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March 10, 2012 by William H. Scarle, Jr. 

Jesus must have started up the Jericho Road from Zaccheus’ home early Friday morning.  John tells us he came to Bethany and the home of Lazarus, Mary and Martha “six days before Passover.”  That would have been on Friday late afternoon and in time for Sabbath dinner which would be on Friday evening after sunset.  Lazarus, Mary and Martha were dear friends of Jesus, and their home was his headquarters when in Jerusalem.  Their house sat on the back side of the Mount of Olives, about a forty-five minute walk from the gates of Jerusalem, over the Mount of Olives and down the far side.

The sisters and their brother had likely inherited the house from their father Simon who is described as a leper.  In the Bible leprosy was not defined well and could have been any of several skin conditions.  At any rate Simon was no longer living, and the house must have been large enough to accommodate Jesus and his band of Disciples.  Jesus had raised Lazarus from death several months previous.  The family tomb was in the garden of the home, and is extant today next to the small chapel that marks the location of the home.

It seems from the text that as they sat down for the Sabbath meal they had arrived only recently.  The formalities of washing the feet of visitors and anointing the head had not been performed because of the haste with which they sat down to eat.  Sabbath comes in precisely at sunset.  There are candles to be lit and prayers to be said.  As a result Mary felt compelled to perform these rituals during the meal.   The Jericho Road is dusty and the weather was getting warm, as it always is in the Jordan Valley.  Mary thought highly of Jesus, and to neglect these amenities would have been unthinkable.

Mary used a jar of pure nard to anoint Jesus head and then wash his feet.  Nard is aromatic oil extracted from an Indian or Arabian root.  It was used in anointing the dead for burial, and may well have been left over from the funeral of Lazarus.  The jar in which it was kept was of alabaster.  Its value was three hundred denarii, which was the equivalent of a year’s wages.

Matthew and Mark make it clear that the entire band of Disciples was upset by the seeming extravagance.  Both of them use a plural in describing the protest.  The ministry of Jesus and his followers did evidently include charitable work and gifts to the poor, although we have little information about this activity.  John, however, dumps the blame on Judas, who held the purse and was likely the most vocal.

Jesus, however, was aware that in a week from this Sabbath dinner he would be in the grave himself.  He scolds his followers for criticizing Mary for doing a beautiful thing, and informs then that she has anointed his body beforehand for burial.  Surely neither Mary nor any of the Disciples had any idea what he was talking about.  As they wrote about the circumstances later they are careful to highlight Jesus praise of Mary.  “Truly I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.”

Sabbath was spent resting at the home of these dear friends.  On the first day of the week Jesus would enter Jerusalem in the company of many who had come out to see the famous rabbi.  We will look at this journey next week.

(Bill Scarle can be contacted at ).