A memorial

Mary’s awareness that Jesus was about to die prompted her to make an extreme sacrifice in order to demonstrate her love for him. According to John’s gospel, Jesus was in the home of Martha eating supper with a group of men. “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 odour of the ointment” (John 12:3). “Mary’s act of devotion was costly. It was also an unusual act, both because she poured the oil on Jesus’ feet (normally it was poured on the head) and because she used her hair to wipe them (a respectable woman did not unbind her hair in public). Further, it showed her humility, for it was a servant’s work to attend to the feet” (note on John 12:3).

John went on to say that Judas Iscariot, the disciple that would betray Jesus, questioned the use of Mary’s oil for such a purpose. He asked, “Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred pence, and given to the poor?” (John 12:5). Judas’ knowledge of the value of the ointment probably came from his experience in selling such products. John noted that Judas’ question was motivated by greed. He commented, “This he said, not that he cared for the poor; but because he was a thief, and had the bag, and bare what was put therein” (John 12:6). The contrast between Mary and Judas’ behavior showed that Mary’s devotion to Jesus was genuine and her act of kindness was not meant to draw attention to herself. On the contrary, Mary wanted to draw attention to the sacrifice Jesus was about to make.

The cost of the oil that Mary used to anoint Jesus’ feet was practically an entire years wages (note on Mark 14:5). It is likely that it was her only possession with any significant value. The oil was kept in a sealed flask with a long neck that was broken off when the contents were used (note on Mark 14:3). Therefore, the oil was meant for a single use on a special occasion. Mary may have intended to use the oil on her wedding night or for the burial of a loved one. The fact that Mary used the oil to anoint Jesus’s feet indicated he was the most important person in her life and his death the most significant event she could think of for the use of her precious ointment.

Jesus rebuked Judas for his criticism of Mary’s action and stated emphatically:

Let her alone; why trouble you her? she hath wrought a good work on me. For ye have the poor with you always, and whensoever ye will ye may do them good: but me ye have not always. She hath done what she could: she is come aforehand to anoint my body to the burying. Verily I say unto you, Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached throughout the whole world, this also that she hath done shall be spoken of for a memorial of her. (Mark 14:6-9)

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