Remember Jesus Christ

By Charles R Erdman

Chapter 7 - The Anointing at Bethany


The fourth day of Holy Week seems to have been spent by our Lord in retirement at Bethany. He was, however, honored by a feast in the home of Simon the leper whom Christ may have previously cured of leprosy. Possibly with more exactness as to time, the Gospel of John places the scene of this feast a few days earlier than the Gospels of Matthew and Mark place it; but both Matthew and Mark, with an apparently unconscious stroke of literary art, present a picture of devoted love in startling contrast to one of foul conspiracy and another of base treachery.

The foul conspiracy was that of “the chief priests and the scribes, and the elders of the people” who gathered in the palace of the high priest called Caiaphas, and took counsel together in order to arrest Jesus by stealth and secure His condemnation to death. But they said, “Not on the feast day, lest there be an uproar among the people.” Little did these murderers dream that this Feast of Passover was precisely the time when their vile purpose would be accomplished, nor could the disciples of Christ ever forget that He had told them plainly that after two days the Son of man would be delivered up to be crucified. He knew that at no other time could the “Passover Lamb” be slain.

The base treachery was that of Judas Iscariot, who was about to win for himself an immortality of ignominy by betraying his Lord into the hands of His enemies. The prodigal gift which, in the house of Simon, was poured out upon the Master, and the rebuke given to Judas at that time, may have been the last goads which prodded him on to his crime. He hurries away to the chief priests and offers to give them the shameful help they need. For thirty pieces of silver, the price of a slave, he agrees to secure the arrest of Jesus at a place where the crowds will not be present. There is no possibility of offering the least defense of Judas, nor of denying that his vulgar motive was avarice; yet, on the other hand, he must not be regarded as an inhuman, demonic monster. He is an example of the depths to which any man may sink, who, while in daily fellowship with Christ, does not renounce and master his besetting sin.

The devoted love was that which was shown by Mary of Bethany. She must not ever be confused with Mary Magdalene, nor yet with the “repentant woman” in Capernaum who bathed our Savior's feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. This Mary was the pure and sympathetic sister of Martha and Lazarus, of whom we read “now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.” In their hospitable home Jesus often was glad to be a guest, and there at Bethany He spent much of this last week. On this occasion, however, the Master was being entertained by Simon the leper, who invited Him and His friend Lazarus to a feast in his own house. While they were seated at the table Mary entered the room bearing in her hand a flask of perfume, of spikenard, “very precious.” In breaking the flask, she not only follows a custom of the day, which was to anoint with oil the head of an honored guest, but she lavishly pours the fragrant perfume upon the feet of Jesus; then, in deep humility, she bows and wipes His feet with her hair. The mention of Lazarus and his presence at the feast indicates the occasion and the motive which inspires the generous act on the part of Mary; it supremely is her gratitude to Christ for the miracle He had wrought in restoring to her the brother who had been dead. This motive has been interpreted by the poet Tennyson in his familiar lines:

Her eyes were homes of silent prayer,

     No other thought her mind admits,

     But he was dead, and there he sits,

And He who brought him back is there.


Then one deep love doth supersede

     All others, as her ardent gaze

     Turns from her living brother's face

To rest upon the Life indeed.


All subtle thought, all curious fears,

     Borne down by gladness so complete,

     She bows, she bathes the Saviour's feet

With costly spikenard and with tears.

Such an act could arouse in the dark heart of Judas only jealous resentment, and he was heard to say: “Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred pence, and given to the poor?” “This he said, not that he cared for the poor, but because he was a thief, and had the bag [the money-box], and used to take what was put therein.”

Our Savior at once rebukes him, rewards Mary, and gives an inspiring message to all of His followers: “Why trouble ye the woman? for she hath wrought a good work upon me.” He is saying that no sacrifice made for His sake is wasted, none is too great. Furthermore, the^thing that is morally admirable is not always the most practical. To use such a precious gift, simply to show gratitude, may seem extravagant, wasteful, prodigal; it would appear more wise and sensible to sell such a treasure and give the proceeds to the poor. Christ insists, however, that the act of Mary was “good.” There is a place in life for sentiment, and there are expressions of love which cannot be measured in silver and gold.

As to “the poor,” they are always with us and never are to be neglected. Our duty to provide for them is continual. There are, however, forms of service undertaken for the sake of Christ which may have, at times, an immediate appeal. Their opportunity may be fleeting and should be accepted before it is too late: “For ye have the poor always with you; but me ye have not always.” At a particular time our first duty, our supreme privilege, may be to show our devotion to Christ.

We notice also that our Lord places the highest possible valuation upon any sacrifice made for His sake. He interprets the act of Mary as preparing His body for burial. There are those who think that Mary realized all that she was doing. They hold that Mary had noticed a shadow resting on the face of Christ. She knew He was soon to die and felt that this shadow was caused by His belief that His death was near; it was, therefore, to show her sympathy for His secret distress that she poured upon Him her treasured perfume. It is more probable, however, that Christ wished to say that Mary had done more than she knew. Actually she had not only shown her love, but had anticipated a mysterious need which was very near. He realized that within two days He would be crucified. Mary was accepting a last opportunity of showing her devotion: “In that she hath poured this ointment on my body, she did it for my burial.” So in the future we shall learn that every sacrifice made for the sake of Christ will be found to mean more than we had intended or supposed.

Thus our Lord adds this surprising word: “Verily I say to you, Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached in the whole world, there shall also this, that this woman hath done, be told for a memorial of her.” Thus the influence of a sacrifice made for the sake of Christ can never be lost. When Mary had poured out the ointment on the head and feet of our Lord, “the house was filled with the odor of the ointment”; but more than that, the whole world, wherever the gospel has been preached, has been filled with the fragrance of this deed of devotion. The memory of this sacrificial gift has inspired countless followers of Christ to pour out their lives in His service, as in gratitude they have yielded to Him their allegiance and their love.