Epistles to the Cyberchurch - Su Min

To: All
From: Su Min
Subject: Anointing At Bethany

Dearly Beloved,
Again last night (Tuesday) at our Holy Week sermon series I was richly fed: Dr Chuck Lowe pointed out that the text relating to the Anointing at Bethany is "framed" in the gospel according to St Mark, by text relating to the betrayal by Judas, and this highlights, compares and contrasts the two events.

The anointing at Bethany is recorded in Matt 26:6-13, Mark 14:3-9, John 12:1-7. The exact date of the event is a little obscure. Matt 26:2 & Mark 14:1 clearly mark a time frame two days before the Passover. The text then declares "When Jesus was in Bethany" Matt 26:6, Mark 14:3, just contiguous with the "two days before Passover". But we are not told if the anointing was exactly at that time, just before or just after. But in John, we are told that Jesus arrived in Bethany 6 days before the Passover. We are told dinner was given in Jesus honour. But we are not told if the dinner was hosted on the same day that he first entered Bethany. It seems to me that Jesus could well have entered Bethany 6 days before Passover, and 4 days later, 2 days before Passover, the anointing event occurred. What is important is that it happened just before the Passover.

While Jesus was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of a man known as Simon the Leper (Mark 14:3) at a dinner given in His honour, Martha serving and Lazarus amongst those reclining at the table (John 12:2). We assume that Simon the Leper was close relative of Mary, Martha & Lazarus. We assume that Simon the Leper was called so because he had once suffered from a scaly skin disease, but at the time of this dinner he must have been healed and made whole again.

Here in Bethany Jesus is amongst close intimate friends. Jesus has visited them before. In Luke 10:38 we learn of Martha, busy in anxious service for the Lord, and Mary, sitting at His feet listening to Him in quiet adoration. Jesus loved Mary, Martha and Lazarus (John 11:5). Jesus loved them enough to weep with compassion as he saw the family grieving at the death of Lazarus (John 11:35). The shortest verse in the bible captures the compassion of Jesus.

During this dinner a woman came to anoint Jesus. She is unnamed in Matt & Mark, but specifically named as Mary in the account in John. In the social setting of those days it was an intrusion of a female into a meal being enjoyed by males only. Martha was not reclining at the table eating. Martha was serving. In those days the men would have dined first, and the women later. So into this male domain, while the men are reclined at dinner, comes Mary, bring a big alabaster jar containing a pint of very expensive perfume made of pure nard. She broke open the alabaster jar and while Jesus reclined at the table, poured the perfume on his head (Matt 26:7, Mark 14:3) and poured the perfume on his feet (John 12:3). Mary wiped Jesus feet with her hair and the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.

This act of adoration was received with grace by Jesus, but caused hostility amongst the onlookers. The disciples, and specifically Judas, objected to the costly gift worth 300 denari, a year's wages or 10 years (a lifetime) savings. The perfume could have been sold and given to the poor.

Jesus spoke up to acknowledge her gift. She has anointed my body for burial. The poor you will have with you always. She has done a beautiful thing to me. She has done what she could. Whenever the gospel is told, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.

The onlookers felt outraged at this extravagant display. Surely Jesus is not worth this much of expense? If the perfume was sold and proceeds given to the poor, then their own obligations to the poor would be reduced by 300 denari! and some quick fingered treasurer could siphon off a portion of that 300 denari on the way to the almsbox.

But Jesus was not indignant. Jesus did not object. She has done a beautiful thing to me. No act of adoration can be too expensive if we offer it to Jesus who offered his life for us. Anointing with perfume was a recognised way of showing love and respect and adoration. Mary chose to anoint the head and feet of Jesus with perfume, as an expression of love. Mary chose to wipe his feet with her hair as an expression of devotion and care. Jesus accepted this gift of adoration as a beautiful thing.

There was a spiritual and prophetic dimension to this anointing that Mary did not realise at that point of time. But Jesus knew that he was to be killed within the week, and be subjected to a hasty burial. The spices and perfumes for the anointing of his body were only to be brought in 3 days after his death, Mark 16:1, Luke 23:56-24:1 to complete the job started by Joseph of Arimathea (John 19:39).

Even as we share in cyberspace lessons from the anointing at Bethany, as Jesus commands, what Mary has done will also be told, in memory of her.

The anointing at Bethany is framed by events leading to the betrayal. The chief priests and teachers of the law look for a way to condemn and kill Jesus. Let us pray.

For any comments or enquiries please write to Dr. Lim Su Min

Back to Antioch's Well
Back to Antioch's Home Page