Jesus Anointed at Bethany
1 It was now two days before Passover and the Festival of Unleavened Bread. The leading priests and the teachers of religious law were still looking for an opportunity to capture Jesus secretly and kill him. 2 "But not during the Passover celebration," they agreed, "or the people may riot."
3 Meanwhile, Jesus was in Bethany at the home of Simon, a man who had previously had leprosy. While he was eating, a woman came in with a beautiful alabaster jar of expensive perfume made from essence of nard. She broke open the jar and poured the perfume over his head.
4 Some of those at the table were indignant. "Why waste such expensive perfume?" they asked. 5 "It could have been sold for a year's wages and the money given to the poor!" So they scolded her harshly.
6 But Jesus replied, "Leave her alone. Why criticize her for doing such a good thing to me? 7 You will always have the poor among you, and you can help them whenever you want to. But you will not always have me. 8 She has done what she could and has anointed my body for burial ahead of time. 9 I tell you the truth, wherever the Good News is preached throughout the world, this woman's deed will be remembered and discussed."
Judas Agrees to Betray Jesus
10 Then Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve disciples, went to the leading priests to arrange to betray Jesus to them. 11 They were delighted when they heard why he had come, and they promised to give him money. So he began looking for an opportunity to betray Jesus.
As the Passover celebration rapidly approaches, the religious leaders once again conspire to kill Jesus. Meanwhile, Jesus and his disciples are in Bethany where, at the home of friends, a woman demonstrates her affection for Jesus by pouring a bottle of very expensive perfume over his head. Jesus says that she has anointed his body for burial and that what she has done will never be forgotten. Then Judas Iscariot goes to the same religious leaders who are seeking Jesus' life and agrees to deliver Jesus to them.
Passover and the Festival of Unleavened Bread (Mark 14:1)
"The Passover was of supreme theological significance for the Israelites, since it marked one of the most momentous acts of divine intervention in their history, the beginning of their deliverance from bondage in Egypt when, in the final plague, God destroyed the firstborn of the Egyptians but spared those Israelites whose homes had blood smeared on the doorposts (Exodus 12:11–30). God commanded that the day was to be observed as a memorial feast (12:14)."1529 Passover was "observed in Jerusalem (cf. Deuteronomy 16:5-6)" and "celebrated on Nisan (March-April) 14-15 (which most say was Thursday-Friday of Jesus' Passion Week). ... The Passover meal was eaten at the beginning of Nisan 15, that is, between sunset and midnight Thursday evening. This was followed immediately by the festival of Unleavened Bread celebrated from Nisan 15-21 ... These two Jewish festivals were closely related and in popular usage were often designated as the 'Jewish Passover Feast' (an eight-day festival, Nisan 14-21),"1530 or simply the "week of Passover."1531
The Mosaic Law commanded every adult male who lived within fifteen miles of Jerusalem to attend the Passover. However, "it was the one ambition of every Jew to eat at least one Passover in Jerusalem before he died. Therefore from every country in the world pilgrims came flocking to the Passover Feast."1532 We can easily imagine the festive chaos as Jerusalem's population swelled to several times the norm. (Jerusalem was never more than a mile long and about a half-mile wide. The normal population was 50,000. A conservative estimate of the population during Passover is 250,000.1533) The Romans were right to be concerned, since "[r]ecalling God's great act of salvation in history could inspire thoughts of revolt."1534 Because the occasion was ripe for riot and rebellion, the Roman army was on a high state of alert during this time. As eager as the religious leaders were to get rid of Jesus, they knew that doing so in public during a national feast could easily result in a riot and subsequent retaliation by the governing authorities.1535
Capture ... and kill (Mark 14:1)
While the religious leaders were "always considering the opportunities" for doing away with Jesus, his popularity prevented them from openly arresting him, lest Jesus' supporters riot.1536 ("Orientals," notes one Bible commentator, "fly easily into the most violent rage, especially when they are congregated in great mobs."1537) Regarding the desire to be rid of Jesus, one source notes:
The plan to kill Jesus was not new. It was of long standing (Mark 3:6; 12:7; John 5:18; 7:1, 19, 25; 8:37, 40; 11:53). We may well believe, however, that due to events of recent days the leaders were now more determined than ever to destroy Jesus. Their envy had been increased by the raising of Lazarus from the dead, causing many people to believe in Jesus (John 11:45-53), by the triumphal entry's effects upon the crowds (Mark 11:1-11), by the cleansing of the temple (Mark 11:15-18, 27-28), by parables which the leaders knew were aimed against them (Mark 12:12), and by the woes pronounced against the scribes and Pharisees (Mark 12:38-40; cf. Matthew 23).1538
Poured the perfume over his head (Mark 14:3)
We know from a parallel account (John 12:3) that it was Mary (of Bethany, the "sister of Martha and Lazarus1539) who anointed Jesus. (It may well be that Mark "withheld her name because, when he wrote, she was still alive and to publish her name might entail evil consequences for her from Jewish haters of Jesus."1540) At that time and place "it was customary to anoint the heads of Rabbis."1541 Too, "[i]t was a common custom at some Jewish meals for the honored guests to be anointed with oil (see Luke 7:44-46), but it would not be expensive nard. Such an anointing, with expensive oil and pouring it on the head as well as the feet, pictured a royal (messianic) anointing."1542
