Six days before his last supper with his disciples Jesus visited Bethany, a small town just outside of Jerusalem (John 12:1). While he was there his friends Lazarus, Mary, and Martha “made him a supper” (12:2), and hosted it at the house of Simon the Leper (Matthew 26:6ff). Lazarus’ family had been close friends of the Lord even before Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. While he was sick, Lazarus had been described to Jesus as “he whom thou lovest” (John 11:3); and when the crowd saw Jesus weeping at Lazarus’ tomb, they exclaimed, “Behold how he loved him!” (11:36). Jesus loved these people, and I have to think that this wasn’t the first time he had eaten with them.
But this time was different. Whether anyone present knew it or not, the time of Jesus’ death was approaching; they would not have him always (John 12:8). His crucifixion was only a week away. Here Jesus sits, with Lazarus and Martha and Mary, in the house of a man named Simon. Even if this wasn’t his first time to eat with these people, little did they know that it would be his last. If they were going to express their love for him, now had to be the time.
Toward the beginning of his ministry, Jesus had eaten supper at the home of another man named Simon. But this was not Simon the Leper from Bethany; this was Simon the Pharisee (Luke 7:36ff). While Jesus was sitting and eating with Simon the Pharisee, a sinner woman—uninvited, unannounced—came in and “brought an alabaster box of ointment, and stood at his feet behind him weeping, and began to wash his feet with her tears, and did wipe them with the hairs of her head, and kissed his feet, and anointed them with the ointment” (Luke 7:37-38).
Simon the Pharisee was shocked that the Master would let a sinful woman touch him; but Jesus said to Simon, “Seest thou this woman? I entered into thine house, thou gavest me no water for my feet: but she hath washed my feet with tears, and wiped them with the hairs of her head. Thou gavest me no kiss: but this woman since the time I came in hath not ceased to kiss my feet. My head with oil thou didst not anoint: but this woman hath anointed my feet with ointment. Wherefore I say unto thee, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little” (7:44-47). Simon had not even shown Jesus the basic elements of hospitality; but this unnamed woman had poured costly ointment and extravagant love on him. In stark contrast to the weeping woman on the floor, it was as if nobody in the house of Simon the Pharisee wanted to show their love for Jesus. So Jesus turned this woman’s actions into a lesson about “loving little” and “loving much” (Luke 7:47).
That supper was early in Jesus’ ministry, at the house of Simon the Pharisee. Now, at the end of Jesus’ ministry, in the house of Simon the Leper, Jesus is again sitting at the table for supper. In the first Simon’s house, Jesus had taught them a lesson about displaying their love for him; in the second Simon’s house, someone had learned that lesson. At the home of Simon the Pharisee, a woman had anointed Jesus’ feet and washed them with her hair; in the house of Simon the Leper, someone was about to do it again.
While Jesus was sitting at the table, “Mary took a pound of ointment of spikenard, very costly, and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped his feet with her hair: and the house was filled with the odour of the ointment” (John 12:3). Perhaps she took her inspiration from that early episode in Jesus’ ministry. Perhaps she knew that unnamed sinner woman—or was that woman herself—who had washed Jesus’ feet at the home of Simon the Pharisee. But here, in the house of Simon the Leper, Mary was going to show her love for Jesus. Jesus would not have to give a sermon about “loving much” to her: she had already learned that lesson. She wanted to take her best, her “spikenard, very costly”, and pour out extravagant love on the Lord.
I want my relationship with God to be like supper with Simon the Leper. I hope Jesus never has to chastise me because I am not loving him much; I hope I never have to hear the rebuke that Simon the Pharisee heard when the first woman anointed Jesus’ feet. Like Mary, I want to learn my lesson, and give Jesus my worship even if it is “very costly”. Mary learned from the first woman (Luke 7), and I hope I learn from Mary. I want to pour extravagant love on the Lord; I want to love him much.
Two meals, two men named Simon, and two women who poured precious ointment on the feet of Jesus—one episode played out early in his ministry, the other was six days before his death. We do not know the city where the first woman anointed Jesus; but we know the city where Mary anointed Jesus. We do not know what type of ointment the first woman used; but we know what type of ointment Mary used. We do not even know the first woman’s name; but Mary’s name we know. As a shadow has less detail than the actual object, so the first episode has less detail than the second. The sinful woman’s foot-anointing in Luke 7 is a foreshadowing of Mary’s foot-anointing in John 12.
But I believe Mary’s actions were more than foreshadowed. I believe they were foretold. I believe they were more than pre-pictured. I believe they were prophesied. John 12:2-3 gives us three details about the scene when Mary anointed Jesus’ feet: Jesus was sitting at the table, the ointment was spikenard, and the smell filled the room. In direct parallel to Mary’s act of extravagant love, we find this verse in the Song of Songs about extravagant love:
While the king sitters at his table,
my spikenard sendeth forth the smell thereof.
In John 12 King Jesus was sitting at his table. And a woman brought her spikenard, and it sent forth a smell that filled the room—a prophecy of extravagant love, and a living example of it. Like Mary, we need to bring our spikenard to the king’s table.