Then took Mary a pound of ointment of spikenard, very costly, and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped his feet with her hair: and the house was filled with the odor of the ointment.
Frederick Farrar in the book The Life of Christ goes over many of the speculations about the relationship of Simon the Leper and Mary, Martha and Lazarus. Some suggest that Simon was the father of the three. Some suggest he was probably healed by Jesus of his Leprosy. While many speculations can be made, there are certain points that are clear.
- The anointing of Jesus by Mary took place prior to his triumphal entry into Jerusalem on a colt.
- Mary and Jesus both knew Jesus would soon be delivered up and killed.
- Judas Iscariot was not happy about the wasted ointment.
- This began the series of events which would lead Judas Iscariot to betray Jesus to the council.
The Life of Christ – Written by Frederick W. Farrar – Originally published in 1874.
Jericho and Bethany
The Sabbath day was spent in quiet, and on the evening they made Him a supper (Matt 16:6-13, Mark 14:3-9, John 7:1-9). St. Matthew and St. Mark say, a little mysteriously, that this feast was given in the house of Simon the leper. St. John makes no mention whatever of Simon the leper, a name that the family of Bethany were in all respects the central figures at this entertainment. Martha seems to have had the entire supervision of the feast, and the risen Lazarus was almost as much an object of curiosity as Jesus himself. In short, so many thronged to see Lazarus–for the family was one of good position, and its members were widely known and beloved–that the notorious and indisputable miracle which had been performed on his behalf caused many to believe on Jesus. This so exasperated the ruling party at Jerusalem that, in their wicked desperation, they actually held a consultation how they might get rid of this living witness to the supernatural powers of the Messiah whom they rejected. Now since the raising of Lazarus was so intimately connected with the entire cycle of events which the earlier Evangelists so minutely record, we are again driven to the conclusion that there must have been some good reason, a reason which we can but uncertainly conjecture, for their marked reticence on this subject; and we find another trace of this reticence in their calling Mary “a certain woman,” in their omission of all allusion to Martha and Lazarus, and in their telling us that this memorable banquet was served in the house of “Simon the leper.” Who then was this Simon the leper? That he was no longer a leper is of course certain, for otherwise he could not have been living in his own house, of mingling in general society. Had he then been cleansed by Jesus? and if so, was this one cause of the profound belief in Him which prevailed in that little household, and of the tender affection with which they always welcomed Him? or, again, was Simon now dead? We cannot answer these questions, nor are there sufficient data to enable us to decide whether he was the father of Martha and Mary and Lazarus, or as some have conjectured, whether Martha was his widow, and the inheritress of his house.
Be this as it may, the feast was chiefly memorable, not for the number of Jews who thronged to witness it, and so to gaze at once on the Prophet of Nazareth and on the man whom He had raised from the dead, but from one memorable incident which occurred in the course of it, and which was the immediate beginning of the dark and dreadful end.
For as she sat there in the presence of her beloved and rescued brother, and her yet more deeply worshipped Lord, the feelings of Mary could no longer be restrained. She was not occupied like her sister in the active ministrations of the feast, but she sat and thought and gazed until the fire burned, and she felt impelled to some outward sign of her love, her gratitude, her adoration. So she arose behind Jesus where He sat, and broke the alabaster in her hands, and poured the genuine precious perfume first over His head, then over His feet, and then — unconscious of every presence save His alone–she wiped those feet with the long tresses of her hair, while the atmosphere of the whole house was filled with the delicious fragrance. It was an act of devoted sacrifice, of exquisite self abandonment; and the poor Galilaeans who followed Jesus, so little accustomed to any luxury, so fully alive to the costly nature of the gift, might well have been amazed that it should have all been lavished on rich luxury of one brief moment, None but the most spiritual-hearted there could feel that the delicate odor which breathed through the perfumed house might be to God a sweet-smelling savor; that even this was infinitely too little to satisfy the love of her who gave, or the dignity of whom to whom the gift was given.
