‘Then took Mary a pound of ointment of spikenard, very costly, and anointed the feet of Jesus’, v. 3.
You will notice the word that introduces this chapter as well as Mary’s action in verse 3: ‘Then’. It is a word that would make us consider:
I would suggest that this action should be set against the background of chapter 11. Whilst it might be an act of thanksgiving at the raising of Lazarus, an acknowledgement of the restoration of a brother, I would suggest that it is more than that. It is a declaration of Mary’s appreciation of who the Lord is and what He is about to accomplish.
You will have noted that this event was ‘six days before the passover’, v. 1. It is deeply instructive that John spends eight chapters to cover the six days surrounding the events of Calvary. This is John’s priority. It is John’s key point and Mary’s act of devotion occupies part of one of those chapters. This is the importance John attaches to the action. The importance that the Lord attaches to the action is borne out in the verses.
But then we also have:
Worship is costly. It is clear that it had taken time and effort to amass this amount of spikenard in order to bestow it upon the Lord. If we are to bring something to the Lord in worship we will also have to expend time and effort in preparation and accumulation, not necessarily in a material sense but in a spiritual one.
Matthew and Mark, who record this event, call it ‘spikenard very precious’. John calls it, ‘spikenard, very costly’, v. 3. To tell us it was spikenard is to tell us of its purity and, hence, of its value. The added valuation is to tell us not only of its purity but of the volume of the material that was to be lavished upon the Saviour. The price estimate that was placed upon it was ‘more than three hundred pence’, v. 5. This figure is the amount that would be paid to a simple working man for the best part of a year. How sad that Judas could give the price of the goods but had no valuation of the activity!
What should we learn from this example of Mary? It ought to be an encouragement to every sister. Mary said nothing. Her voice was not heard but her contribution remains as a testimony to her appreciation of Christ. Let us encourage all sisters, like Mary, to function in their God-given sphere and bring something of immense value to the assembly to which they belong!
Judas rounded upon Mary. The contrast is that Mary saw only the Lord. The Lord said, ‘me ye have not always’, v. 7. She could have bestowed time upon the disciples. She could have spent time with Lazarus, so recently raised from the dead. But Mary saw only the Lord. He was the centre of her affections and activity. How important!
She ‘anointed the feet of Jesus’, v. 3. John notes that she anointed His feet as well as His head. Considering the Lord was reclined at the table we judge this to be a separate act of devotion. To anoint His feet is to draw attention to His condescending grace as He traversed this scene. But to pour the contents of the box upon the head and feet is to encompass the whole. Apart from the hands being used to partake of the food provided, these would be the only parts of the body visible. As the Lord said, ‘for the day of my burying hath she kept this’, v. 8. That is, the anointing of the head and the feet was symbolic of an anointing of the whole body. The Shunamite was able to say of her beloved, ‘Yea, he is altogether lovely. This is my beloved, and this is my friend’, Song of Solomon 5. 16. Similarly, we would have to acknowledge, whether we view the Lord in a particular facet of His person or ministry, or consider the whole, He is altogether lovely!
We have commented upon the contrast of evaluations. For Judas the action was a waste, ‘Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred pence, and given to the poor’, v. 5. I'm sure that the ungodly look on and see our gatherings and our acts of devotion in exactly the same light – a waste of time and energy. Shouldn’t our focus be upon the poor and needy in our communities? Let us remind ourselves of what the Lord thinks! What is His judgement on the matter? Surely, the touchstone for all our lives should be what is the mind of God in this matter. Mark records, ‘she [Mary] hath wrought a good work on me’, 14. 6.
The Lord said of Mary, ‘She hath done what she could’, v. 8. Surely, that is all that the Lord would ask of any of us – to do what we can.
It is worth remembering that this was the only anointing that the Lord received prior to His burial. It was anticipatory, ‘against the day of my burying hath she kept this’, v. 7. It was an appreciation of the fact that the Lord would rise from the dead in fulfilment of all that He had said. May we keep suffering in its true perspective! Peter wrote of the testimony of the Spirit of Christ testifying of, ‘the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow’, 1 Pet. 1. 11. The Lord is now in the glory, exalted and adored. He ‘endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God’, Heb. 12. 2.