Precious Ointment

INTRODUCTION: There are passages in three of the four gospels of the New Testament that tell of a woman anointing Jesus with precious ointment just a few days before he went to his final Passover. After that, he was betrayed, mocked, and crucified. This study will review some of the similar, and some of the distinct, aspects within these accounts about the beautiful act this woman performed. Additional passages will be used for perspective on how little the disciples understood what Jesus had told them in advance about his upcoming death and resurrection.

NOTE: All Bible passages are taken from the American King James Bible.


A - THE ACCOUNT IN MATTHEW

Matthew 26 "1 And it came to pass, when Jesus had finished all these sayings, he said to his disciples, 2 You know that after two days is the feast of the passover, and the Son of man is betrayed to be crucified. 3 Then assembled together the chief priests, and the scribes, and the elders of the people, to the palace of the high priest, who was called Caiaphas, 4 And consulted that they might take Jesus by subtlety, and kill him. 5 But they said, Not on the feast day, lest there be an uproar among the people. 6 Now when Jesus was in Bethany, in the house of Simon the leper, 7 There came to him a woman having an alabaster box of very precious ointment, and poured it on his head, as he sat at meat. 8 But when his disciples saw it, they had indignation, saying, To what purpose is this waste? 9 For this ointment might have been sold for much, and given to the poor. 10 When Jesus understood it, he said to them, Why trouble you the woman? for she has worked a good work on me. 11 For you have the poor always with you; but me you have not always. 12 For in that she has poured this ointment on my body, she did it for my burial. 13 Truly I say to you, Wherever this gospel shall be preached in the whole world, there shall also this, that this woman has done, be told for a memorial of her. 14 Then one of the twelve, called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests, 15 And said to them, What will you give me, and I will deliver him to you? And they covenanted with him for thirty pieces of silver. 16 And from that time he sought opportunity to betray him."

COMMENTS: Two days before the Passover feast Jesus told his disciples that he would be betrayed to be crucified. The scripture then disclosed that the chief priests, and the scribes, and the elders of the people, met at the palace of the high priest to plan how they would kill Jesus. When Jesus was in Bethany, in the house of Simon the leper, an unnamed woman brought a box of very precious ointment and poured it on his head as he was seated to eat a meal. the disciples were offended when they saw her do this, saying it was a waste because the ointment could have been sold for much money which then could be given to the poor. When Jesus observed their reaction he told them they should not bother the woman for she had done a beautiful thing for him. He told them they would always have the poor near them, but they would not always have him. He said she had poured the ointment on him in preparation for his burial, and this would be told as a memorial to her Wherever in the world the gospel was preached. Then Judas Iscariot went to the chief priests and they agreed to give him thirty pieces of silver, so he looked for an opportunity to betray Jesus to them.


B - THE ACCOUNT IN MARK

Mark 14 "1 After two days was the feast of the passover, and of unleavened bread: and the chief priests and the scribes sought how they might take him by craft, and put him to death. 2 But they said, Not on the feast day, lest there be an uproar of the people. 3 And being in Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he sat at meat, there came a woman having an alabaster box of ointment of spikenard very precious; and she broke the box, and poured it on his head. 4 And there were some that had indignation within themselves, and said, Why was this waste of the ointment made? 5 For it might have been sold for more than three hundred pence, and have been given to the poor. And they murmured against her. 6 And Jesus said, Let her alone; why trouble you her? she has worked a good work on me. 7 For you have the poor with you always, and whenever you will you may do them good: but me you have not always. 8 She has done what she could: she is come beforehand to anoint my body to the burying. 9 Truly I say to you, Wherever this gospel shall be preached throughout the whole world, this also that she has done shall be spoken of for a memorial of her. 10 And Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve, went to the chief priests, to betray him to them. 11 And when they heard it, they were glad, and promised to give him money. And he sought how he might conveniently betray him."

