Insert text here.
Jesus was talking about dying. Passover was fast approaching. People could read the signs. And here is a woman who behaved like she really believed what Jesus was saying!
When Jesus finished all these sayings, He said to His disciples, "You know that after two days is the Passover, and the Son of Man will be delivered up to be crucified."
Then the chief priests, the scribes and the elders of the people assembled at the palace of the high priest, who was called Caiaphas, and plotted to take Jesus by trickery and kill Him. But they said, "Not during the feast, lest there be an uproar among the people."
When Jesus was in Bethany at the house of Simon the leper, a woman came to Him having an alabaster flask of very costly fragrant oil, and she poured it on His head as He sat at the table. When His disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, "Why this waste? For this oil might have been sold for much and given to the poor."
But Jesus said to them, "Why do you trouble the woman? She has done a good work for Me. You have the poor with you always, but Me you do not have always. In pouring this fragrant oil on My body, she did it for My burial. Assuredly, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be told as a memorial to her."
Then one of the twelve, called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, "What are you willing to give me if I deliver Him to you?" And they counted out to him thirty pieces of silver. So from that time Judas sought opportunity to betray Jesus.
Matthew 26:1-16 NKJV, condensed
The Die is Cast
The time had come. Jesus and the religious leaders were on a collision course. They would meet head on within 48 hours. Jesus already knew the outcome. His enemies, who could not distinguish between good and evil, were still trying to figure out how to be rid of this menace who challenged their authority at every step. Matthew named the players: chief priests, scribes, the elders, and the high priest Caiaphas. On the other side were Jesus, those who loved him and the disciples. Actually, not all the disciples; one would defect.
At Passover time, the population of Jerusalem jumped from 50,000 to 250,000 people. No wonder there were security concerns and precautions against doing anything that would raise the ire of the common folks. But once the allegations against Jesus began, nothing could stop the momentum. There's no going back. Jesus decided the timetable; it would be during the festival of Passover.
One way to view the passion is through the eyes of those who loved Jesus, such as the woman in this text. If you think her story sounds familiar, it may be because Luke (Luke 7:36-50) recorded a very similar episode back in Galilee wherein a woman who was "a sinner" became the lead in for a parable showing that those who are forgiven much, also love much.
Matthew and Mark placed the story at the beginning of Christ's passion. The Gospel writer John did likewise and named her as Mary, sister of Martha and Lazarus, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. Mary, the one who sat at Jesus feet and listened to him teach while Martha fumed around the kitchen preparing a meal for them.
Mary was full of respect, trust and love for Jesus. So much so that she did an outrageous thing. She crashed the party at Simon's house. It was scandalous for a women to enter a room full of men uninvited and for any other reason than to carry in the serving dishes. Mary made her approach with a gift as costly as those brought by the wise men at Jesus' birth.
Nard, which grows in the foothills of the Himalayas, was used very sparingly and only for special occasions. A seductive drop between the breasts; a smear on the forehead to alleviate tension and anxiety; a swab over the heart to ease the transition from life to death.
Mary didn't enter the room that day with thoughts of a drop, smear or a swab. She poured it all out, onto the head of Jesus, without keeping any of it for future occasions. Mark said she broke the flask, which meant she didn't even have her jar intact when she was done. To pour it all out in one lavish gesture suggests there was no tomorrow for this woman.
It was a revealing moment. The disciples were repulsed and angered by the interruption and the intense odor. Judas Iscariot and the others became indignant. What was wrong with this senseless women! She could at least have sold her perfume and given the money to the poor.
Jesus disagreed. He memorialized her deed, giving it great personal significance. She had done a beautiful thing for him and it would never be forgotten. Likely, too, the fragrance remained in his beard and the memory of her love was with him as he died. True, it is good to give to the poor; but the disciples had the rest of their lives to show kindness to the needy. They would not always be able to do the same for their Teacher.
There was sadness in these words and in the minds of those who loved him. How could they live without him? Many questions; no concrete answers. Jesus said he was going to die. Not naturally, but a horrible death on the Roman cross. Words like that would strike terror in the hearts of all his followers.
The wasted perfume was the last straw. Judas was not willing to march to the death with Jesus. He went instead to the chief priests, agreed to a price and cemented their plans.
Use the following questions for small groups, journaling, further study or reflection.
Icebreaker: Name something which you splurge on.
Was this woman's act a senseless waste? Or something admirable? Which side would you have taken? State your reasons.When is it wise to be extravagant? When is it wrong-headed?How difficult is it for you to distinguish between goodness and error?
Very often, our discernment as human beings is seriously flawed. The religious leaders claimed the miraculous powers of Jesus came from the devil. The disciples thought the woman in this story was wastefully out of her mind. What are some current misunderstandings regarding God or what it means to be religious? Select one or two of these misunderstandings and try to figure out what words Jesus would use to respond to them.
The woman with the flask of expensive oil doesn't speak in this text. What do you think her motives were in pouring nard on Jesus? Do you think she would have explained her deed the same way that Jesus explained it? Or did his response surprise her like everyone else?
Think of something you have done as an expression of your faith but which someone else ridiculed as an act of foolishness. Relate some of the details and how you reacted to the criticism.
Suppose Mary's deed meant something like this: So be it, Jesus. I will not fight your words. But trust you to be doing the right thing. If you are giving up your life, if you are going to be the Passover Lamb, then I will anoint you with every drop of oil I possess. What words would you use to describe a love like that?
Do you think Judas loved Jesus too? Or ever loved Jesus? If so, what words would you use to describe the love he had for Jesus?How do you explain the defection of Judas Iscariot?
Love the one you have while you can. Appreciate what you have before you lose it. Do you really believe these admonitions? And are you living them?
If you knew you were going to die in two days, how would that affect the way you live those two days? What do you think was going through Jesus' mind with 2 days to go? How had he prepared himself for death?