All the Gospels narrate the story about a woman who anoints Jesus (Matt 26:6-13; Mk 14:3-9; Lk 7:36-50; Jn 12:1-8)—an event that Matthew, Mark, and John locate in the town of Bethany. According to the first two Gospels, the woman prompts Jesus to declare, “Amen, I say to you, wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her” (Matt 26:13; Mk 14:9). Why does the Messiah laud this woman’s deed so highly? What’s so wonderful about the woman at Bethany? The answer lies the way that her action anticipates Jesus’ self-sacrifice and points to the good news of God’s love.

According to Matthew and Mark, as Jesus ate a meal, “a woman came with an alabaster jar of ointment… and broke the jar and poured it over his head” (Matt 26:7; cf. Mk 14:3). Though the disciples scold the woman for wasting perfume that could have been sold for the sake of the poor, Jesus responds, “Why do you trouble her? She has done a good work for me…. She has anointed my body (σῶμά μου; somá mou) beforehand for burial” (Mk 14:6, 8; cf. Matt 26:10, 12). Jesus’ interpretation of the woman’s good deed foreshadows his words at the Last Supper: “Take, eat; this is my body (σῶμά μου; somá mou)” (Mk 14:22; cf. Matt 26:26). Thus, the woman at Bethany anticipates the sacrificial quality of Jesus’ body and plays a preparatory role prior to his atoning death.

In John, the woman—whom the Fourth Gospel identifies as Mary, the sister of Lazarus (cf. Jn 11:2; 12:3)—anoints Jesus’ feet, rather than his head. Mary “took a litra of expensive ointment… and anointed Jesus’ feet (πόδας; pódas) and wiped (ἐκμάσσω; ekmásso) his feet with her hair” (12:3). Mary’s action at Bethany anticipates Jesus’ foot-washing a chapter later. Yeshua “poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet (πόδας; pódas) and to wipe [them] (ἐκμάσσω; ekmásso) with the towel that was wrapped around him” (13:5). Jesus’ willingness to wash his disciples’ feet reflects his self-sacrificial love for them, and tells them, “Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another” (13:34). This same love appears in the most famous verse of the New Testament: “For God so loved the world that he gave his unique Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (Jn 3:16). In John, the woman at Bethany provides Jesus with the template for washing his disciples’ feet and expressing his self-sacrificial love before his journey to the cross. 

The woman at Bethany presages Jesus’ ultimate gift of forgiveness through sacrifice. It is for this reason that Jesus says “what she has done will also be told in memory (εἰς μνημόσυνον; eis mnemósunon) of her” (Matt 26:13; Mk 14:9). Likewise, Jesus tells his disciples to partake of the Last Supper “in remembrance (εἰς… ἀνάμνησιν; eis anámnesin) of me” (Lk 22:19; cf. 1 Cor 11:24-25). Just as Jesus’ followers remember his death through the partaking of bread and wine, the Gospels say that the woman at Bethany will be remembered because she pointed to the importance of that very death. Yet, today, there is no memorial meal or holiday in memory of the woman at Bethany. This Passover/Holy Week, we might choose to affirm Jesus’ wonder at this woman by celebrating an evening in her honor!

BEGIN YOUR JOURNEY OF DISCOVERY

21 COMMENTS

  1. Thank you friends. Interesting too that when the women came to anoint Yeshua’s body on the first day of the week He had risen after His previous anointing!! Shalom and blessings at this time.

    • Thanks for your comments, Margaret. Yes, and the woman who comes to the tomb in John is another “Mary.”

  2. Why does ‘Luke’ change up the story by calling the woman a ‘sinner’? Is ‘Luke’ providing a different perspective of the account? Or did ‘Luke’ only wrote it down as he was informed? Or was it a copyist error? Is the word ‘sinner’ in the Hebrew or Aramaic language?

    • Thanks for these questions. Yes, there are several differences in Luke’s version. The short answer is that Luke is more preoccupied with “sin” and the repentance of “sinners” that are the other Gospels — the terms show up more in Luke than in the others. Thus, the writer wants to maintain this trope in the anointing story as well (there’s no “error” involved). The most common Hebrew/Aramaic term for sin is hatta (חטא) and “sinners” is hattaim (חטאים).

