1Six days before the Passover, Jesus therefore came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. 2 So they gave a dinner for him there. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those reclining with him at table. (For better viewing click HERE).
Previous verses (John 11:55-56) place us very close to Passover time in Jerusalem as we are told that people wondered if Jesus would be brave enough to come to the place where he would be immediately arrested. Perhaps because no one expected Jesus to be near Jerusalem that early these verses return us to the previous events and explain that Jesus came to Beit Annya (Bethany) a full week before Passover. It is obvious that Jesus was an honored guest at the home of Lazarus. (To read about significance of Beit Annya, click HERE).
3 Mary therefore took a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair.
A Roman pound was equal to slightly more than 320 grams or about 12 ounces. Nard is an oil producing plant the rhizomes of which were crashed to produce extravagant aromatic oil. The content of the jar was, therefore, very expensive. Mary’s symbolic act was thought-provoking to say the least, especially given the fact that Beit Annya was home to many poor and disadvantaged. They were taken care of by the hard work of the villagers and sacrificial donations of others. But there was something else at play here. In Judaism (and in many other cultures in the ancient world), hair was associated with woman’s glory, her self-worth and respect. Not only did Mary pour an extremely expensive ointment on Jesus’ feet, she also used her hair to wipe the oil that did not get absorbed into Jesus’ skin. In other words, she placed her self-worth at his feet; she gave him her riches and her glory.
The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.
This Gospel account is an eyewitness account. It is filled with minute details about what happened. As an example, the author remembers that when the anointing took place, because of the extraordinary amount and potency of the oil, the entire house was filled with the perfume’s aroma.
4 But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was about to betray him), said,
Judas Iscariot was about to hand Jesus over to his enemies. Yet, just as John is careful to distinguish the Passover of the hoi Ioudaioi from other cyclical Passovers (like that of Samaritans for example). John also carefully distinguishes between two people named Judah who were both part of Jesus’ circle of disciples. One is Judah Iscariot and the other is Judah/Judas/June Thaddeus (meaning heart or courage).
5 “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?”
Given that the house of mercy and care for the poor was at Beit Annya, this rhetorical question sounds both reasonable and credible.
6 He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it.
If this statement is original (and it most likely is) and was not a later insertion comment by a copyist, the author states the reason for Judah Iscariot’s words was because he was stealing from the bag he guarded.
7 Jesus said, “Leave her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of my burial. 8 For the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me.”
Jesus alternatively interprets Mary’s action as preparation for his death and burial. After the resurrection of Lazarus, it was clear that Jesus brought a final challenge to the Temple authorities. Jesus’ death was now a forgone conclusion.
9 When the large crowd of the Jews learned that Jesus was there, they came, not only on account of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 10 So the chief priests made plans to put Lazarus to death as well, 11 because on account of him many of the Jews were going away and believing in Jesus.
Jesus had succeeded not only in gathering followers from among the Israelite movements of Jewish Galilee, but also from those who were part of the Temple establishment. (Remember that the Jews in John is a complex group, consisting of the Judean leadership and all those who acknowledged their religious leadership in Judea, Galilee or the Diaspora). The end was indeed near. The establishment was rapidly losing power and they had to do something quickly.
12 The next day the large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. 13 So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!”
When the Jewish crowds heard that Jesus was near Jerusalem they used palm branches to greet him as had been done during the Maccabean liberation. (1 Mac.13:51) They sang Hosanna! Hosanna is an English transliteration of Hebrew Hoshanna. In Hebrew, Hoshanna literally means “Save, please!” Not only were those gathered in Jerusalem calling on Jesus to save them; they were invoking the greatest blessing possible upon him “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord – the Kind of Israel.” Israel’s King is Israel’s Shepherd for the entire Am Israel (people of Israel). Note that Jesus is not called the King of the Jews, but more generic term the King of Israel.
14 And Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, just as it is written, 15 “Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt!” 16 His disciples did not understand these things at first, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written about him and had been done to him.
The Gospel of John evinces an obvious interest in two particular prophets of the Hebrew Bible – Ezekiel and Zechariah. Ezekiel was referenced to show the connection between Jesus and the Temple. Zechariah also has a strong temple interest in view and is referred to in this passage from John. Quoting Zech.9:9, John shows that Jesus will be welcomed by the Jerusalem crowds. As a city, Jerusalem will submit to him as to the conquering king. It was customary for victors to enter cities they conquered on horses; parading their power as the reason for acceptance. When the city welcomes the victor with open arms without an exercise of power, it was expected that the victor would enter on a donkey and not on a horse. This is exactly what Jesus did.
Zachariah has another very interesting quote (Zech.14:1-5) that places the coming of the Lord together with the Holy Ones as a symbol of salvation arriving to Jerusalem: “Then the Lord will go out and fight against those nations as when he fights on a day of battle. On that day his feet shall stand on the Mount of Olives that lies before Jerusalem on the east, and the Mount of Olives shall be split in two from east to west by a very wide valley, so that one half of the Mount shall move northward, and the other half southward.” What is intriguing here is that Jesus had obtained the donkey and was about to arrive in Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives where Beit Annya (Bethany) was located. The Mount of Olives is not only the place of Jesus’ triumphant entry to Jerusalem, but it is also the place of his ascension (Acts 1:9-12). We will see more connections between prophecies in Ezekiel and Zechariah as we continue.
17 The crowd that had been with him when he called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to bear witness. 18 The reason why the crowd went to meet him was that they heard he had done this sign. 19 So the Pharisees said to one another, “You see that you are gaining nothing. Look, the world has gone after him.”
The crowd, consisting of hoi Ioidaioi who had witnessed the resurrection of Lazarus, became a powerful witnessing force. The Pharisees, who were the most popular Jewish movement at that time, now acknowledge that the whole world had begun following Jesus.