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Anointing at Bethany - Part 1

Posted on 30th March, 2021


ANOINTING AT BETHANY – MT 26, 8-13; MK 14, 4-9; JN 12, 1-8


Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead.  There they made him a supper; Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at table with him.  Mary took a pound of costly ointment of pure nard and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair; and the house was filled with the fragrance of the ointment

(Jn 12, 1-3)

Anointing of Jesus


      And while he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he sat at table, a woman came with an alabaster jar of ointment of pure nard, very costly, and she broke the jar and poured it over his head.  But there were some who said to themselves indignantly, “Why was the ointment thus wasted?  For this ointment might have been sold for more than three hundred denarii, and given to the poor.”  And they reproached her.  But Jesus said, “Let her alone; why do you trouble her?  She has done a beautiful thing to me.  For you always have the poor with you, whenever you will, you can do good to them; but you will not always have me.  She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for burying.  And truly, I say to you, wherever the gospel is preached in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.” (Mk 14, 3-9)




      Jesus arrived in Bethany to be the honoured guest at the house of Simon the leper who had invited him for supper.  It was customary to honour distinguished guests by offering them scented water.[1]  Mary reserved for herself the privilege of performing the ceremony of honour not only by anointing Jesus’ head, but his feet, as well, and then wiping them with her hair.  The pure nard which weighed a pound was extremely expensive yet Mary poured out the whole of the contents so that “the house was filled with the odour of the ointment.”  She showed great generosity in expending all the costly ointment in his honour; profound humility by wiping Jesus’ feet with her hair for “who can fathom the fervour, love, and devotion with which she did it?  One does not treat a mere man in this manner, but God alone.”[2]  For Mary, Martha, and many others he was the Christ, the Anointed One, the Son of David.  He was more than a man, he was, in the least a prophet, one who possessed divine power.   

      Had they not recently witnessed the raising of their brother, Lazarus, from the dead by Jesus?  What a stupendous miracle!  Surely she kept close track of all his miracles and teachings and in adoration and devotion sat at his feet to listen to him, “Mary has chosen the good portion…” (Lk 10, 42).  Surely she had heard from his disciples Jesus’ prophecies of his impending death and, having a women’s intuition perceived that he was in very great danger from his enemies residing in Jerusalem only 11/2 miles away.  “It might have been unconscious in Mary’s mind that this anointing was an anticipated anointing for his burial… Jesus made the unconscious conscious by his defence of her ‘wasteful’ expenditure.”[3]  “The disciples criticise the extravagance of her devotion because they fail to understand the true meaning of poverty.  They see her action as a waste of money… They do not yet realise the love which motivated the woman’s actions.”[4] 

      Mary has the enviable privilege of touching the humanity of Jesus by anointing his feet with pure nard and drying them with her hair.  “She has done a beautiful thing to me…she has done what she could…and truly, I say to you, wherever the gospel is preached in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.” (Mk 14,6.8.9)  And this promise has proved itself to be true – the gospel has been preached worldwide and Mary’s “beautiful” act of love has become a well-known and admired part of it.  “Jesus does not gainsay the work of helping the poor…but the poor are helped because of him, and unless one loves him and expresses that love for him they lose their love for the poor – or else that love will become purely natural, or mostly so.  The corporal works of mercy are very important, but they cannot exist as supernatural virtues without faith, trust, and love of Jesus.”[5]      



[3] LIFE OF CHRIST, Fulton J. Sheen, pg. 298 


[5] BOOK OF THE LORD, Wilbur J. Borer, MM, pg. 393 


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