"A jar made of alabaster stone was normally used for very precious substances like perfumes. It normally had a long neck which was sealed and had to be broken off so the contents could be used."1543 Mary's was an act of reckless extravagance: the perfume she poured on Jesus could cost the equivalent of a year's wages for a common laborer. (Translation: A commoner would have to work for an entire year to earn the money to buy it.) The perfume, "imported from the mountains of India,"1544 was made from a mixture of oil and nard, a "[p]erennial herb with strong, fragrant roots."1545 "Life savings were often invested in jars of such ointments that maintained or grew in value."1546 "Along with the perfume, Mary poured out her heart in gratitude and devotion!"1547 As one Bible commentator has noted: "If love is true, there must always be a certain extravagance in it. It does not nicely calculate the less or more. It is not concerned to see how little it can decently give. If it gave all it had, the gift would still be too little. There is a recklessness in love which refuses to count the cost."1548
Scolded her harshly (Mark 14:5)
The disciples completely misunderstood "Mary's unselfish act of worship."1549 Her tangible demonstration of gratitude and devotion was lost on them. ("The essence of worshiping Christ is to regard him with utmost love, respect, and devotion, as well as to be willing to sacrifice to him what is most precious."1550) "Poor Mary! Almost wherever she looks, she meets angry glances, shocked disapproval. That the native language of love is lavishness these men do not seem to understand."1551 One Bible commentator notes the irony of the situation:
"And be given to the poor" hides the thieving motive of Judas behind the suggestion of generous charity for the poor. Think of it, Judas speaks up for the poor! But note that he condemns not only Mary but Jesus himself. Judas implies that Jesus is robbing the poor; that he is lavishing upon himself what rightfully belongs to charity; that for his own glorification he allows a waste that is utterly wrong; that his example is harmful to others - and that Judas is the man who knows what is right, proper, charitable and is not afraid to come out with it! This is the traitorous touch in the action of Judas. Such of the other disciples as supported him most likely wanted to criticize only Mary and thought how good helping the poor would be. Mark alone preserved kai enebrimonto aute, "and they began scolding her." The verb is very strong and really means, "they began snorting at her"; "murmured" in our versions is far too weak.1552
Judas Iscariot (Mark 14:10)
The religious leaders were plotting to kill Jesus when Judas went to them with an offer they could not refuse: he would deliver Jesus to them for the price of a slave (see Matthew 26:15 and Exodus 21:32). "Apparently they planned to arrest [Jesus] after the crowds had gone, but Judas' unexpected offer expedited matters. Thus God's timetable was followed."1553 For the religious leaders Judas's offer to betray Jesus was a win-win situation: "[I]t gave them the opportunity they had been looking for, and they could later claim that Jesus had been betrayed by one of his own disciples."1554
In agreeing to hand over Jesus, Judas was also agreeing to serve as a legal witness against him. According to Roman law, a person first had to be indicted before he could be put on trial. By signing the indictment, the witnesses against the accused were agreeing to appear in court to offer testimony for the prosecution. "Thus Judas offered himself as a witness against Christ. He agreed to go before the Roman courts when Christ was brought to trial on a yet undetermined charge."1555
As an insider, Judas could pick the most convenient time to betray Jesus to the authorities. Judas would have told the religious leaders "that he knew enough of the habits of Jesus to enable them to catch him 'in the absence of the multitude' (Luke 22:6) without waiting for the passover to be over, when the crowds would leave."1556 Most probably Judas also supplied the religious leaders with "the essence of Jesus' proclamation and self-understanding,"1557 which they hoped to use against him. Too, the crowd - which had come from near and far - would serve as witnesses to, and heralds of, the fact that Jesus had been put to death.1558
Rather than simply defect or run away, "Judas [gave] up his friend and master to his enemies, knowing that they sought his life."1559 What motivated Judas to betray Jesus? Probably some combination of: jealousy, greed, and disappointment/disillusionment with Jesus' mission.1560 As one source puts it: "Disillusioned because Jesus was talking about dying rather than about setting up his kingdom, Judas may have been trying to force Jesus' hand and make him use his power to prove that he was the Messiah. Or perhaps Judas, not understanding Jesus' mission, no longer believed that Jesus was God's chosen one."1561
A class of little girls was learning to spell. They spelled a number of small words, such as "pig," "cat," "dog," "cow," and amused themselves by imitating the sounds that these animals make.
Then little Mary was asked to spell "love." She didn't stop to give the letters, but ran and threw her arms around the teacher's neck and kissed her on the cheek. "We spell 'love' that way at our house," she said.
The girls laughed, but the teacher said, "That is a beautiful way; but do you know another way to spell 'love'?" "Oh, yes," cried Mary, "I spell love this way," and she began to put the books in order on her teacher's desk. "I spell love by helping everybody when they need me."1562
Like Mary of Bethany, little Mary preferred showing love to merely speaking of it. She seemed to know instinctively that the impact of a loving act is not limited by its size. As one source puts it: "Headlines are written about presidents and prodigies. Movies are made about world-class heroes. Yet we remember small acts of kindness and compassion. They fill our personal memories and iron out the creases of our lives. Small acts of love fuel our days. God's memory is greater. He notices everything we do to serve and honor him. Never think of your seemingly insignificant gesture as just a blip on the screen. God is pleased with your kindness, and he will remember."1563
??? "The essence of worshiping Christ is to regard him with utmost love, respect, and devotion and to be willing to sacrifice to him what is most precious."1564 What can this passage (14:1-11) teach us about both what to pursue and what to avoid as we seek to love Jesus sacrificially?