Mocked by the disciples but memorialised by the Saviour

Mary seated at the feet of Jesus
Jan Vermeer, ca 1653

A memorial instituted 2000-years ago but observed worldwide still

“‭Verily‭ I say‭‭ unto you‭, Wheresoever‭‭ this‭ gospel‭ shall be preached‭‭ in‭ the whole‭ world‭, ‭there‭ shall also‭ this, that‭ this woman‭‭‭ hath done‭‭, be told‭‭ for‭ a memorial‭ of her‭,‭”‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬ Matthew 26:13.

What a contrast were this woman’s thoughts to those abroad in that day. In verses 3 and 4 of this chapter we read: “‭Then‭ assembled together‭‭ the chief priests‭, and‭ the scribes‭, and‭ the elders‭ of the people‭, unto‭ the palace‭ of the high priest‭, who‭ was called‭‭ Caiaphas‭,‭ ‭And‭ consulted‭‭ that‭ they might take‭‭ Jesus‭ by subtilty‭, and‭ kill‭‭ ‭him‭.‭”‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

What a disparity there was in the feelings of this dear woman and those of these evil men!

1. Her thoughts prompted actions which were very much disapproved of by the disciples.

“‭But‭ when his‭ disciples‭ saw‭‭ ‭it‭, they had indignation‭‭, saying‭‭, To‭ what purpose‭ ‭is‭ this‭ waste‭?‭”‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬ verse 8. The word ‘waste’ means something very strong and dismissive of what the woman had done. It is used by divine inspiration as the destination of those who follow the broad path through life, Matthew 7:13. The word ‘destruction’ is the same Greek word as ‘waste’. It is also applied to Judas, ‘the son of perdition’ John 17:12. Here it is the word translated ‘perdition’.

Such usage of the word by the disciples shows how far removed were their thoughts from those of the woman. Out of a heart of deepest love and devotion she poured the very expensive ointment on the head of the Saviour.

2. She was thinking of the Saviour’s death as she poured the ointment on her Saviour’s head.

This the Saviour knew. “‭For in that‭ she‭‭‭ hath poured‭‭ this‭ ointment‭ on‭ my‭ body‭, she did‭‭ ‭it‭ for‭ my‭ burial‭‭,‭”‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬ verse 12.

I believe we can say of Mary that she had a much better understanding of the Saviour’s mind and will and of the eternal purpose of God in redemption. than the apostles. She knew the Saviour MUST die. She had embraced that truth. However, the apostles had shown a very different view. “‭For‭ he taught‭‭ his‭ disciples‭, and‭ said‭‭ unto them‭,‭ The Son‭ of man‭ is delivered‭‭ into‭ the hands‭ of men‭, and‭ they shall kill‭‭ him‭; and‭ after that he is killed‭‭, he shall rise‭‭ the third‭ day‭.‭ ‭But‭ they understood not‭‭ that saying‭, and‭ were afraid‭‭ to ask‭‭ him‭,‭”‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬ Mark 9:31-32. That was but a few months before this incident. Even after Calvary, when they were informed by the godly women at the command of the angel, they were filled with unbelief.

“‭B‭‭‭‭‭‭‭‭‭‭ehold‭‭, two‭ men‭ stood by‭‭ them‭ in‭ shining‭‭ garments‭:‭ ‭and‭ as‭‭ they‭ were‭‭ afraid‭, and‭ bowed down‭‭ ‭their‭ faces‭ to‭ the earth‭, they said‭‭ unto‭ them‭, Why‭ seek ye‭‭ the living‭‭ among‭ the dead‭?‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬ ‭He is‭‭ not‭ here‭, but‭ is risen‭‭: remember‭‭ how‭ he spake‭‭ unto you‭ when he was‭‭ yet‭ in‭ Galilee‭,‭ ‭saying‭‭,‭ The Son‭ of man‭ must‭‭ be delivered‭‭ into‭ the hands‭ of sinful‭ men‭, and‭ be crucified‭‭, and‭ the third‭ day‭ rise again‭‭.‭ ‭And‭ they remembered‭‭ his‭ words‭,‭ ‭And‭ returned‭‭ from‭ the sepulchre‭, and told‭‭ all‭ these things‭ unto the eleven‭, and‭ to all‭ the rest‭.‭ ‭ It was‭‭ Mary‭ Magdalene‭, and‭ Joanna‭, and‭ Mary‭ ‭the mother‭ of James‭, and‭ other‭ ‭women that were‭ with‭ them‭, which‭ told‭‭ these things‭ unto‭ the apostles‭.‭ ‭And‭ their‭ words‭ seemed‭‭ to‭ them‭ as‭ idle tales‭, and‭ they believed‭‭ them‭ not‭‭,‭”‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬ Luke 24:4-11.

