The Anointing Of Jesus In Bethany

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MATTHEW 26:6-13  

This is the last section of the Gospel of Matthew [26:1-28:20] which gives the account of the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection.

§         Chapter 26 begins with what is the introduction to the passion narratives: “after two days is the feast of the Passover, and the Son of man is betrayed to be crucified” [26:2], as the plot to kill Jesus gains momentum [26:1-5].

§         The time of year: “after two days is the feast of the Passover…” [26:2].

§         The death of Christ: “the Son of man is betrayed to be crucified” [26:2].

The section [26:6-13] describes the anointing of Jesus at Bethany [see also Mark 14:3-9]. The paragraph offers both continuity and contrast with vv.1-5. In continuity with vv.1-2, Jesus’ death is plainly set forth and Jesus’ foreknowledge underlined [26:12]. In contrast with vv.3-5, the woman does not oppose Jesus but serves him. Her action is antithetical to that of the Jewish leaders.

§         The story of the anointing of Jesus is placed so as to be a marked contrast between the hostility of the “chief priests, scribes, and elders” [26:3] and the treachery of Judas [26:14-16].

We move from the courtyard or palace of the high priest, where evil plots are laid, to the residence of a leper, where kindness shows itself. >>>

§         The story of the anointing of Jesus – the preparation of his body for burial, as he interprets it.

§         It focuses indirectly, but poignantly, on the death of Jesus…

The Gospel Narratives

On the whole a third alternative seems preferable: there were two anointings, one in Galilee (recorded by Luke 7) and the other in Bethany (recorded by Matthew 26, Mark 14, and John12).

§         The only real similarities between the two incidents are the anointing by a woman and the name Simon. But "Simon," like "Judas," was a very common name; and the two incidents differ in many details.

§         In Luke the woman is a "sinner"; in the other account there is no mention of this, and John says she is Mary of Bethany.

§         In Luke the host is a Pharisee, in a Galilean home; here the host is "Simon the leper," at a home in Bethany. In Luke the host is critical of the woman's actions; here the disciples criticize her.

The woman’s action is a proclamation; actions speak louder than words; 


1.        The Location

a.        Bethany

The event takes place in Bethany: “when Jesus was in Bethany…” [26:6].

§         Βηθανίᾳ - “Bethany” [26:6], ‘house of affliction’;

§         ‘east of Jordan, near the Mount of Olives, nearly two miles east of Jerusalem’;

i.        Jesus’ Travels

Evidently, Jesus has returned unto Bethany after the day recounted in [21:18-26:2].

§         Departure: “he left them, and went out of the city into Bethany, and he lodged there” [21:17].

§         Return: “Now in the morning as he returned into the city…” [21:18].

ii.      The Significance of Bethany

Bethany was an important centre of fellowship for Jesus:

§         The home: “Lazarus of Bethany, the town of Mary and her sister Martha…” [Joh.11:1].

§         The friendship: “Now Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus” [Joh.11:5].

b.        Simon the Leper

Jesus was gathered in a leper’s house: “in the house of Simon the leper” [26:6].

§         Σίμωνος τοῦ λεπροῦ - “Simon leper” [26:6], the “leper” serves to distinguish this Simon from the four other Simons in the gospels.

§         The informed reader knows that lepers did not act as dinner hosts, and also that Jesus would not, through contact with a leper, enter a state of uncleanness immediately before the Passover.

§         A healing of a leper performed by Jesus [8:1-4] may be assumed.

2.        The Occasion

a.        The Occasion

The occasion: “there they made a supper…” [Joh.12:2].

§         δεῖπνον - “supper” [12:2], ‘last main meal of the day’; ‘banquet’;

§         ἀνακειμένου - “sat” [26:7], ‘to recline for a meal’;

b.        The Guests

The guests included: “Martha served at the supper…” [Joh.12:2].

§         Lazarus: “Lazarus, who had been raised from the dead, was one of them that sat at the table with him” [12:2].

