Now when Jesus was in Bethany, in the house of Simon the leper,…
Jesus and his apostles were entertained at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper. Simon probably had once been a leper, and was miraculously healed by Jesus (see Matthew 11:5), and became a disciple of the great Physician. Bishop Newcome has admirably harmonized the accounts of the anointing at Bethany given by the evangelists Matthew, Mark, and John. This Simon prepared a supper, to which he invited Lazarus, his neighbour if not also his relative, who by the same glorious Worker had been raised from the dead. The sisters of Lazarus also were present (John 12:2, 3).
I. MARY FIGURES IN THIS HISTORY AS A BEAUTIFUL TYPE OF GOODNESS.
1. In her love to Christ.
(1) It was love to him as a personal Friend. He had been intimate in the house of her brother (see John 11:1-44). Blessed is that family in whose home Jesus is a familiar, welcome, and beloved Guest? Love to a Person. Let us beware of sinking the personal Jesus in abstractions, however admirable. His Personality is not the less real because he is invisible to us and in the heavens (see John 20:29; 1 Peter 1:8).
(2) It was love overflowing with gratitude. Her heart was especially bound to him by that miracle of grace in which he restored to her family circle her estimable brother alive from the tomb (see John 11:2-5). Pure and beautiful is the love of a grateful heart.
(3) It was love exalted by reverence. She had precious opportunities of estimating his wonderful character, every human attribute of which was radiated by the splendours, and exalted and intensified by the tenderness, of the Divine. We also have our precious opportunities. He is with us in his Word and in his Spirit. Mary, in her improvement of her opportunities, is an example to us.
2. In the expression of that love.
(1) She had a pound of ointment of spikenard, very precious, contained in an alabaster cruse or flask. This vessel she brake or opened, and poured the contents upon her gracious Lord, first anointing his head and then his feet, wiping them with her hair, the odor of the ointment filling the house.
(2) Note here the unselfish profuseness of heart love to Christ. Nothing is too precious to be expended upon the Blessed One who has shed his most precious blood for us. In Mary's just appreciation of his infinite worthiness, there was no place for the cold and nice calculations as to what good might otherwise be done with this costly nard.
"Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so Divine,
Demands my life, my soul, my all."
(3) Note also the indefinable spiritual insight and foresight or presentiment which works in an exalted love to Christ. Jesus himself brings this out, as his own Holy Spirit works it in: "Against the day of my burying bath she kept this" (John 12:7); "She is come aforehand to anoint my body to the burying" (Mark 14:8); "In that she poured this ointment upon my body, she did it to prepare me for burial;" "None of the wicked shall understand; but the wise shall understand" (Daniel 12:10).
3. In the influence of that love.
(1) The fragrance of Mary's love filled more than the house of Simon. Deeds of love to Christ come into every godly family as a delightful odour. So likewise do they come into the Churches, or brotherhoods of the saints. "Verily I say unto you, Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached in the whole world, there this that this woman hath done shall be told." So far reaching is the perfect love.
(2) "Shall be told for a memorial of her." The loving are immortalized by their intimate association with the immortal Christ of God.
(3) Note here a manifestation of the Divinity of our Lord. We see it:
(a) In his prescience of the wide notoriety of this action of Mary.
(b) In the providence which ensured it.
(c) In the inspiration which moved the evangelists to record it.
II. YET SHE ENCOUNTERED TROUBLERS EVEN IN THE MEMBERSHIP OF THE APOSTOLIC CHURCH.
1. Foremost amongst these was Judas Iscariot.
(1) To him the fragrance of Mary's spikenard was nauseous. All the virtue he could discover in it was its commercial value. "Three hundred pence!" As a typical Jew, he knew the price. "To what purpose is this waste?" So lightly did he value the Son of God, that he could bargain away his life for thirty pieces of silver, or about £4 10s. - the miserable price of a slave.
(2) This man of commerce had no heart to see what Mary saw so clearly, viz. that nothing can be "waste" that is lovingly done to the honour of the gracious Saviour of mankind. Any demur to this great truth came as a trouble to her noble heart. It is ever a pain to a generous soul to be denied the opportunity of doing good, or when a proffered kindness is refused.
(3) Judas had no eyes to see - which perhaps Mary in her modesty had not thought of, but which Jesus saw so clearly - that this action of hers had a moral significance which made it worthy of the attention of the universe and of the ages. The material commercialist is blind to spiritual values. His arithmetic cannot weigh the soul against the world (see ch. 16:26).
(4) Judas set up the general claims of the poor in opposition to the personal claims of Christ, as though these claims were inimical. Who has done most for the poor - Judas or Jesus? Is not Jesus, even in his absence, ever present representatively in the poor? Are not the poor eared for by his true disciples for their Lord's sake?
(5) But this plea for the poor was a cover for covetousness. "This said he, not that he cared for the poor; but because he was a thief, and had the bag, and bare what was put therein" (John 12:6). How commonly do the covetous evade appeals, say for foreign missions, by suggesting the counterclaims of the "heathen at home," or of "poor relations," or vaguely "so many calls," none of which are, in fact, considered! How Judas-like!
2. With Iscariot were others who came under his evil influence.
(1) Some think that Judas was the sole troubler of Mary. They contend that the plural is in this narrative to be taken as singular, according to a Hebraistic usage (cf. Matthew 27:44, where "the thieves also" is put for one thief; and Matthew 28:17, where "some doubted" means one - Thomas). So "when his disciples saw it, they had indiguation," is taken to mean one of them - Judas.
(2) No doubt Judas was the chief offender. Hence John speaks of Judas only as troubling Mary, which was sufficient for his purpose; but it must be noted that, in quoting the words of Jesus in the sequel, the plural is used as in the other evangelists.
(3) The persistent use of the plural throughout the narrative in Matthew and in Mark can scarcely be explained away upon the principle of an enallage, as the rhetoricians call this substitution of the plural for the singular.
(4) While, then, it may well be doubted that the whole college of the apostles were compromised in this unenviable distinction of being troublers of the gentle and loving Mary - John, at the least, may be excepted - yet that some of them so came under the evil influence of Judas as to share with him in Christ's rebuke is evident. Are there not still in our Churches many too easily imposed upon by representatives of the covetous traitor, who artfully plead specious pretexts of charity to the grieving and troubling of the spiritual kindred of Mary?
(5) There is this great difference, however, between Judas and those apostles who sided with him, viz. they were moved by a real though misplaced concern for the poor, while his only concern was to gratify the greed of his thievish heart. Let us beware how we listen to those who affect to set up philanthropy to the disparagement of religion. Let us beware how we depreciate or discredit the services of the people of God whose methods may differ from our own. - J.A.M.
Parallel VersesKJV: Now when Jesus was in Bethany, in the house of Simon the leper,