Friday, August 14, 2009

Sacrificial giving – The anointing at Bethany

John 12 (Also Matthew 26 and Mark 14)

The Anointing at Bethany

 1 Then, six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus was who had been dead, whom He had raised from the dead.

[Leading up to his betrayal, with the Pharisees and Priests seeking to take him, Jesus makes his way toward Jerusalem for the Passover, makes a stop in Bethany where he has many friends including Lazarus whom he raised from the dead.]

2 There they made Him a supper; and Martha served, but Lazarus was one of those who sat at the table with Him.

[Both Matthew and Mark say that this supper was "at the house of Simon the leper". The men including Lazarus were reclining at the table eastern style at a low table usually seated on cushions with their feet curled behind them. Lazarus sister Martha was one of those who served the meal.]

3 Then Mary took a pound of very costly oil of spikenard, anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped His feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil.

[Only John identified the woman as Mary the other two accounts to not identify here by name. As to which Mary this was John 11:2 says this was Lazarus sister who anointed Jesus. So Mary brings out a large container of very expensive oil or balm. This translation says it was a pound of the oil the Greek word is litra which is the same as our common Liter so we have about 34 ounces of this very expensive oil in an alabaster container.

Some translations say box some say flask, really neither word is in the original language, the Greek word is alabasteron, which is an alabaster container. Oriental Alabaster is a calcite deposit usually found in limestone caverns, it is usually white though there are other colors. If you put oil in a normal clay or stone jar the oil could permeate the pores or cracks and the outside of the container would be wet with oil wasting some of it. So for long term storage of a balm oil especially an expensive one they used alabaster because the oil would not permeate the alabaster, and the white color made a very pretty container.

As to the oil itself some translations say spikenard, others just say nard. Now there is a spikenard plant that grows in Nepal so it could be from that plant, but the Greek word is nardos referring to the Syrian city of Naardus from which they imported this fragrant oil, we call the most common form of this oil Lavender. This essential oil comes from the underground stems or spikes of the plant, that would be crushed to obtain the oil, it would take many plants and lots of manual labor to obtain a liter of oil which is why it was so expensive.

So Mary takes the alabaster container, Mark 14 says she broke flask or box, and poured it on Jesus' head, Matthew also says she anointed his head. Only John says she poured it on his feet. I think both are correct, since she had a liter of this oil, broke the container and used it all, the oil was likely poured from head to foot, anointing his whole body. Then in great humility she knelt at his feet, let down her hair, and used it to wipe the oil from the feet of her Lord. As she did this, the scent of the oil filled the room.]

4 But one of His disciples, Judas Iscariot, Simon's son, who would betray Him, said, 5 "Why was this fragrant oil not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?" 6 This he said, not that he cared for the poor, but because he was a thief, and had the money box; and he used to take what was put in it.

[Judas reminds me of a pawn shop owner, he looks at this volume of lavender oil and immediately gives it a value of 300 denarii about one year's wages for a common laborer, over $20,000 in today's dollars. Judas complains that this oil should have been sold, instead of wasted, so the money could be given to the poor. Matthew and Mark say the other disciples were grumbling among themselves about this, and apparently Judas was the one who spoke up. John explains that Judas didn't really care for the poor, he wanted access to the money for himself.]

7 But Jesus said, "Let her alone; she has kept this for the day of My burial. 8 For the poor you have with you always, but Me you do not have always."

[Jesus talking about his burial seems odd until you realize this was the week of his crucifixion. In Matthew and Mark Jesus says straight out, that she was anointing him for burial. So Jesus tells them your time with me is short, the poor will always be with you and you can show them compassion any time you want. This does not mean that Jesus did not have compassion for the poor, just that this week was to fulfill his mission. Nothing would distract him from fulfilling the plan for the redemption of mankind.]

Matthew 26:13 and Mark 14:9 conclude the story with Jesus own summary of Mary's sacrifice. "Assuredly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be told as a memorial to her."

[To this day Christians know the story of the alabaster box, and woman who wasted this treasure, as a sacrificial gift to the Lord. I can't help but contrast Mary with the Rich Young Ruler. He had wealth, power, and a fine reputation, but left unsaved, because he valued his wealth more than his soul. Mary took the most valuable thing she owned, broke it and poured it out without even asking, in a completely irrational act of love. She valued her earthly treasure as no better than bath water as it rolled down Jesus feet completely spent. All that remained is the love it conveyed, and the example it gave us. Is any gift too extravagant for the Son of God.]

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