      • I content to see that ‘sinner’ is a word in the Hebrew language. But I noticed that you didn’t provide one for the Aramaic language. Looking at the Aramaic Lexicon & Concordance, there’s several words for sin and sinner, different spelling and pronunciation than the Hebrew.

        • “Sin/sinner” is the same root in Aramaic as it is in Hebrew: חטא (hatta). There are other Hebrew words (and their Aramaic equivalents) for sin, including pesha (usually translated “transgression”) and avon (usually translated “iniquity”). In Aramaic, a common term for sin/guilt/debt is hova (חובא).

    • Mary Magdalene has a long history of being assumed to be the anointer. In Luke’s version, the woman is a sinner and assumed to be a prostitute. This is how the Urban Legend was started that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute.

      • Yep, that’s right David. But there’s no biblical evidence for Mary Magdalene being a prostitute — as you rightly note, this is “legend” without data to support it.

  3. The woman also showed us her deep respect and love for Jesus. It also shows us how to be humble and treat others. Jesus took it a step further by showing the same act to His disciples. It was not beneath Him to serve even though He was facing a horrible death. People who serve others out of humility and kindness would not want to be put in the spotlight for their selfless acts. It is good for us however to reflect on what she did and put it into action by showing kindness or minister to others daily.

  4. saya tidak bisa bahasa inggris, israel dan yunani, apakah bisa dalam bahasa indonesia untuk belajarnya? terima kasih

    • Thanks for your question, David. While you don’t need to know Hebrew or Greek to enroll, all of IBC’s courses are taught in English (though we are in the process of expanding to teaching in Spanish, Portuguese, and French).

  5. Re last supper. Why is it called that Reference Luke 22:19 When Jesus words were With desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you, And since Passover is once a year where is the scripture to authorize any other days? only other references are ordinary meals.

    • “Last Supper” is just a traditional title for the meal, but you’re right that there’s no textual reference to this title.

    • We are very happy that you’ve joined our discussion forum. Would you believe that these articles are only a taste of what Israel Bible Center has to offer? We also provide comprehensive teaching on a variety of biblical, historical, and cultural topics. You might begin with The Jewish Gospel of Matthew or The Hebrew Psalms: How To Worship God. You’ll be amazed at the Jewish world that awaits you. Don’t delay another minute: enroll now!

      • Would not “The Great Commission” be a de facto instruction to engage in “The Meal of Communion” as each opportunity presented itself, by the very nature of the language IN the instruction? Surely the intent of Jesus was not to wait for Passover to “teach them to observe ALL things”,etc.

        • Yes, Paul sees the “Lord’s supper” (1 Cor 11:17-26) as a recurring event that believers observe more often than the annual Passover (cf. 1 Cor 5:7-8).

  6. Quiet interesting piece .we are really blessed to have these platforms for good news and sharing views .In regard to Mary highlighted as a sinner .it is also written that Jesus once cast demons out her which could have been a results of a sin or just an affliction .

    • Thanks for reading and commenting, Hlalani. Since Mary is never said to be a sinner, it’s probably best that we don’t import that idea into the text; but you’re right about her being delivered from demon possession (cf. Lk 8:2).

    • We are very happy that you’ve joined our discussion forum. Would you believe that these articles are only a taste of what Israel Bible Center has to offer? We also provide comprehensive teaching on a variety of biblical, historical, and cultural topics. You might begin with The Jewish Gospel of Matthew or The Hebrew Psalms: How To Worship God. You’ll be amazed at the Jewish world that awaits you. Don’t delay another minute: enroll now!

  7. As John the Baptist prepares the way for Jesus’ earthly mission, Mary at Bethany prepares Jesus’ journey to the cross. Those are the two very important missions of Jesus. We should, as Jesus instructs us, remember and honor her. I totally agree with you!

  8. The women who followed JESUS, both Mary’s seem to know what was about to happen to the LORD. His disciples never could grasp what was about to happen. Mary washing HIS feet with her tears, in front of the pharosees, and everyone clueless the MESSIAH was before them.

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