Parallel Texts: Matthew 26:1-5, 14-16; Luke 22:1-6; John 12:2-8
This scene takes place on Tuesday night, Wednesday morning by the Jewish reckoning, in Jerusalem and Bethany. In Jerusalem, the Jewish authorities scheme and plot their knavish plans; they must kill Jesus at the earliest possible moment, but not during the festival. While they plot, Jesus reclines in Bethany, a short distance away, where a woman enters the house and anoints Him with a jar of very expensive perfume; the jar she used would have cost a year’s wages for a working person; a year’s wages!
The people in the room are shocked at the extravagance of this and they rebuke the woman harshly, after all that could have been sold and used to help the poor. If you think about it, it’s difficult to disagree with those people, but Jesus told them to knock it off…
“Leave her alone,” said Jesus. “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial. Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”
If you stop and think about what Jesus tells them here, you can’t help but be struck by a few things. First off, Jesus implies that what this woman has done for Him is even more important than helping the poor, at least that it was of a higher immediate priority since He wasn’t to be with them much longer. Then notice His little jab: “The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want.” (verse 7) Every time I read this, I wonder if any of those rebuking the woman would be willing to donate a whole year’s wages to the poor if they were talking about using their own money, and not that of this woman… Maybe I shouldn’t say this, but it almost strikes me the same way as when people advocate raising someone else’s taxes for a poverty program.
Next, Jesus takes another step toward the cliff when He tells them that woman had done this to prepare His body beforehand for burial which He knew was now less than three days away. In verse 9 is a little prophecy: Where ever the gospel is preached, people will speak of the woman’s actions… and considering that I’m posting about it now 2,000 years later from halfway around the globe, I guess He was right. The passage concludes with Judas slipping out to make his deal with the devil to betray Jesus to the authorities; the die is cast.
Remember the way chapter 12 ended? After a long day of attacks that Jesus rebuffed, and then after Jesus went on the offensive at the Temple Courts, Mark took us to the scene of the widow’s offering, and Jesus told us about a whole new system where people would set aside the things and ways of this world to give God everything they have in His service. Then, the tumult of the Olivet Discourse in chapter 13, and now, well after sunset that night, this woman offers a sacrifice for Jesus, by pouring a whole year’s wages over His head in the form of expensive perfume. Another act of devotion, another act of self-sacrifice, another sacrifice of self, another glimpse of the Kingdom that was now standing at the door, ready to burst upon the earth.
Earlier that day, the reaction of the worldly leaders was to agree to kill Jesus. Now, one of His own disciples reacts by slipping away to make the final arrangements for His betrayal to those same leaders. Will this cycle ever end?
I don’t know, but all these years later it still continues.