Mary of Bethany

Notes for Nov. 10-11, 2018
John 12:1-8

Biblical Background

  • Bethany: This small village is near Jerusalem on the other side of the Mount of Olives and would be a place for pilgrims to Jerusalem during the major festivals to stay.

  • Reclining at meals: People ate while reclining in the 1st century, laying on their left side, propped up on their left elbow and eating with their right hand.  One would never eat with the left hand as that was used for unclean activities.

  • Traveling teachers: Rabbis would travel as Jesus did and often be asked to be the guest of honor in return for giving a teaching for the guests.

  • A Pound of Ointment: The size of this ointment would be around 12 oz of expensive perfume. A flask of perfume normally carried about 1 oz. so this is an extravagant amount of ointment/perfume being poured out.

  • Value of the oil: This perfume was probably worth about a year’s worth of wages for a common laborere.  Thus, this was a very expensive gift to Jesus in monetary terms.  This represents a major sacrifice on Mary’s part and displays her love for Jesus – valuing Him above all others.

  • Treatment of Feet: It was a common practice to provide water for people to wash their feet upon entering a home as people would be traveling on dirty, dusty roads.  However, the washing of feet with oil that was normally used for the anointing of one’s head would be unique.

  • Oil for anointing the head: A symbol of honor would be to anoint a guest with a drop of oil on their head to freshen them up.

  • Judas and the Finances: Rabbis would need money to finance their teaching and school.   These funds would be entrusted to a trustworth person to manage. Judas’ character is exposed here as he is described as a thief.

  • Anointing of dead bodies: The anointing of a dead body with oil was meant to do two things:  1) show dignity and honor to the body (all physical bodies are created by God and thus are not to be desecrated) and 2) provice some sanitary and hygenic purpose by cleaning the body as once it began to decompose in the tomb it would begin to smell.

  • Poor always with us: Jesus is alluding to Deuteronomy 15:11 and is not condemning generosity to the poor, but rather pointing out the importance of what Mary is doing to him by anointing him with oil as a symbol of his upcoming death and burial.

Discussion Questions

  1. What do we know about this scene? Who is Lazarus, Mary and Martha? Where is Bethany? What is the Passover?

  2. Why do you think a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor?

  3. What was Martha doing during the dinner? Why is this an important role to play?

  4. What was Lazarus doing? What was his role in the dinner?

  5. Knowing the value of the perfume that Mary pulled out and then poured out on Jesus’ feet, how would you have responded if you’d seen this during the dinner?

  6. What do you think Mary’s motivation behind this extravagant act was? What is she expressing to Jesus?

  7. What senses are being used to take in this entire experience? Why is this important?

  8. What is Judas’ response to this extravagant act? Why did he respond this way?

  9. Why did John as the author of this Gospel share more about Judas and his character in this story?

  10. What is Jesus’ response to Judas’ critique of this extravagant act of Mary?

  11. How is this act of pouring perfume/oil on Jesus’ feet symbolic of his eventual burial?

  12. How might the wise men’s gift of myrrh, another expensive perfume foreshadow this story?

  13. Why is this act of love important for us to know about?

  14. In what ways can we express our love for Jesus in extravagant ways?