The festival of Passover was approaching and the hill city of Jerusalem would soon see an influx of pilgrims to the holy land and its neighbouring towns. Jesus also made the trip to Judea one last time, just six days before His crucifixion. On His way to Jerusalem, He visited His followers in the nearby town of Bethany where He had raised Lazarus back to life.
It is probably the Tuesday before the Passover when Jesus was at a dinner at the house of Simon the Leper (Mark 14:1-10). The siblings Martha and Lazarus were also at this gathering and as usual, Martha was serving while Lazarus sat with Jesus. Mary however chose to worship her Saviour in another way. She took an alabaster jar containing the expensive perfume and poured it at Jesus’ feet and proceeded to wipe it with her hair. It was customary to wash the feet of the guests that had come to one’s house and anoint their head with oil. But Mary chose to pour out all her expensive perfume at Jesus’ feet.
In those days, such expensive fragrances were used by harlots for cosmetic purposes but also as an aphrodisiac. This would be in line with the prostitute from Luke’s version who performed a similar act. If indeed the woman from Luke is the same as the one mentioned in all other Gospels, (assuming Simon the Leper and Simon the Pharisee is the same person and as both women carried the perfume in an alabaster jar) then Mary is pouring out the source of her sinful life at Jesus’s feet asking for forgiveness.
Perfumes were used as antiseptic or for hygienic purposes as well, but it is highly unlikely that Mary had the means to buy such an expensive jar of perfume for medicinal purposes. The last purpose served by such fragrances is for preparing a body for burial during the embalming process. In that case, the perfume might have been purchased for her brother Lazarus but they either bought it in excess or never got to use it. Then the perfume represents a thanksgiving offering that Mary poured at Jesus’ feet. Both the above scenarios are from the perspective of Mary, but why did Jesus allow for it?
Mary was preparing Jesus’ body for burial as later she would not get a chance to do so. Jesus’ time with His followers was coming to an end, but those who understood His message and the purpose of the mission were able to hold on to their faith. Mary’s sinful confession or joyful thanksgiving was used as a symbolism for the preparations for the crucifixion of Jesus. When that day did arrive, all His followers were caught off-guard but intimate moments like these would remind them of the grace of Jesus.
For us, the alabaster jar can represent our source of sinful life. When we think about offering something to Jesus, we always give our best, be it the most favourable time of the week or the best fruits of our labour. We would never dare to bring the source of our sinful life as an offering before Him. Jesus does not want only our best but He wants to be there for us in our worst also. Let our offerings not be superficial but something on which we can build an intimate relationship with our Saviour.
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.”John 12:4-5
While the other Gospel authors missed out on one detail, John makes sure to mention which disciple had a problem with Mary’s offering and the subsequent worship of Jesus. The Gospel of Mark positions this incident as a pivotal moment that made Judas reach out to the Pharisees and put in motion the series of events that led to the crucifixion of Jesus. John also noted that Judas had no interest in the poor but as the keeper of the money bag, he had to show concern for the downtrodden.
When Jesus rebuked Judas for calling the offering of Mary a waste, satan started working in Judas. At that moment, Judas had forgotten all the evils he had been doing as the treasurer of the group when satan played back the words of Jesus in a different light to him. He would have been angry at His teacher for openly chastising him but satan turned the rebuke into doubts. Jesus’ words were interpreted as He was against caring for the poor and Judas would have thought to himself that it was his duty to have such a man arrested as a service to the Jewish community.
When God is trying to rebuke us either directly or through someone, satan doesn’t want us to act on God’s reprimand, lest we may turn away from our sinful ways. He starts putting seeds of doubts and confusion in our minds and we end up misunderstanding the message that was meant to correct our ways. Rather than leaving our old ways and coming closer to Jesus, we drive him away from us as our egos have been hurt.
“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.”John 12:7-8
God Over Charity
Jesus was not criticizing the need for charity towards the poor, in fact, He is perhaps the only one who spoke about selling one’s possessions to give to the poor. The KJV version also has Paul stressing the importance of charity to the church at Corinth. But this was one of satan’s strategies to distract people from doing God’s will and divert their attention to some other cause.
Our focus should always be on worshipping God and nothing can outweigh its importance. Sometimes, we place more importance on community outreach that we end up sacrificing our time with God to serve our fellow beings. In our minds, we draw the wrong conclusion of what God wants from us. God does want us to help and serve our fellow beings but He doesn’t want us to value anything more important than spending time with Him.
It is hard to negate the power of Jesus if He is raising people from the dead and performing signs and wonders that no one has ever seen or heard. The pharisees attributed Jesus’ fame to the miracles that He was able to perform and not the message he brought with him. Given that Jerusalem was full of people from all over Israel during the Passover festival, they knew the dangers of an uproar among the followers of Jesus. The killing of Lazurus in their minds was an easy way out to solve their ‘Jesus Problem’ as they thought that would stop the mass number of followers pivoting towards Jesus.
What is preventing us from having an intimate relationship with Jesus? Are we hiding behind meaningless excuses or accepting our fate of separation from Him? Knowing Christ is not enough, and neither are meaningless testimonies about our experience with him many moons ago. We must come closer to Him day by day, as He wants to have a personal and meaningful relationship with all of us.
- V3: What does the alabaster jar of pure nard represent?
- V5: Why did Judas object to Mary’s offering?
- V8: What does Jesus want from us, Charity or Worship?
- V10: Why did the pharisees want to kill Lazarus?