Matthewby Mike Raiter
Jesus' death is approaching and we are reminded of that three times in this passage: once by Jesus himself (vv. 1-2), once by the high priest (vv. 3-5), and once by the symbolic act of a woman (vv. 6-13).
Jerusalem was notoriously crowded during Passover. Estimates of 200,000 to several million people have been given by scholars. When visiting Jerusalem, Jesus normally stayed at the home of his close friends, Martha, Mary, and Lazarus, in Bethany, just 3 kilometres away on the south-eastern side of the Mount of Olives.
While there, Jesus attends a dinner hosted by a man called Simon (v. 6). While they are reclining at the table, a woman comes in. Matthew doesn't give us her name, although John tells us that it was Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus (John 11:1-3). Although anointing a respected guest is normal, Mary did far more. Matthew emphasises the extravagance of what she did: she used a whole jar of very expensive perfume (v. 7).
The disciples are outraged at the waste (v. 8), claiming the money would have been better spent on the poor. Jesus' reply, ″The poor you will always have with you″ (v. 11), is not meant to demean care for the poor. His point is that you will be able to tangibly express your love to the poor every day, but you will not be able to physically express your love for Him every day. This woman has grasped something that has continually eluded everyone else: Jesus is going away. She understands that Jesus has a love for her that will take Him all the way to death and burial (v. 12).
Indeed, what she has done, Jesus says, will become a model for responding to the gospel (v. 13). Jesus is not telling us that we should always take our most precious item and just give it away; for Abraham it was his only son (Genesis 22), and for a woman of Bethany it was this jar of perfume. Nevertheless, her sacrifice reminds us that when we grasp what Jesus has done for us on the cross, the right response is to love Him in return, lavishly.
What point do you think Matthew is making by contrasting the woman's anointing of Jesus with Judas' betrayal (vv. 14-16)?
Reflect upon how you have responded to God's love for you displayed in His Son's sacrifice. What has been your ″alabaster jar of perfume″?