Summary: If you ever felt like you did all you could for Jesus, the woman in this story knows exactly what you mean!
Introduction: This story takes place in Bethany, near Jerusalem, just a few days before Passover. The Lord Jesus Christ spent some time in Bethany before He made His last journey to Jerusalem to die for our sins and rise from the dead for our salvation. During one of His last meals with friends, something very unusual happened. An unknown woman came to where the Lord was eating with others, broke open a vial of very precious ointment then poured it over His head. She meant this as an act of love, but just as it was recorded in John 12, there were others who grumbled at what she did. The Lord commended her, though, and promised nobody would ever forget what she did for Him.
1 The setting: Jerusalem, two days before Passover
Text, Mark 14:1-2, KJV: 1 After two days was the feast of the passover, and of unleavened bread: and the chief priests and the scribes sought how they might take him by craft, and put him to death. 2 But they said, Not on the feast day, lest there be an uproar of the people.
In the context, Jesus had already had at least one supper with His friends in Bethany, near Jerusalem, two days before this supper. John said (John 12:1) that there were six days before the Passover when He came to Bethany. Other details are in the first 8 verses of John 12.
We shouldn’t be surprised that the chief priests and scribes wanted to have Jesus put to death. They had had any number of conflicts with Jesus during His earthly ministry (see John 8:3, Matthew 9:3, 16:21 and just recently 20:18 to name a few) and this plot of theirs demonstrates how much they hated Him. Why else would they want to kill Him?
Fortunately the Lord and the disciples were in Bethany, close to Jerusalem but far enough away so that if anyone came to arrest the Lord (or worse), He could have—humanly speaking—taken action and gone somewhere else had the Father willed it. But He didn’t, because it was not time, just yet, for Him to lay down His life.
He still had a couple of days before He took His final journey to Jerusalem. And during one of those evenings, He was a guest at a supper given in His honor.
2 The supper: Bethany, at Simon’s house
Text, Mark 14:3, KJV: 3 And being in Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he sat at meat, there came a woman having an alabaster box of ointment of spikenard very precious; and she brake the box, and poured it on his head.
Who this Simon was is never specified, except that he had been a leper. He could have been a leper Jesus had healed (Matthew 8:1-4); or, he could have had one of the various skin diseases mentioned in Leviticus 13 and had been cleansed according to the directions in Leviticus 14. If Simon had still been a leper, he couldn’t have been in the house with anybody according to Lev. 13:46—he would have had to live alone. One other opinion is that this house “was (past tense)” Simon’s but he didn’t live there at the time. Regardless, the house was large enough for the Lord and the disciples to enjoy a meal together.
Several commentators believe this story is simply Mark’s version of what John recorded in John 12. They observed that the suppers took place in Bethany, that a woman anointed the Lord’s body with expensive ointment, and that at least one disciple grumbled about the price and how it was basically wasted—the ointment could have been sold and the money given to the poor. Let each person be fully persuaded in his or her own mind.
The main things to keep in mind, as a review, is that Mary was named as the one who anointed the Lord’s feet with her hair in John’s story, but the woman here is not named. In John 12, Judas was the disciple who complained that the ointment Mary had used was worth 300 “pence (a day’s wage at the time)” but here “there were ‘some (again, not named)’” who objected. .Finally, in John 12, Mary anointed the Lord’s feet but here the unnamed woman poured the ointment on His head (different words in the original language). Something to remember is that in those days, people didn’t sit down at tables to eat. The phrase “sat at meat” would be better translated “reclined at the table” as rendered in several recent translations. Mary of Bethany could have easily come behind the Lord and anointed His feet, but the woman in this passage would have had to approach the Lord from a different angle in order to pour the ointment on His head.