12 Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. 2 Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. 3 Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.
4 But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, 5 “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.” 6 He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.
7 “Leave her alone,” Jesus replied. “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. 8 You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.”
9 Meanwhile a large crowd of Jews found out that Jesus was there and came, not only because of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 10 So the chief priests made plans to kill Lazarus as well, 11 for on account of him many of the Jews were going over to Jesus and believing in him.
(John 12:1-11 NIV)
It had been roughly a month since Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead at the end of chapter 11. Jesus had taken His disciples to Ephraim, a small village about a day’s walk north of Jerusalem because of the threats against His life. His time had not yet come.
John begins by slowing the story timeline down from months and weeks to days. In verse 1, John specifically mentions that Jesus arrives back in Bethany exactly six days before Passover. Someone throws a party in Jesus’ honor, and Lazarus is a special guest as well. Martha is serving, and Mary shows up to worship Jesus.
Two other Gospel stories capture the story of Mary anointing Jesus with expensive perfume. Matthew 26:6-13 and Mark 14:3-9 both record the story of Mary honoring Jesus. Each Gospel account tells the story from slightly different angles. Matthew records that Mary pours the perfume on Jesus’ head (an anointing), and the name of the host (Simon). Mark records that the perfume was incredibly expensive, worth more than a year’s wages. John records the most personal detail of all the accounts: the woman’s name (Mary), and the fact that she anointed Jesus’ feet with the perfume, and the fragrance of the perfume filled the entire house.
Matthew and Mark record that people objected to this perfume being “wasted” on Jesus, as the perfume should have been sold and the money given to the poor. John records the person objecting (Judas Iscariot, who would later betray Jesus), and why he objected (more money available to steal – he had no interest in helping the poor).
In all three Gospel accounts, Jesus tells the objectors to leave Mary alone. Jesus uses the scene to teach those in His hearing about His impending death, and how this is like a preparation for His subsequent burial. Jesus was not in denial about His death. In fact, He was quite the opposite – He already counted Himself as dead.
Also, Jesus said that the precious commodity in short supply was not the perfume or even the money that could be made by selling the perfume. The precious commodity was Himself, as He would not be with them much longer. Notice that Jesus valued community and relationship far greater than material goods or money.
John closes this section by recording that a crowd showed up to get a glimpse of Jesus. Someone alerts the Pharisees that Jesus is back in the area and was seen with Lazarus again. The Pharisees now add Lazarus to the murder plot, since he is a walking reminder of Jesus’ mighty miracles. Jesus is a marked man, and anyone associated with Him is also in mortal danger.
While John certainly records the most personal account of this dinner party and the events taking place, he also records (in my opinion) the greatest faith lessons for our hearts. John captures the relationships that were near and dear to Jesus as well as the heart intents of the main characters. In Mary we see humility and worship; in Martha, service, in Lazarus, abiding; in Judas Iscariot, selfishness and greed.
May we have loving, generous, and tender hearts toward the Lord like Mary, seeking to honor Him with all that we are and have.