Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 2There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. 3Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them* with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. 4But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, 5‘Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii* and the money given to the poor?’ 6(He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) 7Jesus said, ‘Leave her alone. She bought it* so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. 8You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.’
9 When the great crowd of the Jews learned that he was there, they came not only because of Jesus but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 10So the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death as well, since it was on account of him that many of the Jews were deserting and were believing in Jesus.
Jesus returned to Bethany the week before Passover, to the home of Mary and Martha and their brother Lazarus. And they gave a dinner for him – Martha served and Lazarus was at the table with him —
Isn’t it interesting how the author includes these domestic details that give us a picture of what is happening? In the culture of the first century women did not often join the men at the table, but served the meal, as Martha was doing. The men would have reclined on cushions around a low table, rather than sitting in chairs. In this way, their feet would have been behind them – making it possible for Mary to come up to anoint Jesus’ feet.
And so, Mary came into the room with a very expensive perfume, which she poured on Jesus’ feet; and she wiped his feet with her hair. Note: this is a different story from the one that Luke tells in which Jesus is dining with a Pharisee named Simon and a woman of the city, a sinful woman, bathes his feet with her tears and dries them with her hair, then anoints them with a costly perfume in an alabaster jar. (Luke 7:36 – 38) That was an act of love in appreciation for the forgiveness and the new life given the sinful woman. In John’s story, the anointing is the act of a dear friend, somehow prompted by the Spirit to prepare Jesus’ body for burial – it is a prelude to what is coming. Of course, those gathered at the table complain, especially Judas Iscariot, who said the money should have been given to the poor, that this is wasteful. Of course, the author points out that Judas said this because he had hoped to profit from what was put into his purse. Jesus tells them to leave her alone – she had bought the perfume to anoint his body for burial. His time is coming; he will not always be with them. Now this sentence is never intended to stand as an excuse for not caring for the poor, but as a warning about not showing our love for Jesus when we can. Sometimes an extravagance is in order (such as having fresh flowers on Sunday mornings!); and sometimes it is time to give to the poor (bring food for the Food Pantry tomorrow!)
But the “crowd” heard that Jesus was there, in Bethany, and they came there, hoping to see both Jesus and Lazarus, the man who had been raised from the dead. And, realizing that Lazarus was himself a sign, the Chief Priests planned to put him to death as well. Some of the people who came were coming to gawk, but some came and believed.