Mary of Bethany Anoints Jesus - Bible Story Summary

A Scandalous Act Expressing Extravagant Love

Mary Anoints Jesus
SuperStock / Getty Images

Scripture Reference:

John 12:1-8; Matthew 26:6-13; Mark 14:3-9.

Mary of Bethany Anoints Jesus - Story Summary:

Jesus Christ and his disciples came to Bethany, a few miles outside Jerusalem, to the house of Simon the Leper, for a meal honoring Jesus.  No doubt Jesus had healed Simon of the disease, or Simon would have been banished to outside the village.

Also present was Lazarus, whom Jesus had raised from the dead.

  Lazarus' sister Martha was serving the food.

Mary, Lazarus' other sister, came into the room with an alabaster container of liquid nard, a very precious perfume.  She broke the jar and anointed Jesus on his head and feet, then began wiping his feet with her hair.

Judas Iscariot, who would later betray Jesus, became indignant.  He scolded Mary because of the extravagance, saying the perfume could have been sold for a year's wages and the money given to the poor.

But it was not out of charity that Judas objected.  He was in charge of the group's money and stole from the common treasury.  Perhaps he coveted that wealth.

Jesus quickly defended Mary:

“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, NIV

Points of Interest from the Story:

  • As in Luke 10:38-42, Martha tended to the practical matter of serving food while Mary expressed her deep love for Jesus in another way.
  • An anointing episode in Luke 7:36-39 involved a different woman, a year earlier at the home of a Pharisee.  Her name was not mentioned but she was called a sinner.
  • Nard, or spikenard as it is called in the King James Version, was an extremely expensive perfume made from a root grown in the Himalaya mountains in northern India. The oil was kept in jars of alabaster, a white stone substance, and sealed with wax.  This luxury implies Lazarus and his family were very wealthy.  The detail that the fragrance filled the house seems to come from an eyewitness account of the incident.
  • Mary's act of coming into the room with the men if she were not serving would have been considered scandalous.  Even more scandalous was untying her hair and wiping Jesus' feet with it.  Jesus saw into her heart, however.  She acted solely out of chaste love for her Savior, not caring what men thought of her.
  • Judas acted completely in character as a petty, greedy man who cared about money more than people.  He later betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver, then gave that money back and hanged himself.
  • Jesus acknowledged Mary's act for what it was: a recognition of him as the sacrifice for humanity's sins and a symbolic anointing of him before his approaching death.  He praised Mary for her selflessness.  

Question for Reflection:

Mary didn't care what others thought of her.  Her motive was bringing glory to Jesus.  Am I more concerned with impressing people or loving God?

(Sources:  New Bible Commentary, D.A. Carson, R.T. Francis, J.A. Moyer, and G.J. Wenham, editors; Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Trent C. Butler, editor; International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, James Orr, general editor; gotquestions.org.)