EXTRAVAGANT WORSHIP LAVISHED ON THE MESSIAH AS HE IS ANOINTED FOR BURIAL
Grant Osborne: Jesus is here presented as the suffering Messiah, “anointed” for his messianic destiny as the one who will die for our sins. The woman’s worshipful act of anointing stands in contrast with both the leaders’ decision to kill Jesus and Judas’s decision to betray him. So her act has a twofold significance—a messianic anointing and a washing of his body beforehand for burial.
Leon Morris: Having made it clear that Jesus’ enemies were plotting his death, Matthew gives us a little glimpse of the Master’s last activities among his followers. There is the anointing at Bethany, expressing love and devotion right at the time when the religious leaders of the people were giving vent to hatred and planning murder; the contrast is striking.
Richard Gardner: The point Jesus makes is not that poverty is predestined, nor that his community should ignore the poor. Instead, he argues that this particular act of extravagant love is proper at this particular point in the story in light of what lies ahead.
Stu Weber: Loyalty to the Messiah requires extravagant worship, as we give unreservedly of ourselves. . . Jesus referred to the short time of his stay on earth. The Messiah should have been the guest of honor, welcomed and respected not only by Israel but by the entire world. He had been on earth a few short years, and he would die in a matter of days. There would always be opportunity to minister to the poor, but the opportunities to minister to the Messiah in the flesh were limited. Timing is always an issue in the spending of kingdom resources.
I. (:6-7) REMARKABLE DISPLAY OF EXTRAVAGANT WORSHIP
A. (:6) Context — Flashback
“Now when Jesus was in Bethany, at the home of Simon the leper,”
Leon Morris: Matthew locates the incident in Bethany but says nothing of precisely when it took place or why Jesus was there. John dates his incident of anointing six days before the Passover and says that the triumphal entry took place the next day (John 12:1, 12); neither Matthew nor Mark mentions when the incident took place. John tells us that the home of Martha and Mary was in Bethany (John 11:1); presumably it was the house where they lived that was called the house of Simon the leper. Since people were very fearful of leprosy and had no way of curing it, quarantine was the normal requirement: those with this disease must stay away from other people. Therefore Simon could not have had the disease at this time; he may have been cured of it (as we saw in the earlier note, some of the diseases included under the general name “leprosy” were curable; or Jesus may have healed him). Even after his cure he would have still been known as the leper. Alternatively he may have been dead at this time, but the house was still known by his name. None of the Evangelists tells us why Jesus was in this home, only that he was there. In John’s account we find that Lazarus and his two sisters were there, so it is possible that Simon was their father. Jesus was there for a meal, for Matthew speaks of him as reclining at table (v. 7). John tells us that Martha was serving at the meal and that Lazarus was there (John 12:2).
B. (:7) Costly Anointing
“a woman came to Him with an alabaster vial of very costly perfume,
and she poured it upon His head as He reclined at the table.”
Grant Osborne: From John 12:3 the woman is Mary, sister of Lazarus and Martha, but Matthew leaves her unnamed to center on her worshipful act. An alabaster flask was itself expensive, made of a soft stone that looked like marble and imported from Egypt. The stone was shaped into a small flask with a lengthy thin neck and was thought to preserve the perfume better.
D. A. Carson: The evangelists stress the cost of the “perfume” (v.7, most likely a fairly viscous fluid, possibly from the nard plant native to India), which was extracted from the thin-necked alabaster flask by snapping off the neck. According to John 12:3, the nard was worth about three hundred denarii—approximately a year’s salary for a working man.
Leon Morris: Mary did not regard Jesus as a casual, run-of-the-mill guest but as a very special person; for him a very costly offering was just right. Kings were anointed (e.g., 2 Kings 9:6), and it may be that this was in the woman’s mind. We should also remember that “Messiah” means “anointed one,” and that she may have been giving symbolic expression to her conviction that Jesus was indeed the Messiah.
Warren Wiersbe: When we combine the gospel records, we learn that she anointed both His head and His feet, and wiped His feet with her hair. A woman’s hair is her glory (1 Cor. 11:15). She surrendered her glory to the Lord and worshipped Him with the precious gift that she brought. It was an act of love and devotion that brought fragrance to the whole house.