But there was one present to whom on every ground the act was odious and repulsive. There is no vice at once so absorbing, so unreasonable, and so degrading as the vice of avarice, and avarice was the besetting sin in the dark soul of the traitor Judas. The failure to struggle with his own temptations; and the disappointment of every expectation which had first drawn him to Jesus; the intolerable rebuke conveyed to his whole being by the daily communion with a sinless purity; the darker shadow which he could not but feel that his guild flung athwart this footsteps because of the burning sun that the eye of his Master, possibly even the eyes of some of his fellow-apostles, had read or were beginning to read the hidden secrets of his heart; — all these things had gradually deepened from an incipient alienation into an insatiable repugnancy and hate. And the sight of Mary’s lavish sacrifice, the consciousness that it was now too late to save that large sum for the bag — the mere possession of which, apart for the sums which he could pilfer out of it, gratified his greed for gold–filled him with disgust and madness. He had a devil. He felt as if he had been personally cheated; as if the money were by right his, and he had been, in a senseless manner, defrauded of it. “To what purpose is this waste?” he indignantly said; and, alas! how often have his words been echoed, for wherever there is an act of splendid self-forgetfulness there is always a Judas to sneer and murmur at it. “This ointment might have been sold for three hundred pence and given to the poor!” Three hundred pence–ten pounds or more! There was perfect frenzy in the though of such utter perdition of good money; why, for barely a third of such a sum, this son of perdition was ready to sell his Lord., Mary thought it not good enough to anele Christ’s sacred feet: Judas thought a third part of it sufficient reward for selling His very life.
That little touch about its “being given to the poor” is a very instructive one. It was probably the veil used by Judas to half conceal even from himself the grossness of his own motives–the fact that he was a petty thief, and really wished the charge of this money because it would have enabled him to add to his own private store. People rarely sin under the full glare of self-consciousness; they usually blind themselves with false pretexts and specious motives; and though Judas could not conceal his baseness from the clearer eye of John, he probably concealed it from himself under the notion that he was really protesting against an act of romantic wastefulness, and pleading the cause of disinterested charity.
But Jesus would not permit the contagion of this worldly indignation–which had already infected some of the simple disciples–to spread any farther; nor would He allow Mary, already the center of an unfavorable observation which pained and troubled her, to suffer any more from the consequences of her noble act. “Why trouble ye the woman?” He said. “Let her alone; she wrought a good work upon Me; for ye have the poor always with you, but Me ye have not always; for in casting this ointment on My body, she did it for My burying.” And He added the prophecy — a prophecy which to this day is memorably fulfilled — that wherever the Gospel should be preached that deed of hers should be recorded and honored.
“For My Burying” — clearly, therefore, His condemnation and burial were near at hand. This was another death-blow to all false Messianic hopes. No earthly wealth, no regal elevation could be looked for by the followers of One who was so soon to die. It may have been another impulse of disappointment to the thievish traitor who had thus publicly been not only thwarted, but also silenced, and implicitly rebuked. The loss of the money, which might bey imagination have been under his own control, burnt in him with “a secret, dark, melancholic fire.” He would not lose everything. In his hatred, and madness, and despair, he slunk away from Bethany that night, and made his way to Jerusalem, and got introduced into the council-room of the chief priests in the house of Caiaphas, and had that first fatal interview in which he bargained with them to betray his Lord. “What are you willing to give me, and I will betray Him to you?” What greedy chafferings took place we are not told, nor wheter the counter-avarices of these united hatreds had a struggle before they decided on the paltry blood-money. If so, the astute Jewish priests beat down the poor ignorant Jewish Apostle. For all that they offered and all they paid was thirty pieces of silver – about 3 (British Pounds) 16s.–the ransom-money of the meanest slave. For this price he was to sell his Master, and in selling his Master to sell his own life, and to gain in return the execration of the world for all generations yet to come. And, so for the last week of his own his Master’s life, Judas moved about with the purpose of murder in his dark and desperate heart. But as yet no day had been fixed, no plan decided on–only the betrayal paid for; and there seems to have been a general conviction that it would not do to make the attempt during the actual feast, lest there should be an uproar among the multitude who accepted Him, and especially among the dense throngs of pilgrims from His native Galilee. They believed that many opportunities would occur, either at Jerusalem or elsewhere, when the great Passover was finished, and the Holy City had relapsed into its ordinary calm.
And the events of the following day would be likely to give the most emphatic confirmation to the worldly wisdom of their wicked decision.
–Frederic W. Farrar – The Life of Christ – Chapter 48