In John 12:1-8, Matthew 26:6-13, and Mark 14:3-9 we find the story of Mary washing the feet of Jesus
In the small village of Bethany, just a short distance from the bustling city of Jerusalem, there was a sense of excitement and anticipation in the air. The Passover was near, and many were preparing to travel to Jerusalem for the festival. Among them was a woman named Mary, whose heart was filled with a mix of emotions as she prepared for an act that would forever be remembered in the annals of history.
Mary lived in Bethany with her sister Martha and her brother Lazarus, whom Jesus had raised from the dead (John 11:1-44). This miraculous event had deeply impacted Mary, and her gratitude and love for Jesus had grown immensely. She had always been a contemplative soul, often found at Jesus’ feet, listening to His teachings (Luke 10:39). But since the raising of her brother, her devotion had taken on a new depth.
As the Passover approached, Jesus arrived in Bethany and was invited to a dinner in His honor at the home of Simon the leper, a man whom He had healed (Matthew 26:6, Mark 14:3). Martha was serving, Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with Jesus, and the room was filled with the disciples and other guests, all sharing in the joyous occasion.
Mary had been planning this moment for some time. She had in her possession a small alabaster jar of expensive perfume, made of pure nard, a fragrant oil worth a year’s wages (John 12:3). This perfume was likely her most valuable possession, perhaps saved for her own burial, as was customary in those times. But Mary had decided to use it in a way that would express her deep love and reverence for Jesus.
As the dinner progressed, Mary’s heart was pounding with a mix of nervousness and resolve. She knew that what she was about to do would be unconventional and possibly misunderstood. But her love for Jesus and her desire to honor Him outweighed any concerns about social conventions or the opinions of others.
Quietly, Mary approached Jesus, her hands trembling slightly as she held the alabaster jar. The room was filled with conversation and laughter, but her focus was solely on Jesus. Then, in a moment of profound devotion and humility, she broke the jar and poured the perfume on Jesus’ feet. The fragrance of the oil filled the room, drawing the attention of everyone present (John 12:3).
Mary then did something even more remarkable. In an act of deep humility, she loosened her hair – something a Jewish woman would rarely do in public – and used it to wipe Jesus’ feet (John 12:3). In that culture, a woman’s hair was considered her glory and was usually kept covered. By letting down her hair in a room full of guests, Mary showed a level of vulnerability and devotion that was both startling and moving.
The disciples, especially Judas Iscariot, were indignant. Judas, who would later betray Jesus, objected to what he saw as a waste of money. He argued that the perfume could have been sold and the money given to the poor, a statement that was more about his own greed (he was the keeper of the money bag and used to help himself to its contents) than concern for the poor (John 12:4-6).
Jesus, however, understood Mary’s act in a way that others did not. He saw the love and sacrifice behind her gesture and defended her actions. “Leave her alone,” Jesus said. “She has kept this for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me” (John 12:7-8). Jesus recognized that Mary’s anointment was an act of preparation for His impending death, a concept that His disciples had not yet fully grasped.
Mary’s act of anointing Jesus’ feet was more than a gesture of love and devotion; it was a prophetic act, symbolizing Jesus’ impending death and burial. She might not have fully understood the significance of her act, but Jesus did, and He honored her for it.
As the evening drew to a close, Mary remained close to Jesus, her heart full of emotion. She had given her most precious possession as an act of worship, and in doing so, had drawn closer to Jesus in a way she had never imagined. Her act of devotion would be remembered and spoken of wherever the Gospel was preached, a testament to her love and sacrifice.
The days following the dinner at Simon the leper’s house were filled with whispered discussions and varied reactions from those who had witnessed Mary’s act of devotion. For Mary, the experience remained a profound moment of connection with Jesus, a demonstration of her love and recognition of His impending sacrifice.
In the quiet moments that followed, Mary often found herself reflecting on the words of Jesus, pondering the depth of their meaning. She thought about His teachings, the miracles she had witnessed, and the incredible event of her brother Lazarus being raised from the dead. Each memory reinforced her understanding of who Jesus was and deepened her conviction that her act of anointing His feet was more than just a personal gesture; it was a symbolic act connected to the very heart of Jesus’ mission.
Meanwhile, in the streets of Bethany and beyond, Mary’s act was a topic of much discussion. Some criticized her for what they perceived as wasteful extravagance, echoing Judas’ sentiment. Others were moved by her devotion and began to see her act as a symbol of true discipleship — giving one’s all to the Lord without reservation.
Among the disciples, Mary’s act became a source of reflection. Peter, John, and the others were still trying to fully understand the path that Jesus was walking, a path that seemed increasingly filled with talk of sacrifice and suffering. Mary’s act of anointing, which Jesus himself had connected to His burial, added to their growing awareness that Jesus’ mission was leading to an event that would shake the very foundations of their faith and understanding.
In the days that followed, as Jesus’ final journey to Jerusalem began, the story of Mary anointing His feet spread among the crowds. People who had heard of the miracle of Lazarus’s resurrection now also heard of Mary’s profound act of devotion. The story added to the growing sense of expectation and mystery surrounding Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem.
As Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, fulfilling the prophecy of Zechariah (Zechariah 9:9), those who had heard of Mary’s act saw it as a fitting prelude to this moment. The King who entered Jerusalem not with pomp and splendor, but in humility on a donkey, had been anointed by a woman in an act of humble devotion. The contrast between worldly expectations of kingship and the kingdom that Jesus represented was stark and thought-provoking.
During the tumultuous events of Holy Week, as Jesus faced betrayal, trial, and crucifixion, Mary’s act of anointing took on even greater significance. It stood as a silent yet powerful testimony to the path of sacrifice and love that Jesus was walking. For Mary, the events of that week were a tumult of joy, sorrow, and ultimately, awe, as the death and resurrection of Jesus unfolded.
After Jesus’ resurrection, as the early Church began to take shape, Mary’s act was remembered and recounted by the Apostles as an example of true worship and devotion. Her story was shared with new believers, serving as a powerful illustration of the kind of sacrificial love and devotion that Jesus called for from His followers.
Mary’s story, particularly her act of anointing Jesus, became a part of the Christian narrative, a testament to the power of simple, heartfelt acts of devotion. It was a reminder to the early Christians, and to all who would come after, that the kingdom of God is not about grand gestures or outward show, but about the humility, love, and sacrifice exemplified in the actions of Jesus and His followers.
Years later, as Mary aged, her act of anointing Jesus’ feet remained a defining moment in her life. She continued to be a respected member of the Christian community in Bethany, often sharing her experiences with younger believers. Her faith and devotion, demonstrated so powerfully that night, continued to inspire and encourage others.
As the Gospel spread throughout the world, the story of Mary anointing Jesus’ feet went with it. It crossed cultural and geographical boundaries, reminding all who heard it of the depth of love and devotion that Jesus inspires. Mary’s act became a symbol of the personal and transformative relationship that is possible with Christ, a relationship marked by deep love and sacrificial giving.
In the fullness of time, Mary passed away, but her legacy lived on. Her story, immortalized in the Gospels and cherished by generations of believers, continued to inspire acts of devotion and worship. Mary, who had anointed the feet of Jesus with expensive perfume, had poured out more than just oil that day; she had poured out her heart, setting an example of love and devotion that would echo through the ages.
Portions of this story are taken from various individual conversations and different interviews with pastors.