Jesus and Food – Mary’s Anointing at a Meal

Jesus and Food – Mary’s Anointing at a Meal

Jesus and Food – Mary’s Anointing at a Meal.

“Six days before the Passover celebration began, Jesus arrived in Bethany, the home of Lazarus – the man He had raised from the dead. A dinner was prepared in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, and Lazarus was among those who ate with Him. Then Mary took a twelve-ounce jar of expensive perfume made from essence of nard, and she anointed Jesus’ feet with it, wiping His feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance.” (John 12:1-3).

Mary of Bethany was a much-loved friend of Jesus, along with her sister Martha and brother Lazarus. Their home in the little village of Bethany served Jesus well in His travels, as He was a frequent guest. Bethany was only two miles east of Jerusalem and on the eastern slope of the Mount of Olives, and so one could imagine Jesus dropping by whenever He was in Jerusalem.

Mary proved herself a devoted disciple of Jesus time and again. Her primary gesture of devotion seemed to be worshiping at Jesus’ feet. Whenever we see her in the Gospels, she was at His feet, whether she was listening to Him teach, grieving for her brother, or anointing His feet.

  1. Listening. In Luke 10 we find her at home, sitting at the feet of Jesus as He teaches. He commended her for doing “the one thing needful,” even after her sister Martha complained that she was stuck with all the work in their hospitality. There was Martha, “distracted with many things,” and there was Mary, totally absorbed and hanging on every word of Christ. Mary demonstrated her piety by being undistracted in the midst of the distractions. Perhaps Jesus was saying that, despite the loving attention to detail in hospitality, it wouldn’t be the end of the world if they skipped lunch and instead tended to the “main course,” the Bread of Life. Eugene Peterson said as much in the Message – “Martha, dear Martha, you’ve been fussing far too much and getting yourself worked up over nothing. One thing only is essential, and Mary has chosen it – it’s the main course and won’t be taken from her.” (Luke 10:41-42). For Mary to assume the role of disciple was somewhat controversial, since women were generally not allowed to be directly taught by a rabbi. Jesus, though, welcomed her avid interest in His teaching.
  2. Grieving. Mary’s brother Lazarus has died, and there is deep grieving in Bethany (John 11). Jesus has delayed His arrival, even though Lazarus was a close friend. Mary and Martha, in their grief, are gravely disappointed that Jesus seemed late in arriving. They are both convinced that Jesus could have healed him if He had come sooner. Martha met Jesus first, standing on the outskirts of town. After Jesus tried to comfort Martha by claiming, “I AM the Resurrection and the Life,” Martha returned to the house to fetch Mary, who was in the company of mourners inside. She tells Mary, “The Teacher is here, and He is asking for you.” John reports that Mary “immediately” went outside to greet Jesus (John 11:28, 31). Once again, Mary reflexively fell at His feet, another gesture of devotion. Mary expressed her disappointment with His apparent tardiness, and it is telling that it was with Mary that Jesus wept so deeply.  Mary then led Jesus to the tomb where Lazarus had been buried for four days. Showing the bystanders the glory of God, Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. John then mentioned that “many of the people who were with Mary believed in Jesus.” (John 11:45).
  3. Anointing. On the Saturday before the triumphant Palm Sunday, Jesus was honored with a dinner of gratitude at the home of His dear friends, Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. At some point during the festivities, Mary took a family treasure, a liter of very expensive oil of nard, an extremely costly perfume, and poured it over Jesus’ feet. Nard was unusually extravagant for this setting, a perfume that was imported from India, and was worth a year’s wages. This gesture of devotion was unexpected and shocked the disciples looking on. She then did something even more shocking. Mary let down her hair and wiped His feet. That act was in fact seen as an intimate gesture with erotic overtones. Any woman letting her hair down with any man except her husband was suggestive and provocative, bordering on scandalous. Mary was not in the least self-conscious, apparently. She didn’t mind the overtones, and neither did Jesus. In fact, He commended her for this anointing. Jesus accepted this act as a foreshadowing of His death and burial. Her gesture anticipated Jesus’ Passion, and in fact it meant she was probably more ready to understand His death than the disciples. Mary wanted to offer this anointing as a symbol of His coming sacrifice, a gesture of devotion and respect done to Jesus’ body before its time. (John 12:1-7).

The Eastern Orthodox Church believes that Mary of Bethany was among the famous “myrrh-bearing women” who went to Jesus’ tomb to anoint His body with spices. They were the first to see the empty tomb. That prospect would fit perfectly with Mary’s established character of contemplative piety and single-minded devotion. Church tradition holds that Lazarus was expelled from Jerusalem soon after the martyrdom of Stephen, and that Mary and Martha both accompanied him as they spread the Good News in other lands. The three of them ended up in Cyprus, where Lazarus became bishop of the Christian church there. All three remained there in Cyprus until the end of their days.