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§ 242. Christ Anointed by Mary in Bethany. (John, xii., 1, seq.)

After Christ had thus prepared the minds of the disciples for the great events that were approaching, he departed, accompanied by them only, from Jericho on the Friday. The journey thence to Bethany could easily be accomplished before the Sabbath, which he intended to spend in the latter place with the family of Lazarus.

He sat at the Sabbath-meal with the man whom he had raised from the dead. Again did the two sisters manifest their differences of character in their way of evincing their love and gratitude to the Saviour.648648   The narrative of this remarkable incident is not only given by John, but preserved also by Matthew and Mark, though with variations. Luke alone says nothing about it; but then he mentions nothing of Christ’s stay in Bethany at this interval. Even if [as some suppose] the account which he gives (vii., 38, seq.) of the anointing at the house of Simon (cf. p. 211, seq.) gave occasion for the omission of this, it would not follow that both accounts record but one and the same fact. Matthew and Mark differ from John in fixing the time at two days before Easter, instead of six; and in placing its scene, not in the house of Lazarus, —but of Simon the leper. But since Matthew and Mark omit entirely the history of Lazarus, and connect the narrative directly from Jericho to Jerusalem, it is easy to explain their placing this anointing where they do, seeing that its nature was such as to secure its preservation, and its reference to Christ’s approaching death necessarily assigned its chronological position. John introduces it in the connexion of facts. We see in his account the occasion of the festive meal, and of Mary’s demonstration of love Whether the transfer of the scene to the house of Simon (in Matthew and Mark) was occasioned by blending this narrative with that of the other banquet that took place at Simon’s house, or by some other cause, can not be decided; nor has it any bearing whatever upon the veracity of their narratives. 352The industrious Martha waited upon him at table; but Mary, indulging her feelings, and laying aside all ordinary calculations, anointed the feet of Jesus with costly balsam of spikenard, and wiped them with the hair of her head.649649   In the other Gospels the “washing of the head” is mentioned; that of the feet ac cords more with Eastern usages. It was customary for servants to bring water to wash the feet of the guests; but Mary bathed them herself, not with water, but with a costly unguent. Strauss thinks it inexplicable that the name should have been lost in the other Gospels if the woman was so eminent in Gospel history, and especially as Christ said the incident should be kept in memorial of her wherever his Gospel was preached (Matt., xxvi., 13); and, on the other hand, he supposes that “this very saying of Christ might have occasioned the ascribing of the act to a definite person.” To be sure, it is as possible that the tradition itself gave name to the unknown person at a later period, as that the name originally given should be lost. But that the one is more probable than the other cannot be proved in any way. Omitting Lazarus’s history, they had no occasion to mention Mary. The commonness of the name (it belonged to several noted women in the New Testament) may have led to the omission. So in Luke, x., 38, as we have seen, the description of Martha and Mary in their family circumstances, the place of their abode, &c., is omitted, although the very gist of the anecdote turns upon their marked differences of character. But the connexion of the narrative now before us, with the approaching death of Jesus, also tended to preserve the locality. And as John mentions the name, without the promise given by Matthew (xxvi., 13), it is the more evident that the latter did not cause him to invent the former. His graphic description is that of an eye-witness; and it would even be easier to believe that Matt., xxvi., 13, was itself a later invention than that John was led by it to invent the name. The disciples knew that Jesus rather declined than sought demonstrations of honour for his person; and perhaps Judas, who could not understand or appreciate Mary’s feelings, meant to enter into his views in this respect when he said, “Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred pence, and given to the poor?650650   None of the Evangelists but John mention the name of Judas. Strauss thinks that “if Judas had really been named in the original tradition, the name would not have been lost;” and, on the other hand, that “his bad character would easily lead to the ascription of this bad trait to him.” But care for the poor was not a likely trait to ascribe to Judas, and John expressly assigns a motive of his own for his language (v. 6); and the very inaptness of this plea to Judas may have caused its transfer to others. We certainly cannot suppose that all, or many, of the Apostles made use of it, but the one who said it may have expressed the thought of others; though Christ’s words do not necessarily presuppose this. Little as we may be surprised by various defects in their views and feelings at that time, there are two points of view in this plea that can hardly be conceived as used by any other than Judas: (1.) If their minds were then full of anticipations of Christ’s glory, the anointing, as a demonstration of reverence for his person, could not appear improper to them; (2.) Or if their thoughts were turned to his approaching sufferings (which is not so probable), they could still less disapprove an expression of love for him whom they were so soon to lose. Neither of these remarks would apply to Judas.

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But Christ, who looks only at the heart, saw in Mary’s act an exhibition of that overflowing love which is the spring and source of true holiness, and rebuked the vulgar tendency that wished to measure every thing by its own standard. “Let her alone; against the day of my burying hath she kept this (she has preserved it for my embalming); she has shown me the last tokens of honour and affection, not to be measured by vulgar standards; she knows that you will soon have me no more among you, while the poor ye shall have always.”

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