§         Mary the sister of Martha: “Mary and her sister Martha…” [Joh.11:1-2].

§         The disciples: “when the disciples saw it…” [26:8].

i.        Resurrection

The concept of resurrection from the dead was one that was at least vaguely familiar to those present:

§        Jesus, who said: “I am the resurrection and the life…” [11:25], was there in the midst.

§        Lazarus, who had “been raised from the dead” [Joh.12:3], was there.

§        Mary and Martha, who had seen the miraculous resurrection of Lazarus [11:45], was there.


This was a gathering of “friends” [Joh.15:15] at the time of growing animosity and hostility towards Jesus:

3.        The Anointing

a.        The Woman

The action of a woman: “there came unto him a woman…” [26:7].

§         γυνὴ - “woman” [26:6],

§         προσῆλθεν - “came” [26:6], aorist active, from prós, ‘to’, and érchomai, ‘to come’; ‘to approach, draw near’;

i.        Her Identity

The identity of the woman: “then took Mary a pound of spikenard…” [Joh.12:3].

§         John identifies Mary: “Mary and her sister Martha; it was that Mary which anointed the Lord with ointment…” [Joh.11:2].

ii.      The Perfume

The woman’s possession: “having an alabaster box of ointment…” [26:7].

§         ἔχουσα – “having” [26:6], present active participle, ‘to have in possession, own’;

§         ἀλάβαστρον - “alabaster box” [26:6], ‘alabaster flask or jar’; ‘a flask for perfume’;

§         Archaeology confirms that ‘the stone, alabaster, often imported from Egypt, was frequently made into handle-less perfume flasks;

§         μύρου - “ointment” [26:6], ‘perfume, myrrh, ointment’;

iii.    The Invaluable Perfume 

The perfume was very valuable: “very precious ointment…” [26:6].

§         βαρυτίμου - “precious” [26:6], from barús, ‘heavy’, and timé̄, ‘value, price’; ‘great value’; ‘very expensive’;

§         According to Mark it was worth “more than three hundred denari” [Mar.14:5].

§         A denarius was the daily wage of a labourer; the represents approximately a year's salary for a working man.

b.        The Action of Faith

Mary’s action: “she poured it in his head…” [26:7].

§         κατέχεεν - “poured” [26:7], ‘from katá (2596), ‘down’, and chéō (n.f., see epichéō [2708]), ‘to pour down or out’; ‘to pour down upon’; ‘to pour down upon’;

§         κεφαλῆς - “head” [26:7],

§         ἀνακειμένου - “sat” [26:7], ‘to recline for a meal’;

c.        The Significance

i.        The Social Significance

The “anointing” had a social significance:

§         Anointing was, at least in well-to-do circles, probably customary at feasts the reader may think that the woman affectionately anoints Jesus as part of a celebration: “my head with oil you did not anoint…” [Luk.7:46].

§         Mark of festivity and fellowship: “thou preparest a table…thou anointest my head with oil” [Ps.23:5].

ii.      The Redemptive Significance >>> Immature Faith

Peter’s confession with regard to Jesus: “you are the Christ, the Son of the living God” [16:16].

§         χριστὸς - “the Christ” [16:16], ‘to anoint’; a term applied in the Old Testament to everyone anointed with holy oil.

§         The use of “head” makes one think of the Old Testament narratives in which kings are anointed: “the young man poured the oil on Jehu’s head, and said unto him, Thus says the Lord God of Israel, I have anointed you King over the people of the Lord…” [2Kgs.9:6].

§         There seems to be particular similarities with the words of Psalm 133 and the anointing of Aaron: “like the precious ointment upon the head that ran down on the beard…” [Psa.133:2].

§         The fact that John states Mary “anointed the feet of Jesus” [12:4] makes this connection particularly noteworthy in the light of the fact: “that went down to the skirts of his garments” [Psa.133:2].

d.        John Calvin

The following is a quotation from the commentary of John Calvin:

§         Nor

§         have we any reason to doubt that Mary was led by a secret movement of

§         the Spirit to anoint Christ; as it is certain that, whenever the saints were

§         called to any extraordinary performance, they were led by an unusual movement, so as not to attempt any thing without the guidance and

authority of God.

