Gazing into the Face of Yeshua Part 8: The Anointing
Let’s return this week to our study of contemplative prayer. We had been looking at the reviving of Lazarus in chapter 11 of John.
We saw that Mary and Martha had somewhat differing reactions to Yeshua’s delay in getting to Bethany, but both of them told Him that His timely arrival would have prevented Lazarus’ death.
We also saw Yeshua go into travail and weeping, which resulted in Lazarus coming forth from the tomb.
Chapter 11 does not record Mary’s reaction to all this, nor does it tell us any conversation that occurred between Yeshua and Mary after Lazarus was revived.
Putting this in “movie” terms, the scene at the tomb dissolves, as witnesses from this event run to tell the Pharisees about it in nearby Jerusalem (2 miles away). Then we hear about how the raising of Lazarus is received by the religious authorities, who then look for opportunity to arrest Yeshua and put Him to death.
Now we come to chapter 12 of John (and the parallel accounts in Matthew 26 and Mark 14). We don’t know exactly how much time has passed since the events in chapter 11, but what is about to happen in chapter 12 takes place 6 days before the Passover, when Yeshua would be slain as our Passover lamb.
Yeshua comes back to Bethany, just outside the walls of Jerusalem. To put it in perspective, the road from Bethany to Jerusalem winds past the Mount of Olives.
To honor Yeshua, certain people in Bethany hold a special meal with Him at the house of someone named Simon the Leper. (Understand that no one would have broken bread with someone who was actively suffering from leprosy—so it must be that this Simon was someone whom Yeshua had healed from leprosy.)
During this meal a remarkable event occurs. As the men are reclining at the meal, a woman comes to Yeshua with an alabaster vial of perfumed oil—fragrant nard, or spikenard.
The woman begins to pour it over His head (Matt. 26:7) and drops to His feet to anoint them also with this very costly perfume. It says in verse 3 of John 12 that the fragrance filled the house. It was so powerful.
John identifies the woman as Mary, the sister of Lazarus.
As if the startling act of pouring fragrant oil on Yeshua’s head were not enough, she goes a step further and does something that would have been even more disruptive and more socially shocking in her day. She uncovers her hair in the presence of all these people and begins to wipe Yeshua’s feet with her hair.
Jewish women in Yeshua’s day (and Orthodox Jewish women of today) kept their hair covered, except in the intimacy of the family circle. To uncover one’s head like this lacked social decorum, to say the least!
But why did Mary uncover her hair? She did it to wipe the feet of man who had raised her brother from the dead.
Paul writes about women’s hair in another context and says that the hair of a woman is her “glory.” ( I Cor. 11:15). So here Mary is taking her glory and using it as a rag to wipe the feet, the lowest part, of Yeshua’s body.
This is an act of great humility, love and worship.
I want you to picture her, first bending over to anoint His head as He is reclining on the ground at the low table. Then she gets on her knees to anoint His feet. And finally she bends all the way over, her face to the ground, as she wipes His feet with her hair.
This is a picture of complete worship and surrender.
Why does she choose this particular way of honoring Him? The text does not say. Certainly to pour prefumed oil on the head of a liberator is something that is still done today in the Middle East.
I remember seeing a picture on the front page of the Chicago Tribune back during the first Gulf War that showed a Kuwaiti woman pouring perfume on the head of an American GI as the US troops marched into Kuwait City.
Certainly Yeshua liberated Lazarus from an early grave, and in doing so He also liberated Mary, who probably would have faced an unknown economic future without her brother.
But I think there’s more going on here. I suspect that Mary’s act also had in it a great deal of repentance and submission.
I think (and this is just my opinion) that Mary’s heart had been broken, her trust in Yeshua damaged, when He failed to show up in time to heal Lazarus. Remember, she spent that time in Luke 10, listening to Him, drinking in all that she could then perceive in Him. She knew He could heal Lazarus—but He didn’t come in time when she needed Him.
I think so many of us can identify with that. We pray for something critical to our lives or the lives of others close to us, and it seems like God does nothing.
When this happens in the life of some Christians, it brings years of bitterness. For others it brings a season of questioning.
But if our heart is broken by such circumstances where we don’t understand why God apparently did not intervene, we can choose another route. We can keep walking with Him, worshipping Him for being God, even in the midst of our great pain.
This is sometimes the hardest thing to do. How can this Person who says He loves me—and I know He does—how can He let this happen? How can He seemingly ignore my impassioned pleas?
I’ve been there in my life—and I don’t have any pat answers to offer you. The hardest times are those when the answer does not seem to come at all.
But even so there are other times when the answer does come but not on my timetable. When that happens I sometimes find myself having to repent and ask forgiveness of the Lord for my mistrust and hurt feelings—for doubting Him when His timing did not coincide with mine.
I think that was part of the dynamic in John 12 with Mary. There was a sense in which she was repenting for not trusting Him back in John 11. Remember that Mary was the sister who did not ask Him for anything, but only brought up to Him His tardiness.
So here in chapter 12 she is formally saying to Him by her actions that she has once again submitted her heart to His. Not only is she prostrated at His feet, but she has used her “glory” to wipe the lowest part of His body.
A complete act of humility.
Though she did this in front of many witnesses, it was essentially a private act between her and Yeshua. But note that Yeshua let her do it. He did not stop her.
When you or I want to pour the oil of love over Him in worship or in contemplative/devotional prayer, He will always receive it from us also.
Next time we’ll look further at the impact of Mary’s act on Yeshua, something very appropriate as we approach the celebration of the Resurrection coming up shortly.