When Jesus had finished all these sayings, he said to his disciples, “You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of Man will be delivered up to be crucified.”
Then the chief priests and the elders of the people gathered in the palace of the high priest, whose name was Caiaphas, and plotted together in order to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him. But they said, “Not during the feast, lest there be an uproar among the people.”
Now when Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, a woman came up to him with an alabaster flask of very expensive ointment, and she poured it on his head as he reclined at table. And when the disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, “Why this waste? For this could have been sold for a large sum and given to the poor.” But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a beautiful thing to me. For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me. In pouring this ointment on my body, she has done it to prepare me for burial. Truly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.”
Then one of the twelve, whose name was Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, “What will you give me if I deliver him over to you?” And they paid him thirty pieces of silver. And from that moment he sought an opportunity to betray him.
Understanding And Applying the Text
We know from earlier that the disciples did not understand that Jesus would be crucified. Jesus finished telling the disciples of the destruction of the temple and Jerusalem. Now He repeated He was going to the cross. You can almost feel their sense of dread. “Oh, this day keeps getting better and better. Not!”
This had to be confusing. Could it be Jesus’ teaching was figurative? It could not be literal. Jerusalem was God’s city. The temple was God’s house. Jesus, the Messiah, could not die. This talk about crucifixion had to be figurative. It all had to be figurative.
In other words, they suffered the same illness we do. We think we know. Rather than learning from Christ’s teaching, we try to fit it into our preconceptions. Rather than adjusting our preconceptions, we try to adjust God’s word. The disciples were no exception.
Christ repeated the story of his death. This was for two reasons. First, when it happened the disciple could remember. Second He confirmed He went on His own accord.
At the end of Jesus’ teaching, Mathew inserts a little fact about the chief priests. John tells us the reason for the meeting. With each passing day, more people flocked to Christ. (John 11:48.) It was Caiaphas who instigated the murder plot. They could not defeat Christ. So they had to kill Him. But because of Jesus’ popularity, they needed to wait until after the Passover. They needed the crowds to disperse.
But the atoning sacrifice was to occur on Passover. Here we see God’s providence at work. Even though the Chief Priests chose to wait until after the Passover, God said it would occur at Passover. Against their wishes, God established the time. Christ’s arrest was not a surprise. His enemies were not in control. God controls all things.
But if you asked them, they would claim they made the decisions of their own free will. And they did. But God controls all things. By their free will, they chose according to God’s plan. God had determined His Son’s sacrifice would be on the Passover. God had appointed the time and place from the beginning. Everything happened as God said it would when He said it would.
Matthew now switches the scene to Bethany. While Jesus was in the house of Simon the Leper a woman came in and anointed Jesus with an expensive ointment. So there was a little break between His speaking of His death and this event.
Notice that when Jesus spoke of His death, it was 2 days until Passover. So the Passover was less than 2 days away at Christ’s anointing. In fact, the full context of the text indicates Passover started the next day.
Matthew and Mark’s accounts of Jesus’ anointing agree. There is some discrepancy with John’s account. As a result, some think there was more than one anointing. John was the last Gospel written. John was aware of the other Gospels and what they said. So it is best to read John as filling in details the others did not include. John gives us the name of the woman, Mary. Matthew and Mark do not mention her name. Matthew and Mark tell us the homeowner’s name. John does not. John mentions Jesus’ feet were anointed. Mark and Matthew mention Christ’s head. This may appear to be a contradiction. But there is none. The woman could have anointed both Christ’s head and feet.
But the feet were not typically anointed. Instead, John’s account shows the amount of oil used. There was so much oil used it ran down and anointed Christ’s feet. By mentioning this John shows how much ointment Mary used. That meant the ointment covered His entire body. There is no contradiction. John amplifies the event.
When the woman poured the ointment on Christ, the disciples were indignant. Mark tells us they all scolded her. They all had the same thought. Both Matthew and Mark tell us the disciples did not think of this as proper use of the perfume. It was a waste. Here was a valuable commodity. Rather than wasting it, put it to some valuable use. The disciples may have thought they were exercising Jesus’ concern for the poor. They may have even felt a little self-righteous. But John tells us Judas’ intentions were self-indulgent. They all thought, “This is a waste. You have taught us to give to the poor. This is could have been used to put our Lord’s teaching into action.”
Christ’s response was not expected. Rather than commending them, Jesus rebuked them. Rather than a “Well done.” Christ told them to knock it off. I imagine their reaction was “I am so confused. I thought I knew what you were teaching.” We see this even after the resurrection. Implementing Jesus’ teaching is not easy. Even Peter needed continuous correction. Peter stood condemned in Galatia. (Galatians 2:11)
First, Christ’s teaching about the Temple, and Jerusalem confused them. They did not understand His crucifixion. But they thought they had a handle on Christ’s ethical teaching. But Christ told them to back off.
They should have asked if the woman’s action deserved reproof. Jesus was right there. It was His decision to make. He was the recipient of the gift. How many times do we hasten to judgment with no regard for God’s word? We think we know. But we do not. We must search the scripture in all cases.
Christ lived a life of modest means and frugality. Now He approves of this luxury and superfluous indulgence. But notice His defense of the woman. She did a beautiful thing. He did argue it was a good thing. He did not even argue it was better than giving to the poor. His defense of her was she did a beautiful thing. He did not say this was the best use of the ointment. She did it for Christ. She did it to express her love for Christ. She did a beautiful thing.
With all that said, this is not a command or even an example that we are to follow in worship. We are not to contrive expensive ways to worship God.
Mary was not fulfilling any law. There was no law that stated a body must be anointed before burial. It was a custom. And it is doubtful Mary even understood what she was doing. But the Holy Spirit led her. The fact she went to anoint Jesus’ body in the tomb, shows, she did not understand.
In verse 11 Christ said, “you always have the poor with you…” I have heard evil men use this verse to excuse and even oppose help to the poor. “You can’t do anything about the poor.” “There will always be poor. There is nothing you can do about it.” These are expressions of Satan. Satan used scripture when tempting Christ in the wilderness. Satan ignored the full teaching of scripture and ripped scripture out of context. That is what men do who use this verse to excuse themselves for helping the poor.
God commands caring for the poor. But that commandment does not have a higher priority than Jesus.
Matthew now turns us to Judas. Judas went to the Chief Priests. They did not come to him. Judas took the initiative. Many think Judas betrayed Christ to force Jesus to bring about the kingdom. They believe Judas was a zealot and was ready to fight to reclaim Palestine. I use to hold to that. It allows an explanation of why Judas betrayed Christ. It makes Judas appear less evil. It makes everything understandable.
The problem is it is not supported by the text. John’s account of these events tells us Judas was greedy. It was all about the money. (John 12:16). So it makes sense to betray Christ for money. Also, John records Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane. In that prayer, Jesus refers to Judas
While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled.John 17:120
Judas was the son of destruction. Luke tells us Satan entered him. Paul tells us that nothing can remove us from God’s love (Romans 8:38-39) The only conclusion is Judas, while one of the twelve, was never saved. He was always evil.
Why did he do it? Evil men do evil things.