§         There was no precept in existence enjoining on Mary

§         this anointing, nor was it necessary that a law should be laid down for

§         every single action; but as the heavenly calling is the only origin and

§         principle of proper conduct, and as God rejects every thing which men

§         undertake at their own suggestion, Mary was directed by the inspiration of

§         the Spirit, so that this duty, which she performed to Christ, was founded

§         on assured confidence.


A woman, with motives unknown, impulsively performs an extravagant act which inevitably suggests Jesus’ messianic status: he is the Anointed One.


1.        The Disciples

a.        The Disapproval

The disapproval: “when the disciples saw it…” [26:8].

§         οἱ μαθηταὶ - “disciples” [26:8], ‘the twelve’;

§         ἠγανάκτησαν - “had indignation” [26:8], aorist active indicative, from ágan, ‘very much’, and áchthos, ‘pain, grief’; ‘to be oppressed in mind, grieved, resentful’;

b.        The Waste

The waste of resources: “to what purpose is this waste” [26:8].

§         εἰς τί - “purpose” [26:7], interrogative,

§         ἀπώλεια αὕτη - “waste” [26:7], ‘destruction, loss’; ‘needless squandering of resources’;  

2.        The Alternative

a.        The Cash-in

The cashing-in of its value: “this ointment might have been sold…” [26:9].

§         ἐδύνατο – ‘to have power’; ‘to be able’;

§         τοῦτο - “ointment” [26:9],

§         πραθῆναι - “sold” [26:9], aorist passive infinitive,

§         πολλοῦ - “much” [26:9],

b.        The Poor

The best use of the resources: “and given to the poor” [26:9].

§         δοθῆναι - “given” [26:9], aorist passive infinitive, ‘to put something in another place’; ‘to deposit’;

§         πτωχοῖς - “poor” [26:9], from ptōssō, ‘to crouch, cower like a beggar’; ‘poor and helpless’;

i.        The Law & The Gospel

The command to give to the poor is inherent in the Law and in the principles of the Godsel:

§         The requirements of the Law: “for the poor shall never cease out of the land: therefore I command thee, saying, thou shalt open thine hand wide unto thy brother, to thy poor, and to thy needy, in the land” [Deu.15:11].

§         Jesus and the rich ruler: “go and sell what you have and give to the poor…” [19:21].

§         The gospel is for the poor: “the poor have the gospel preached to them” [11:5].

§         The parable of the sheep and the goats: “for I was hungry and you gave me meat…” [25:35ff].


The objection sets that ‘act of devotion to Jesus’ against the duty of ‘service to the poor’.

§         This gives occasion to the setting of priorities when it comes to the redemptive-historical context of the action.  

§         The disciples’ denigration of a luxurious waste seems fitting expression of piety and, especially following [25:31-46], in accord with Jesus’ own concerns.

§         The tone and wording of the question suggests that the disciples had failed to recognise the true identity of Jesus, despite what they were taught, and despite the confession of Peter.

§         The disciples’ negative response, which concerns not the act itself but the waste, is evidently not directed to anyone in particular, including Jesus. But it does distance them from him and so initiates his isolation – a motif which grows with the length of the passion narrative. 


1.        The Opportunity

The pre-Easter period is a time of unique opportunity (note the contrast between pre-Easter and post-Easter drawn by Jesus in 9:14-17)

a.        The Poor

The poor are a reality in every society and age: “for you have the poor always with you…” [26:11].

§         ἔχετε - “have” [26:11], present active indicative, ‘to have in possession’;

§         τοὺς πτωχοὺς - “poor” [26:11], from ptōssō, ‘to crouch, cower like a beggar’; ‘poor and helpless’;

§         πάντοτε - “always” [26:11], ‘at all times’;

§         μεθʼ ἑαυτῶν - “with you” [26:11],

b.        The Unique Opportunity

On the other hand, Jesus will not always be physically present: “but me you have not always” [26:11].

