Sacrificial Gratitude Vs. Deceitful Compassion (12:1-8)

Relationship to Other Gospel Accounts. Commentators have longed debated whether the similar event in Luke 7:36-50 correlates to the event in the other three gospels. Clearly, the four gospels offer similar events. In each of them, a woman anoints Jesus with an expensive perfume from an alabaster vile and wipes His feet with her hair.
Differences with Luke. While there are some similarities, there are too many differences (especially between Luke’s account and the three other gospels) to conclude they are the same event. (1) In Luke Simon is a Pharisee yet a leper in the others. (2) Luke describes the woman as a sinner (7:37), while the other gospels reveal her to be Mary, Lazarus’ sister. (3) Both, the onlookers’ response and Jesus’ response are very different. (4) Luke’s account takes place much earlier in Jesus’ ministry whereas the event occurs just prior to His death in the other gospels.
Therefore, it appears, that two different women anoint Jesus’ feet at two separate times. Chronologically, Luke unfolds the first anointing, and all three gospel writers unfold the second (Matthew 26, Mark 14 and John 12).
Harmonization with other three gospels. The accounts in Matthew, Mark and John as well appear to have some potential conflicts. (1) Matthew and Mark clearly indicate that the event took place in Simon’s home. John seems to place the event in the home of Mary and Martha. (2) Matthew and Mark reveal that Mary poured the ointment on Jesus’ head whereas John declares that Mary poured the ointment on his feet. (3) The context in both Matthew and Mark seem to reveal that the event took place two days before Passover. John places his event six days before Passover.
Many commentators address these apparent discrepancies, drawing various conclusions. I conclude that the three gospel authors reference the same event. (1) John does not say that the event took place in Mary and Martha’s home, just that Martha was serving. Martha may very well have served in Simon the Leper’s home. (2) Matthew and Mark revealing that Mary anointed Jesus’ head does not preclude her from having anointed his feet as well. She likely anointed both his head and feet. The authors simply emphasize one over the other for some specific purpose. (3) This third potential conflict offers the greatest challenge. Both Matthew and Mark use a chronological marker of “two days before Passover” prior to unfolding the anointing event which is immediately followed by Judas’ betrayal with the chief priests. John declares that Jesus is in Bethany “six days before the Passover.” John Nolland argues that Matthew (and implies Mark) offers the anointing as an explanation for Judas’ betrayal. Matthew 26:3-5 are set 2 days before Passover take place in Jerusalem with the religious leaders. In verse 14, Judas comes to these religious leaders and betrays Jesus. The parenthetical section, the anointing, explains why Judas went to the religious leaders.
Nolland. The structure may be represented like this. Part 1: Anointing in Bethany (26:6–13) provided with a double frame, first with the conspiracy to do away with Jesus (vv. 3–5) and its parallel in Judas’s offer to make this possible (vv. 14–16)[1]
Following the above logic allows us to consider both Matthew and Mark as supplemental information concerning the anointing instead of a variant account. As a result, we come to realize (1) that the event took place 6 days before Passover, (2) that the meal was at Simon the lepers’ house in which Martha helped serve accompanied by both Lazarus and Mary, (3) that Mary’s anointing was extravagant, including both Jesus’ head and his feet, and (4) that this event was the final impetus for Judas to betray Jesus.
Significance of passage in context of the gospel. Consider the overarching point of this passage in light of the purpose of the whole Gospel. John desires to prove the deity of Jesus Christ and in so doing appeal to men to believe in Him and in believing receive eternal life. How is that purpose accomplished in this passage? John has many times throughout his gospel contrasted those who believe with those who do not believe. He does that again in this passage as he contrasts the sacrificial gratitude of true believers to the selfish, deceitful ingratitude of unbelievers.
Purpose. Extravagant worship flows from a heart filled with immense gratitude.

