The Anointings of Jesus
by Roy Hendrix
The Bible is certainly not intended to be just a history book. But the histories associated with scriptural occurrences can be quite useful in one’s overall interpretation of scripture. Knowledge of the history can increase your personal understanding of the scripture and perhaps lead to more spiritual growth.
The present article on the anointings of Jesus dwells primarily on the overall histories - the events themselves - rather than on the spiritual knowledge that may be gained from studying them. Details associated with each particular anointing - who is involved, where (what region of the country, whose house), are stressed in order to help delineate the specific events.
Throughout the Gospels
The anointings of Jesus’s head or feet with poured perfume are the events of interest and they are recorded in some detail in all four gospels.
Three Separate Events
It appears that there were, most probably, three separate events that occurred in which these anointings of Jesus were at play. One event appears in both Matthew 26 and Mark 14 and this event occurs in Bethany at the home of Simon the leper. Another quite obvious and separate event is described in Luke 7 at the home of a Pharisee where an unnamed sinful woman cleaned the feet of Jesus with her tears and kissed them and poured perfume on his feet. This event described in Luke occurred in the northern region of Nain and Capernaum. Finally, the event described in John 12 represents a third separate one associated with the anointings of Jesus. This one in John occurs at the home of Mary, Martha, and their brother, Lazarus - in Bethany. Here, Mary is the woman pouring the expensive perfume on the feet of Jesus, while her sister Martha prepares and serves the meal and Lazarus, their brother whom Jesus had raised from the dead, reclines at the table with Jesus.
Summarizing these events:
- At the home of Simon the leper - in Bethany and described in Matthew 26 and Mark 14.
- At the home of a Pharisee - in the northern region of Nain and Capernaum and described in Luke 7.
- At the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus - in the southern region of Bethany and described in John 12.
The anointing with perfume is an action frequently mentioned in other literature from the time; however, using long hair to dry Jesus’s feet, as in John and Luke, is not recorded elsewhere, and should be regarded as an exceptional gesture. The identity of the woman, the location, timing, and the message in all four pieces of scripture are oft discussed in Bible literature. In particular, the subjects of forgiveness and gratitude are frequently discussed as they apply to these anointments of Jesus.
The four pieces of scripture that discuss the anointings of Jesus are given below directly from the NIV version of the Bible.
While Jesus was in Bethany in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on his head as he was reclining at the table. When the disciples saw this, they were indignant. “Why this waste?” they asked. “This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor.” Aware of this, Jesus said to them, “Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me. When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. Truly I tell you, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”
While he was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head. Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, “Why this waste of perfume? It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor.” And they rebuked her harshly. “Leave her alone,” said Jesus. “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial. Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”
When one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume. As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them. When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.” Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.” “Tell me, teacher,” he said. “Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?” Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.” “You have judged correctly,” Jesus said. Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.” Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” The other guests began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.” He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it. “Leave her alone,” Jesus replied. “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.”