That shameful unbelief the apostolic band had to live with the rest of their days!

As I said, Mary understood that the Saviour must die. That is what all the sacrifices of old had typified. ‭‭‭‭‭‭‭‭‭‭‭‭‭‭‭‭‭‭‭‭‭‭‭‭‭It was what so many of the types and shadows set forth. ‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬It was what the prophets, such as Isaiah, had spoken of.

“‭But he ‭was‭ wounded‭‭ for our transgressions‭, ‭he was‭ bruised‭‭ for our iniquities‭: the chastisement‭ of our peace‭ ‭was‭ upon him; and with his stripes‭ we are healed‭‭.‭ ‭All we like sheep‭ have gone astray‭‭; we have turned‭‭ every one‭ to his own way‭; and the LORD‭ hath laid‭‭ on him the iniquity‭ of us all.‭ ‭He was oppressed‭‭, and he was afflicted‭‭, yet he opened‭‭ not his mouth‭: he is brought‭‭ as a lamb‭ to the slaughter‭, and as a sheep‭ before‭ her shearers‭‭ is dumb‭‭, so he openeth‭‭ not his mouth‭.‭ ‭He was taken‭‭ from prison‭ and from judgment‭: and who shall declare‭‭ his generation‭? for he was cut off‭‭ out of the land‭ of the living‭: for the transgression‭ of my people‭ was he stricken‭.‭ ‭And he made‭‭ his grave‭ with the wicked‭, and with the rich‭ in his death‭; because he had done‭‭ no violence‭, neither ‭was any‭ deceit‭ in his mouth‭.‭ ‭Yet it pleased‭‭ the LORD‭ to bruise‭‭ him; he hath put ‭him‭ to grief‭‭: when thou shalt make‭‭ his soul‭ an offering for sin‭, he shall see‭‭ ‭his‭ seed‭, he shall prolong‭‭ ‭his‭ days‭, and the pleasure‭ of the LORD‭ shall prosper‭‭ in his hand‭,‭”‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬ Isaiah 53:5-10.

Zechariah the prophet also spoke of the Saviour’s death.

“‭Awake‭‭, O sword‭, against my shepherd‭‭, and against the man‭ ‭that is‭ my fellow‭, saith‭ the LORD‭ of hosts‭: smite‭‭ the shepherd‭‭, and the sheep‭ shall be scattered‭‭: and I will turn‭‭ mine hand‭ upon the little ones‭‭,‭”‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬ Zechariah 13:7.

Of course, man has ever been confused about the death of Christ. Consider what Peter wrote: “Of‭ which‭ salvation‭ the prophets‭ have enquired‭‭ and‭ searched diligently‭‭, who‭ prophesied‭‭ of‭ the grace‭ ‭that should come‭ unto‭ you‭:‭ ‭‭‭‭‭s‬‬‬‬earching‭‭ what‭‭, or‭ what manner‭ of time‭ the Spirit‭ of Christ‭ which‭ was in‭ them‭ did signify‭‭, when it testified beforehand‭‭ the sufferings‭ of‭ Christ‭, and‭ the glory‭ that should follow‭‭,‭”‬ ‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬ 1 Peter 1:10-11. This ‘searching’ was in order to understand fully what the Holy Spirit meant by the dying of the Redeemer. Substitutionary atonement is something alien to the mind of natural man. A ‘dying Redeemer’ was not conceivable to the unbelieving Jew and likewise the unbelieving Gentile.‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