COMMENTS: The beginning of this account is very much like that of Matthew, as it mentions two days before the feast, the plotting against Jesus, and a meal at Simon's house in Bethany. But there is a slight difference that "some" who were at the meal "murmured" indignantly when the woman poured the very expensive ointment onto the head of Jesus. The amount of 300 pence is given here for sale of the ointment, and it is said, as in Matthew, that the money could have been given to the poor. the response by Jesus has just the slight addition that they could help the poor anytime they wanted, and that the woman had come before hand to do what she could to anoint his body for burial. What a special act this unnamed woman was able to perform and Jesus said in Mark, as recorded in Matthew, this would be reported of her as a memorial wherever the gospel is preached. Judas Iscariot went to the chief priests, to betray Jesus, but the amount of money promised to him is not mentioned here as it is in Matthew.


C - MARY AND THE PRECIOUS OINTMENT

John 12 "1 Then Jesus six days before the passover came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, which had been dead, whom he raised from the dead. 2 There they made him a supper; and Martha served: but Lazarus was one of them that sat at the table with him. 3 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. 4 Then said one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, Simon's son, which should betray him, 5 Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred pence, 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 bag, and bore what was put therein. 7 Then said Jesus, Let her alone: against the day of my burying has she kept this. 8 For the poor always you have with you; but me you have not always."

COMMENTS: The above passage in John begins six days before the Passover as Jesus came to Bethany where Lazarus was, whom he had earlier raised from the dead. The account of that resurrection appears only in the gospel of John in chapter 11, and in that same chapter John describes the beginnings of the plot by the Jewish leaders to kill Jesus. Only in Matthew's account is it recorded just before the meal in Bethany that Jesus told his disciples he would be betrayed and crucified. The house where the meal was held is not identified by John, so it may have been the same as in Matthew and Mark. The text simply says a supper was prepared, Martha served, and Lazarus was one who sat at the table. Mary took a pound of very costly ointment and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped his feet with her hair: and the house was filled with the odor of the ointment. There is no mention of anointing the head, and the amount is specified as a pound. The other two accounts say nothing about the feet of Jesus. In John's account, it is stated that Judas Iscariot made the remark about the waste of the ointment, and the stated price is the same as that recorded in Mark. John makes it clear that Judas plans to betray Jesus, and that he had no concern for the poor but rather he was a thief and had opportunity to steal because he carried the money bag. John records part of the same response from Jesus as in the other two accounts: leave the woman alone, she has done this ahead of my burial, and the poor will always be around, but I will not. The symbolic nature of what Mary had done could not be appreciated by those present then, as it can be now, through the scripture, to those who know Jesus as the risen Lord. What a beautiful thought to hold, that the sweet aroma of her gift of love filled the room.


D - PRECIOUS OINTMENT FOR BURIAL AND PRAYERS STORED UP AS FRAGRANT PERFUME

John 19 "38 And after this Joseph of Arimathaea, being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, sought Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus: and Pilate gave him leave. He came therefore, and took the body of Jesus. 39 And there came also Nicodemus, which at the first came to Jesus by night, and brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about an hundred pound weight. 40 Then took they the body of Jesus, and wound it in linen clothes with the spices, as the manner of the Jews is to bury. 41 Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden; and in the garden a new sepulcher, wherein was never man yet laid. 42 There laid they Jesus therefore because of the Jews' preparation day; for the sepulcher was near at hand."

Revelation 5 "8 And when he had taken the book, the four beasts and four and twenty elders fell down before the Lamb, having every one of them harps, and golden vials full of odors, which are the prayers of saints. 9 And they sung a new song, saying, You are worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for you were slain, and have redeemed us to God by your blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation; 10 And have made us to our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth."

COMMENTS: Joseph and Nicodemus used about 100 times more precious ointment than the woman had used in her symbolic gesture of love. They carefully wrapped the Lord's body with LINEN using the ointment in the customary manner of a respectful Jewish burial. They had believed in Jesus but there is no indication that they expected, any more than any of this other followers that he would rise and come out from the tomb on the third day. As with the woman who had anointed him at the supper, they did what they could as this opportunity came before them. What a good example for Christians in their daily walk with the Lord, that we should take the opportunities as they present themselves for actions or for fervent prayer. It is a beautiful thought to realize that in Revelation we learn that our prayers can be among the prayers of the saints stored up as in golden vials full of odors to be presented at the appointed time. As the precious ointments were a mixture of substances, our prayers should be a balanced of much praise and thanksgiving as well as requests, as we realize that the Lord directs even the small details of life.