Mary: Sacrificial Gratitude

It was an extravagant display. (1) This perfume cost Mary a great deal of money. Judas informs us that the cost of this perfume was 300 denarii, which would be equivalent to about 1 year’s wages. The modern equivalent may be $60,000 or so. Regardless the exact amount, the perfume was extremely costly. And yet, it was gone within moments. (2) Her expensive display as well drew rebuke and criticism. I imagine she knew the potential of some negative reaction. She typically wouldn’t have been present in this manner. She wouldn’t typically have her hair down in such a menial and socially inappropriate way. And then she tops off this rather dramatic and awkward moment with pouring tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of perfume all over Jesus. There are multiple levels of potential criticism and rebuke, yet she doesn’t care. Her gratitude overflows in focused worship that removes any criticism and rebuke to the periphery.
It was a humble display. Mary put her hair down which would have been “an unthinkable act in that culture.”[2] She as well kneels and wipes his feet with her hair. What humility! Mary takes the lowliest place possible. The modern reader likely recalls the event that will soon be unfolded in which Jesus humbles himself to wash the disciples’ feet. All the disciples found this work to menial for them and were unwilling to take on the task (13:2ff). “To attend to the feet was the task of the most lowly slave.”[3]
Stedman. She spared no expense, she cared nothing for the customs of the day, entering into a supper where women were usually not welcome . . . and openly expressing her love for Jesus. But that's how love acts. It is uncaring of expense.[4]
It was an informed display. A phrase in this passage, although somewhat unclear, indicates that Mary understood that Jesus was about to die, and this extravagant display was in preparation of his death. John writes, in the ESV, “Jesus said, “Leave her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of my burial” (John 12:7). The New Living Translation offers the following, “Leave her alone. She did this in preparation for my burial.” This is similar to the NIV’s “Leave her alone,” Jesus replied. “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial.” While John’s statement seems to indicate that Mary may have understood what she was doing, the other gospel authors more clearly indicate that Mary was fully aware of her actions.
In pouring this ointment on my body, she has done it to prepare me for burial. (Matt 26:12).
She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for burial. (Mark 14:8).
Mary understood that this act was in preparation for Jesus’ death. It appears that she alone understood. Jesus had already announced that he was headed to Jerusalem where the chief priests and scribes would “mock him and spit on him and flog him and kill him” (Mark 10:34). Yet we know, according to John 13-14, that the disciples hadn’t accepted, heard, or understood this statement.
Yet, Mary understood it. She understood the suffering that awaited Christ. Motivated by her knowledge, her immense love, and overwhelming gratitude, Mary dramatically worshiped Christ.
Why did she know, when it appears no one else seemed to understand? While we can only speculate, her knowledge may be due to her consistent desire to sit at the feet of Jesus.
How do we sit at his feet? (MacArthur writes about Barnhouse.) Bible scholar Donald G. Barnhouse was once traveling by air and reading the book of Romans . . . and there was a seminary student sitting next to him on the plane. The student was reading Time magazine and kept looking up from his magazine and staring over because he kept thinking he recognized the man. Finally, the student asked him, “Sir, I don’t want to interrupt you but aren’t you Dr. Donald Barnhouse?”
When Dr. Barnhouse responded yes, the student shared, “Dr. Barnhouse, you’re such a fabulous teacher of the Scripture. I wish that I could know the Bible like you do.”
Dr. Barnhouse looked at him and said, “Well you could start by putting down Time magazine and reading the Bible.”[5]
Worship comes in various forms. Not all displays of gratitude are similar. Simon has Jesus into his home. Martha serves Jesus. Lazarus fellowships with Jesus. But the display of gratitude that is the focus of this passage is that of Mary’s. Mary displays extravagant gratitude in stark contrast to Judas’ actions.
All of them displayed great bravery in this meal. The Sanhedrin has already ordered everyone to report if they see Jesus. They had already determined to kill him. This feast, alone, was an act of defiance. Simon, who likely was one of the lepers healed by Jesus, opened his home and in so doing was placed in a great deal of danger.
Lazarus was as well in a great deal of danger. John writes in verses 10-11, “the chief priests made plans to put Lazarus to death as well, because on account of him many of the Jews were going away and believing in Jesus” (John 12:10–11).
This is not just a meal. It is an act of defiance against the Sanhedrin, and the meal itself is an act of worship and gratitude to Jesus.

Judas: Deceitful Compassion

It was a hypocritical display. Judas didn’t care about the poor. Both Matthew and Mark avoid identifying Judas as the speaker. Mark writes, “there were some who said to themselves.” While we can’t be certain, some commentators argue that Matthew and Mark avoid using Judas’ name so that they don’t attribute even a slightly positive motive to Jesus’ betrayer (ie. a desire to give to the poor). John chooses to name the speaker but decides to immediately declare him to be the one “who was about to betray him (12:4).
Judas’ statement, removed from any motivation, is not absurd. Mary’s dramatic display was extreme and incredibly costly. A year’s wages truly could have benefited the poor a great deal. Yet, John informs us that Judas didn’t care about the poor. He just wanted more money placed into the moneybag, giving him access to steal even more.
It was a selfish display. John alone peers into the heart of Judas and reveals the darkened motive. “He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it” (John 12:6).
It was an ungrateful display. Having walked with Christ for three years, Judas still possessed no love for Christ, and love for money still ruled his heart.
Christ had loved and invested in Judas for three years, yet Judas betrayed him for 30 pieces of silver, a value nearly a third the cost of Mary’s perfume. Judas wanted oversight of the moneybag so that he could freely steal from it. Mary broke open a vial of perfume that would have cost a year’s wages and in one moment spent it all in one act of adoration.


Purpose. Extravagant worship flows from a heart filled with immense gratitude.
Mary recognized Jesus’ significance and impending sacrifice and in a very bold and costly action extravagantly worshiped Jesus.
As we have already displayed, there are differing styles and types of worship, but worship of God flows from a heart and mind that understand the significance of the forgiveness found in Christ.
The reverse is as well true. A lack of worship reveals a heart and mind that have failed to realize the immense significance of Christ’s work and the level of one’s own brokenness and sinfulness.
[1] John Nolland, The Gospel of Matthew: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 2005), 1042.
[2] Ray C. Stedman, God’s Loving Word: Exploring the Gospel of John (Grand Rapids, MI : Nashville, Tenn: Discovery House, 1993).
[3] Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John, Rev. ed., The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2008).
[4] Stedman, God’s Loving Word.
[5] MacArthur, John. How to Study the Bible. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2009.
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