§         ἐμὲ δὲ - “but me” [26:11],

§         οὐ ἔχετε - “you have not” [26:11], ‘to have in possession’;

§         πάντοτε - “always” [26:11], ‘at all times’;


Jesus views Mary’s act as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to demonstrate a special kind of sacrificial love.

§         One cannot miss what is implied: there will be opportunity in the future to minister to the needs of the poor; there will be no opportunity in the future to minister to Jesus.

§         Duty must not be turned into a rigid regulation which allows no room for the spontaneous, and even extravagant, expression of devotion to Jesus. 

§         ‘surpasses that of alms-giving since it demonstrates a personal commitment of love for the specific person of Jesus at a time of urgent need rather than an impersonal giving to the general group of the poor always in need.

§         ‘The fundamental question now is not the neediness of the poor. The disciples’ concern for the poor is by no means incorrect. In this one instance, however, the timing was wrong. This one-time, responsibility to the poor [Deu.15:11] may be legitimately set aside. All else assumes a subordinate place relative to the imminent death of Jesus…..

2.        Jesus’ Interpretation

What the woman did arose out of an unusual perception of the situation Jesus was in, and that perception must be given an outlet. 

a.        The Action

The action: “for in that she has poured this ointment…” [26:12],

§         βαλοῦσα - “poured” [26:12], aorist active participle, ‘to throw, cast, let fall’;

§         τὸ μύρον τοῦτο - “this ointment” [26:12],

§         ἐπὶ τοῦ σώματός μου - “on my body” [26:12],

b.        The Action of Love/Faith   

The interpretation: “she did it for my burial” [26:12].

§         ἐποίησεν - “did it” [26:12], aorist active indicative, ‘to do, perform an action’;

§         πρὸς - “for” [26:12], ‘motion towards an object that ceases at the boundary of that object’;

i.        The Burial

Jesus’ death: “for my burial” [26:12].

§         ἐνταφιάσαι με - “my burial” [26:12], from entáphios, ‘a shroud’, which is from en, ‘in’, and táphos, ‘sepulcher, tomb’; ‘to entomb’;

§         Tá entáphia were the grave clothes and the accompanying ornaments; ‘to prepare for burial, lay out, to decorate, to embalm in the Jewish manner’; ‘to prepare a corpse for burial as by washing, anointing, swathing’; “Joseph commanded his servants the physicians to embalm his father…” [Gen.50:2].

§         The anointing does not designate Jesus as Messiah but "prepares" him for his burial after dying the death of a criminal, for only in that circumstance would the customary anointing of the body be omitted.

ii.      The Faith >>> Foresight 

Mark’s elaboration: “she did it beforehand…” [14:8].

§         προέλαβεν - “beforehand” [Mar.14:8], from pró, ‘before’, and lambánō, ‘to take’; ‘to overtake’; intransitive ‘to take up beforehand’; ‘to anticipate the time of doing something’;


Jesus says that the action is in anticipation an anticipation of the anointing of His body for burial.

§         ‘The idea of an anointing, as of a king or priest, which is also an embalming of the dead, means that Jesus is ‘the messianic King whose throne is the cross.

§         But the anointing is also a simple act of love. Our text, as an illustration, depicts an anonymous woman whose kind act unexpectedly becomes preparation for Messiah’s burial.

§         Jesus’ interpretation of the woman’s act therefore seems to assume that his death will be that of a criminal, whose body would not be buried with proper ceremony.

§         The women prepared for the subsequent anointing of Jesus’ body: “they returned and prepared spices and ointments…” [Luk.23:56].

§         Jesus was aware of the fact that in a few days he would be hanging on a cross, though the disciples had no idea that such a shocking happening lay in the immediate future. Mary may have had such insight.

§         ‘She, and she first, believes that Christ should die; and under that notion, she pours the ointment on his head’.