On Mars Hill in Athens, Paul was mocked when he preached of Christ’s death and resurrection. “And‭‭ the times‭ of this ignorance‭ God‭ winked at‭‭; but now‭ commandeth‭‭ all‭ men‭ every where‭ to repent‭‭:‭ ‭because‭ he hath appointed‭‭ a day‭, in‭ the which‭ he will‭‭ judge‭‭ the world‭ in‭ righteousness‭ by‭ ‭that‭ man‭ whom‭ he hath ordained‭‭; ‭whereof‭ he hath given‭‭ assurance‭ unto all‭ ‭men‭, in that he hath raised‭‭ him‭ from‭ the dead‭.‭ ‭And‭ when they heard‭‭ of the resurrection‭ of the dead‭, some‭ mocked‭‭: and‭ others said‭‭, We will hear‭‭ thee‭ again‭ of‭ this‭ ‭matter‭,‭”‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬ Acts 17:30-32.‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

The disciples had the‭‭‭‭‭‭‭‭‭‭‭‭‭‭‭‭‭ir‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬ hearts and minds so set on the restoration of Israel that they were blind to the humiliation the Saviour must suffer before redemption could be wrought for His people. He had told them repeatedly of His death in words such as those in John 10:11. “I‭ am‭‭ the good‭ shepherd‭: the good‭ shepherd‭ giveth‭‭ his‭ life‭ for‭ the sheep‭,‭”‭‭‭‭‭‭‭‭‭‭ John 10:11. It was this blindness to Christ’s purpose in death that caused the two on the road to Emmaus to so despair. That they were culpably wrong is very evident from the Saviour’s rebuke! ‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬“Then‭ he‭ said‭‭ unto‭ them‭, O‭ fools‭, and‭ slow‭ of heart‭ to believe‭‭‭ all‭ that‭ the prophets‭ have spoken‭‭:‭ ‭ought‭‭ not‭ Christ‭ to have suffered‭‭ these things‭, and‭ to enter‭‭ into‭ his‭ glory‭?‭ ‭And‭ beginning‭‭ at‭ Moses‭ and‭‭ all‭ the prophets‭, he expounded‭‭ unto them‭ in‭ all‭ the scriptures‭ the things concerning‭ himself‭,‭”‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬ Luke 24:25-27.‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬ ‘‭‭‭‭‭‭‭‭‭‭‭‭‭‭‭‭‭‭‭‭‭‭‭‭‭All‭ the scriptures‬’ testified of Christ’s death and yet even the pious Jew failed to understand this truth.‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

But not so Mary.

There is no greater or higher truth than to grasp the true significance of the cross. Mary’s knowledge of it prompted her anointing of the Saviour and His establishing this lasting memorial to her love and faith and knowledge.

3. Then again, as this woman was contemplating such tender and loving feelings toward her Saviour there was another thinking something very different indeed.

“‭Then‭ one‭ of the twelve‭, called‭‭ Judas‭ Iscariot‭, went‭‭ unto‭ the chief priests‭,‭ ‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬and said‭‭ ‭unto them‭, What‭ will ye‭‭ give‭‭ me‭, and‭ I will deliver‭‭ him‭ unto you‭? And‭ they covenanted‭‭ with him‭ for thirty‭ pieces of silver‭.‭ ‭And‭ from‭ that time‭ he sought‭‭ opportunity‭ to‭ betray‭‭ him‭,‭”‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬ verses 14-16.

It is considered likely that this is the same woman referred to in John 12:3. “‭Then‭ took‭‭ Mary‭ a pound‭ of ointment‭ of spikenard‭‭, very costly‭, and anointed‭‭ the feet‭ of Jesus‭, and‭ wiped‭‭ his‭ feet‭ with her‭ hair‭: and‭ the house‭ was filled‭‭ with‭ the odour‭ of the ointment‭,‭”‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬ John 12:3. This anointing took place six days before the Passover, verse 1.

The incident we are looking at took place some four days later. “‭Ye know‭‭ that‭ after‭ two‭ days‭ is‭‭ ‭the feast of‭ the passover‭, and‭ the Son‭ of man‭ is betrayed‭‭ to‭ be crucified‭‭,‭”‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬ Matthew 26:2.

It occurred to me that it is very possible that Mary had first anointed the feet of Jesus and then returned some four days later to anoint His head, possibly feeling that her first anointing was somewhat short of the full honour due to her Saviour.