E - THE DISCIPLES DID NOT UNDERSTAND WHEN JESUS SAID HE MUST BE CRUCIFIED

Mark 8 "27 And Jesus went out, and his disciples, into the towns of Caesarea Philippi: and by the way he asked his disciples, saying to them, Whom do men say that I am? 28 And they answered, John the Baptist; but some say, Elias; and others, One of the prophets. 29 And he said to them, But whom say you that I am? And Peter answers and said to him, You are the Christ. 30 And he charged them that they should tell no man of him. 31 And he began to teach them, that the Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected of the elders, and of the chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32 And he spoke that saying openly. And Peter took him, and began to rebuke him. 33 But when he had turned about and looked on his disciples, he rebuked Peter, saying, Get you behind me, Satan: for you mind not the things that be of God, but the things that be of men."

Mark 9 "30 And they departed there, and passed through Galilee; and he would not that any man should know it. 31 For he taught his disciples, and said to them, The Son of man is delivered into the hands of men, and they shall kill him; and after that he is killed, he shall rise the third day. 32 But they understood not that saying, and were afraid to ask him. 33 And he came to Capernaum: and being in the house he asked them, What was it that you disputed among yourselves by the way? 34 But they held their peace: for by the way they had disputed among themselves, who should be the greatest. 35 And he sat down, and called the twelve, and said to them, If any man desire to be first, the same shall be last of all, and servant of all."

Mark 10 "32 And they were in the way going up to Jerusalem; and Jesus went before them: and they were amazed; and as they followed, they were afraid. And he took again the twelve, and began to tell them what things should happen to him, 33 Saying, Behold, we go up to Jerusalem; and the Son of man shall be delivered to the chief priests, and to the scribes; and they shall condemn him to death, and shall deliver him to the Gentiles: 34 And they shall mock him, and shall whip him, and shall spit on him, and shall kill him: and the third day he shall rise again."

John 20 "8 Then went in also that other disciple, which came first to the sepulcher, and he saw, and believed. 9 For as yet they knew not the scripture, that he must rise again from the dead. 10 Then the disciples went away again to their own home."

COMMENTS: The three passages from Mark make it clear that the apostles did not understand what the Lord had told them more than once about his upcoming death and resurrection. So there is little reason to be surprised by their reaction when the woman anointed Jesus seemingly of her own accord. They had some knowledge of prophecy about the Christ which was commonly taught to Jews in the synagogues. They had the special privilege of traveling with Jesus for three years as he worked miracles, taught in public, and sometimes gave explanation to them in private. But even the chief priests and the scribes did not recognize and accept that Jesus was the promised Messiah with their extensive knowledge of scripture. The Apostle Paul discusses in 1 Corinthians chapter 12 that the wisdom that man teaches cannot compare with the things revealed by the Holy spirit, because that truth must be spiritually discerned. The brief passage above from John chapter 20 states that the two disciples who saw the empty tomb after Christ had risen, still did not yet understand from the scripture the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. Even though the New Testament scripture provides so much information about the fulfilled prophecies of Jesus as the Christ, and that he is one with God the Father, those truths can not be truly understood even today by anyone except as the Holy Spirit provides spiritual discernment.

--- REFLECTIONS IN PRAYER ---

Lord Jesus, you specifically said the loving act by this woman to use precious anointment in preparation for your upcoming burial would be included everywhere in the world that the gospel is preached. This has helped me to consider the way you are praised by humble acts of love that may not be appreciated by all who observe them because of various prejudices. I believe in her actions there may have been some elements of common courtesy for that era, but she carried it out in a lavish manner. Help me Lord, to resist any hesitation I may have to freely offer common hospitality, or to meet a need where I may assist. I believe you can make even simple acts to be a service for your kingdom though we may be unaware of how you will use them. Lord, I want to have the quality this woman displayed when she was so willing to use something for you, that was of high value that she could have kept for herself. I sometimes have the same tendency as your chosen twelve when I allow my desire to be focused on what may be gained in this life by being one of your followers. I want to be satisfied with what you have revealed to me from scripture, and to trust you for the things I cannot explain in my own surroundings or in the world as a whole. May my prayers more consistently truly have the essence of a sweet fragrance appropriate to being stored up in the golden vials of heaven. Amen.

Published 8 August 2015