§         Only when Jesus interprets the act symbolically does the deed come to bear the significance of preparation for burial. >>>>>>>>>> Love for Jesus and limited knowledge of the significance of expresses it? ***********


1.        A Pleasing Action

a.        The Rebuke

Jesus’ rebuke: “why trouble you the woman…” [26:10].

§         τί - “why” [26:10], interrogative,

§         παρέχετε - present active indicative, from pará, ‘unto, at, near’, and échō, o have, hold’; ‘to hold out toward someone’, ‘to present, offer’; ‘to maintain a state or condition’; ‘to cause to happen’;

§         κόπους - “trouble” [26:10], ‘beating, weariness as though one had been beaten’; ‘laborious toil’;

§         The whole idiom παρέχετε κόπους means ‘why are you causing trouble?’

b.        The Estimation

The action of the woman is pleasing to Jesus: “she has wrought a good work…” [26:10].

§         ἠργάσατο - “wrought” [26:10], aorist middle indicative, ‘to work’; ‘to labour expending effort’;

§         ἔργον - “work” [26:10], ‘deed’; activity’;

§         καλὸν - “good” [26:10], ‘morally good’; ‘fitting’; ‘a beautiful expression of devotion’; ‘noble, admirable’;

§         εἰς ἐμέ - “upon me” [26:10],

i.        The Biblical Idea

The Biblical idea is ‘that which meets with God’s approval’ and ‘that which is pleasing to God’.

§         God’s work of creation: “God saw all that he had made, and it was all very good” [Gen.1:31].

§         The works of righteousness: “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works…” [5:16].

§         The benefits of eternal salvation: “Wherefore if thy hand or thy foot offend thee, cut them off, and cast them from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life halt or maimed…” [18:8].

ii.      The Best that She Could

Mark’s further clarification: “she has done what she could…” [Mar.14:7].

§         ἐποίησεν - “did” [14:7], aorist indicative active, ‘to do, perform’;

§         ἔσχεν - “could” [14:7], aorist indicative active, ‘to have’; ‘to possess own’;

§         The idea of ἔσχεν ἐποίησεν translates literally as ‘she did what she had’;

c.        The Measure

Jesus gives the disciples in the Upper Room the measure of Christian devotion:

§         Jesus’ love for disciples: “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” [Joh.15:13].

§         The disciples’ love for each other: “love one another, as I have loved you” [Joh.15:12].

§         The essence of discipleship is to give ourselves to the Lord: “he that takes not his cross and follows after me, is not worthy of me” [10:38]; “he that loses his life for my sake shall find it” [10:39].


2.        An Unforgettable Action  

a.        The Gospel

Mary’s act is an act to be remembered: “wherever this gospel shall be preached…” [26:13].

§         o[pou- “wherever” [26:13], ‘in what place’;

§         εὐαγγέλιον- “gospel” [26:13], ‘good new, tidings’;

§         κηρυχθῇ- “preached” [26:13], ‘to be a herald’; ‘to proclaim’;

b.        The Memorial

The memorial: “be told for a memorial…” [26:13].

§         λαληθήσεται- “told” [26:13], ‘to talk with the semantic focus on the telling’;

§         μνημόσυνον - “memorial” [26:13], ‘a remembrance’; ‘something causing or preserving the remembrance of a thing or person’;

§         Anamnesis, ‘to remember again’, is used in the Lord’s Supper narratives: “this do in remembrance of me” [Luk.22:19; 1Cor.11:24].


Jesus’ death and resurrection would initiate a world-wide announcement of the “good news” [26:13].

§         Such was the esteem in which this action was held by the Lord Jesus, that it would never be forgotten.


With regard to Mary:

  1. It was an Act of Extravagant Devotion.
  2. It was an Act of Faith.
  3. It was an Opportune Act.  

With regard to Jesus:

  1. It was an Act that met with Jesus’ Approval.
  2. It was an Act that would never be Forgotten.

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