If it was Mary on both occasions then it may help us see why at the first anointing it was only Judas who murmured against her. “‭Then‭ saith‭‭ one‭ of‭ his‭ disciples‭, Judas‭ Iscariot‭, Simon’s‭ ‭son‭, which‭ should‭‭ betray‭‭ him‭,‭ ‭Why‭ was‭‭ not‭ this‭ ointment‭ sold‭‭ for three hundred‭ pence‭, and‭ given‭‭ to the poor‭?‭ ‭ This‭ he said‭‭, not‭ that‭ he‭ cared‭‭ for‭ the poor‭; but‭ because‭ he was‭‭ a thief‭, and‭ had‭‭ the bag‭, and‭ bare‭‭ what was put therein‭‭,‭”‬ ‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬John 12:4-6.

The disciples obviously did not think this an extravagant gesture.

However, if it was Mary here in our passage, back repeating her anointing, it might explain why ALL the disciples had come round to Judas’ complaining and criticising frame of mind. “‭But‭ when his‭ disciples‭ saw‭‭ ‭it‭, they had indignation‭‭, saying‭‭, To‭ what purpose‭ ‭is‭ this‭ waste‭?‭ ‭For‭ this‭ ointment‭ might‭‭ have been sold‭‭ for much‭, and‭ given‭‭ to the poor‭,‭”‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬ Matthew 26:8-9.

It might be understood that their limited understanding of the wonderful purpose of God would cause the disciples to consider this repeated anointing as wasteful!

The reconciling of the two accounts is surrounded by perplexity, a sad reminder of our very limited understanding of the glorious record given us in the Holy Scriptures. Commentators have differed in their opinions but such is my regard for Mary, this holy woman, that I am happy to see her as the central figure in both accounts, not that my opinion would account for much.

4. The woman in our text was given a most wonderful commendation by the Saviour.

Scorned by the disciples she may have been, but more important to her was the Saviour’s reaction. By a divine decree she has been written into the history of His time on earth following His first advent. By the dictum of the Lord Jesus, she has been remembered and honoured in every land and in every generation over the last 2000 years or so. Her heart-melting actions are admired and, at least in spirit, copied by millions of devout followers of the Saviour.

Mary knew I am sure that anointing the body of Christ after His death would not be possible for her, such would be the circumstances of His death. She must therefore show her devotion before He died.

You and I can never anoint the body of Christ. He is in glory at present. But we can manifest what I might call an ‘anointing love’ and offer our all to Him, irrespective of the scoffing and derision that it may bring forth from others. Festus, the Roman Governor, mocked Paul and said: “Paul‭, thou art beside thyself‭‭; much‭ learning‭ doth make‭‭ thee‭ mad‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬,” Acts 26:24‭‭‭‭‭‭‭‭‭‭.‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬ Many a zealous and ardent Christian has borne similar reproaches simply for obeying the Saviour and living by the ‭‭‭‭‭‭‭‭‭‭‭‭‭‭‭‭‭‭‭‭‭‭‭‭‭‭first ‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬commandment to ‭‭“love‭‭ the Lord‭ thy‭ God‭ with‭ all‭ thy‭ heart‭, and‭ with‭ all‭ thy‭ soul‭, and‭ with‭ all‭ thy‭ mind‭, and‭ with‭ all‭ thy‭ strength‭,‭‭‭‭‭‭”‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬ Mark 12:30.‬‬

Such a reproach will be common in days such as those in which the incident we are considering occurred, in days like our own!

How precious to the Saviour is a love and a faith of a Mary! How we should seek to emulate her devotedness! It will cost us, as did this precious ointment cost Mary. The words ‘very precious’ are a translation of a Greek word which means ‘of great value, costly. It is a word that appears only here in the Bible. That signifies the uniqueness of Mary’s gift, of Mary’s devotion to Christ. It was an uncommon spiritual love that she had for the Lord Jesus. One that must show itself, not once but yet again. A love that would willingly bear reproach in order to show itself.

Such is the love the Saviour cherishes and honours.

How would we answer the question addressed to Peter by the Saviour? “‭‭‭‭‭‭Simon‭, ‭son‭ of Jonas‭, lovest thou‭‭ me‭?” ‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬John 21:16.

May we give the answer the Saviour longs for.

Rev Ivan Foster (Rtd)

1st February 2023