Homer Kent: It is unwarranted to suggest that Jesus was inventing motives for Mary. He had previously announced his approaching death (Jn 10:11, 17, 18; Mt 16:21; 17:22; 20:18). Instead of closing her mind to the prediction, as the disciples seemed to do (cf. Mt 16:22), Mary believed it. She apparently realized that when the tragedy struck, there would be no time for customary courtesies. Only if Mary’s act is seen as born of her spiritual comprehension can the tremendous praise from Jesus be properly understood. As it happened, this was the only anointing his body received. The women who later came to perform this task found only the empty tomb.
II. (:8-9) REACTION OF THE DISCIPLES AGAINST EXTRAVAGANT WORSHIP
A. (:8) Indignation of the Disciples
“But the disciples were indignant when they saw this, and said, ‘Why this waste?’”
B. (:9) Idealistic Justification for Their Indignation
“For this perfume might have been sold for a high price
and the money given to the poor.”
Charles Swindoll: Why would Matthew push the pause button on the story line to provide this flashback here in the midst of the narrative? The answer is simple: The scene provides the motivation for Judas Iscariot’s betrayal, which would give the Jewish leaders an opportunity to apprehend Jesus during the festival rather than having to wait until its conclusion. . .
John’s Gospel gives us an illuminating detail about the disciples’ complaint. It originated from Judas Iscariot: “Judas Iscariot, one of His disciples, who was intending to betray Him, said, ‘Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and given to poor people?’ Now he said this, not because he was concerned about the poor, but because he was a thief, and as he had the money box, he used to pilfer what was put into it” (John 12:4-6).
III. (:10-11) REBUKE OF THE DISCIPLES AND REJECTION OF THEIR REASONING
A. (:10) Rebuke of the Disciples for Their Indignation
“But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, ‘Why do you bother the woman?
For she has done a good deed to Me.’”
Jeffrey Crabtree: Jesus knew what they were saying (v. 10). In contrast to their condemnation, He judged her actions “a good work,” a good work done to Him. The Twelve scolded Mary for extravagant giving (Mk. 14:5) but Jesus scolded them. He accepted her offering. It was expensive. It was from the heart. It was something for which there was only a small window of opportunity to give and she was wise to do what she could while she could (v. 11). It had greater meaning than even she knew (v. 12).
B. (:11) Rejection of Their Idealistic Justification
“For the poor you have with you always; but you do not always have Me.”
Beare: The beauty of uncalculating generosity is not to be measured by the yardstick of utility.
IV. (:12-13) RECEPTION OF EXTRAVAGANT WORSHIP AND REMEMBRANCE MEMORIALIZED
A. (:12) Reception of Extravagant Worship and Explanation of Its Significance
“For when she poured this perfume upon My body, she did it to prepare Me for burial.”
Grant Osborne: It was common at burials to spread aromatic oil over the body to hide the smell because the Jews did not embalm corpses. John 19:39 tells us that Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus used seventy-five pounds of myrrh and aloes on Jesus’ body, turning their act virtually into a royal burial. Jesus is saying that the woman’s anointing is a precursor of that. Matthew omits Jesus’ burial anointing as well as Mark 16:1 (the women going to the tomb “to anoint Jesus’ body”) and so suggests that this is his official burial preparation.
Charles Swindoll: Mary likely intended the anointing of Jesus’ head and feet to be an act of worship and a confession that He was the true Messiah (“anointed one”). Yet Jesus provided a more profound interpretation of her act: “When she poured this perfume on My body, she did it to prepare Me for burial” (Matt. 26:12).
B. (:13) Remembrance of Remarkable Display of Extravagant Worship Memorialized
“Truly I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world,
what this woman has done shall also be spoken of in memory of her.”
Leon Morris: Gospel is a significant word here. Jesus knew that his death would not mean the end of the movement he had started, but in a very meaningful sense its beginning. The “good news” that he had come to bring involved his death, and the dark days that lay immediately ahead for the disciples did not alter that basic fact. So Jesus now looks through the atoning work he would accomplish on the cross to the proclamation that would follow and that would go right through the world.
Robert Gundry: Her anonymity and “the whole world” make a fulfillment of these predictions unlikely and therefore the fulfillment more impressive when it actually happens (as it has!). “Amen I tell you” gives Jesus’ disciples assurance of the unlikely fulfillment.