stretched out behind Him in the fashion of the day. Additionally, she also poured some of the perfumed ointment onto His head. (Mark 14.3) In so doing, an absolutely lovely fragrance permeated the entire room. (John 12.3) And, to top it off, it was Lazarus' sister, Mary, who had done this.
The Apostles accompanied Jesus to this celebratory dinner. Judas Iscariot, who in mere days will become the most infamous man in history, protests over the monetary waste of such a gift. (John 12.4-5) He insists it would have been better to sell the spikenard and give the money away to the poor. He does this, not out of altruism, but because he controlled the group's money and he was a thief. (John 12.6).
Jesus' reaction was the polar opposite of Judas Iscariot's. He defends Mary, yet again. (Remember Martha's accusations that Mary would not work?) He declares that this story will be preached in the Church for generations to come. (Matthew 26.13).
All of this is familiar ground to the mature Christian but what occupies my mind as I examine this story is the questions, 'why?' Why did Mary do this thing? It was not because Jesus' feet had not been washed, as in that other dinner in Galilee years ago, for there is no record of this and Mary also anointed His head. It was not because Mary felt like being the center of attention for in her family's interactions with Christ she rarely speaks. Nor was it just that she anointed Him according to custom. Yes, it was customary in the day to anoint rabbis at formal feasts such as weddings but she went way beyond such a simple anointing. She poured on Him the entire contents of the box.
Scripture gives us the reason, and it is very precious. For in that she hath poured this ointment on my body, she did it for my burial. (Matthew 26.12) The Apostles, though Jesus had repeatedly mentioned His soon coming death, never grasped it. They wanted Jesus to usher in the kingdom, and that is exactly what they expected. (Luke 19.11) I am absolutely positive that the other disciples, the small band of Christians that were also in Jerusalem for Passover, expected the very same thing. Not a single human being who loved and accepted Jesus understood what He was about to go through – except for Mary. In other words, the only person in the entire world who understood what was actually happening was Mary. She alone extended to Him the sympathy of that understanding.
What a comfort that must have been! No one was more misunderstood in His own day than Jesus Christ. That had been true for the entirety of His ministry. His family did not understand Him. His followers did not understand Him. His friends did not understand Him. He enemies did not understand Him. The common people did not understand Him. Now, at the very end, as He is about to undergo the most extreme pressure test any human being has ever experienced, there is no one that will look at Him and say, 'I understand what you are facing' – except Mary. No, she certainly did not grasp it all, for no one could. But while everyone else was expecting the coming week to end on a throne Mary alone saw where it was really going. She alone saw a tomb in His immediate future.
So while everyone else was celebrating she quietly slipped out. Did she argue with herself about whether she ought to anoint Him? Did she question the appropriateness of it in her mind? I have no idea. I doubt it though. Methinks her emotions, a tender love for Christ combined with a deep grief over the fact she was about to lose Him along with the horror that He was facing this all alone, drove her to extend to Him the only gesture she could. And He was tenderly touched.
Beloved, may we all love Him as well and as sacrificially and as tenderly as Mary alone in her day did. So may we all.