Anointing Jesus for Burial

At church this morning, the pastor preached about the story in John 12:1-8 about Mary anointing Jesus for burial.

In John 12:1-8, Mary (the sister of Martha, not Jesus’ mother) anoints Jesus’ feet with nard while he is having dinner with her brother Lazarus and others.  Jesus’ disciple Judas expresses fake outrage that the perfume was not sold and the money given to the poor, for the perfume was worth a year’s wages.  Jesus tells Judas to leave Mary alone, for she was preparing his body for burial.

The pastor said that Jesus, at this point at least, realized that what he was doing in his ministry would lead to his death.  The pastor asked when exactly it dawned on Jesus that he would die: did he know when he was a child?  The pastor had his doubts about that.  He thought that it dawned on Jesus later.

Somehow, Mary knew that Jesus would soon die.  Maybe Jesus shared that with her.  In any case, she cared enough about Jesus to minister to him when he was about to die.  And the smell of nard would be on Jesus when he was dying on the cross.  The pastor was talking about how we can be like Mary and care for people when they are suffering.

I did an Internet search to find where exactly in John’s Gospel this story was.  It turns out that there is a parallel to this story, in Matthew 26:6-13.  There, Jesus is having dinner at the house of Simon the leper.  The woman is not named, and she pours the perfume on Jesus’ head; the story here does not say that she poured it on his feet.  The disciples in general, not just Judas, express outrage that the perfume was not sold and the money given to the poor.

There is also a parallel in Mark 14:3-9.  The Mark story is more like Matthew’s version than the story in John.  There is a commonality between Mark and John, however: both point out that the perfume is worth a year’s wages.  Unlike in Matthew and John, Mark is not very specific about who criticized the woman for her deed: Mark just says that some of those present at the meal were criticizing her.  In one part of the story, Mark also spells things out more than Matthew and John: Mark has Jesus saying that the poor are with you always, then explaining that people can help them whenever they want.  Matthew and John say that the poor are with you always, without explaining the point of that.

Are these reconcilable?  Maybe.  John does not say that the meal took place at the home of Simon the leper, but John does not say where exactly the meal took place.  One would think that John places it at the home of Lazarus, since Martha is serving it; that may be likely, but it is not necessarily the case.

Some may think that these are different versions of the same event.  Maybe some fundamentalists would see the events as so different that they would posit them as two separate events.  Some liberal scholars may argue that ideology is behind some of the differences in detail: John wants to make Judas the one who was critical of Jesus.

Maybe something like this happened in history.  It is a beautiful story, though, about a woman who cared enough about Jesus to honor and to comfort him when he was about to die.



About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. I study the History of Biblical Interpretation at Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio, as part of its Ph.D. program. I have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting.
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