JESUS RETURNS TO BETHANY, NEAR JERUSALEM
MARY POURS PERFUMED OIL ON JESUS
Leaving Jericho, Jesus heads for Bethany. The trip involves a climb of some 12 miles (20 km) over difficult terrain. Jericho is about 820 feet (250 m) below sea level, and Bethany is about 2,000 feet (610 m) above sea level. Lazarus and his two sisters live in the little village of Bethany, which is about two miles (3 km) from Jerusalem and on the eastern slope of the Mount of Olives.
Many Jews have already arrived in Jerusalem for the Passover. They have come early “to cleanse themselves ceremonially” in case they have touched a dead body or done something else that makes them unclean. (John 11:55; Numbers 9:6-10) Some of these who arrive early gather at the temple. They speculate on whether Jesus will come to the Passover.
There is great controversy regarding Jesus. Some religious leaders want to seize him to put him to death. In fact, they have ordered that if any learn of Jesus’ whereabouts, they are to report to them ‘so that they can seize him.’ (John 11:57) These leaders have already tried to kill Jesus after he resurrected Lazarus. (John 11:49-53) Understandably, some may doubt whether Jesus will appear in public at all.
Jesus arrives at Bethany on Friday, “six days before the Passover.” (John 12:1) A new day (Sabbath, Nisan 8) begins at sundown. Thus, he has completed the trip before the Sabbath. He could not have traveled from Jericho on the Sabbath
Simon, who also lives in Bethany, invites Jesus and his companions, including Lazarus, for a meal Saturday evening. Simon is called “the leper,” perhaps being a former leper whom Jesus had at some point healed. Reflecting her industrious character, Martha ministers to the guests. Mary is particularly attentive to Jesus, this time in a way that stirs controversy.
Mary opens an alabaster case, or small flask, that holds about “a pound of perfumed oil, genuine nard.” (John 12:3) This oil is very precious, its value (300 denarii) being the equivalent of about a year’s wages! Mary pours the oil on Jesus’ head and on his feet and then wipes his feet with her hair. The aromatic scent fills the whole house.
The disciples are angry and ask: “Why has this perfumed oil been wasted?” (Mark 14:4) Judas Iscariot objects, saying: “Why was this perfumed oil not sold for 300 denarii and given to the poor?” (John 12:5) Judas is not really concerned about the poor. He has been stealing from the money box he keeps for the disciples.
Jesus defends Mary, saying: “Why do you try to make trouble for the woman? She did a fine deed toward me. For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me. When she put this perfumed oil on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. Truly I say to you, wherever this good news is preached in all the world, what this woman did will also be told in memory of her.”
He has now been in Bethany for more than a day, and word of Jesus’ presence has spread about. Many Jews come to Simon’s house not only to see Jesus but also to see Lazarus, “whom [Jesus] had raised up from the dead.” (John 12:9) The chief priests now take counsel to kill both Jesus and Lazarus. These religious leaders feel that Lazarus’ being alive again is the reason why many people are putting faith in Jesus. How wicked these religious leaders are!