Updated: Dec 24, 2021
Have you ever read a book where you start to see something in one of the characters you don't entirely trust? You see glimpses and foreshadowing of what is coming. For example, in (John 12), Jesus is anointed at Bethany. A scene develops, and we are given a hint of what will happen.
A contrast between people's lives and their hearts of service toward Jesus is seen. Frustrations arise, foreshadowing events that will soon take place. While, at the same time, a King is anointed for burial.
J O H N 12.1-6 (NIV)
"Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived,
whom Jesus had raised from the dead. Here a dinner was given in Jesus' honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus' feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, "Why wasn't this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year's wages." He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it. "Leave her alone," Jesus replied. "It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me."
Looking ahead in the gospel of John, Jesus is about to enter Jerusalem, where he is celebrated as a King. In (John 12), one image of Jesus we see is that of Mary anointing God's Servant-King. The image of an anointed king has historical context. Going back to the Old Testament, kings were anointed. God calls Samuel to anoint His King over Israel. Samuel goes to the home of Jesse, who has seven of his sons presented to him. God's chosen King is not among these seven.
1 S A M U E L 16.11-13 (NIV)
"So he asked Jesse, "Are these all the sons you have?" "There is still the youngest," Jesse answered. "He is tending the sheep." Samuel said, "Send for him; we will not sit down until he arrives." So he sent for him and had him brought in. He was glowing with health and had a fine appearance and handsome features. Then the Lord said, "Rise and anoint him; this is the one." So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers, and from that day on the Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon David. Samuel then went to Ramah."
In the Hebrew Scriptures, there is a historical context of God anointing His kings. In much the same way, Jesus is called as God's Servant-King in (John 12), the King who is about to enter Jerusalem. However, King Jesus is a King, unlike all others. King Jesus and His kingdom are not like the kingdoms of this world. The story of Jesus is a story of a Servant-King who will exchange His life for the life of others. Mary is anointing God's Servant-King for burial.
There is tension building in the middle of the powerful scene found in (John 12). Judas is upset that Mary has used this costly perfume to anoint the feet of Jesus. Judas saw this as a waste.
J O H N 12. 3-6 (NIV)
"Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus' feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, "Why wasn't this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year's wages." He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it."
A glimpse of the character of Judas is exposed. His concern was not for the poor. Instead, he desired to take what was not his to take for himself. There is a distinction between following Jesus, selfless service, and Judas's selfish service. Likewise, there was a difference between Mary's sincere heart and the deceptive, darkened heart of Judas.
All Judas could see was a waste of money. It was money that could have served him. Mary, by contrast, risked everything. She had held on to this jar of perfume, of which, as Judas comments, was "worth a year's wages." Others have noted that this could have well been a family heirloom, given the value.(1) Even the act of exposing her hair in the present environment among men who were not her husband was a risk. Mary was willing to give and sacrifice all for the Lord. Her attitude is in stark contrast to the attitude of Judas. Mary was not concerned for herself or what others may think about her. A humble and sacrificial act demonstrated her complete devotion to God's Anointed.
What does it take to follow Jesus? In the example of Mary, we see love, service, humility, and generosity. Following Jesus is not about asking how much is enough. Instead, following Jesus is examining our lives and our character to determine what is treasured.
Scripture taken from: Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
1 Keener, Craig S. The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament. 2nd ed., IVP Academic, 2014. p. 285