Jesus is worthy to be extravagantly anointed as king on a throne and at the same time loving to be prepared for death on a cross. Christian discipleship involves humble service to the King, valuing all things and activities by their ability to express honour to Christ.
Jesus left Bethany for Ephraim, and now he is back in Bethany - to those he loved.
“Six days before the Passover”. The countdown to the “hour” of the true Passover has begun and the dawn of the seventh day is near.
Since the Passover is six days away and the Gospel presents the Passover as beginning on the following Friday evening (cf. 18:28; 19:31, 42), this celebratory dinner (12:2) must have been held on the preceding Saturday - the eve of Palm Sunday.
The term “dinner” or “supper” is used elsewhere in the Gospel only of the Last Supper (13:2, 4; 21:20). But, here probably it is a dinner in honour of Jesus and to celebrate the resurrection of Lazarus.
What supposed to be a funeral meal in honour of the deceased Lazarus had been transformed into a celebratory dinner where Jesus - the resurrection and the life - and Lazarus - who heard the voice of the Son of Man and came out of the tomb - are both reclining at the table.
Martha serving and Mary worshipping (12:3) again agrees with the portrayal of the sisters in Luke 10:38–42.
The perfume is described “genuine” - pure and unadulterated - and expensive - which means not an ordinary one. Moreover, the amount of it is incredible - a bit less than half a litre. Such amount of perfume for one person?
Nard is mentioned in the Song of Songs 1:12; 4:13 f.
But it is not just the quality and the amount of perfume Mary offers to Jesus, but how she honours him with it that is most significant.
(1) She anoints his feet. An anointing would almost always involved the person’s head, which was the most honourable part of the body (cf. Mk 14:3). Why feet then? Caring for the feet of another person was the most demeaning task assigned to household servants (cf. 1:27).
In the OT kings and priests would be anointed to mark the beginning of their rule or priesthood (occasionally prophets as well) - Ex 28:41; 1 Sam 10:1–13; 16:12–13.
In 1 Sam 8:11–13 - the daughters of Israel should serve the king as his perfumers (v. 13).
Thus, the anointing of Mary would point to Jesus’ kingly (and priestly and prophetic) statues. What takes place here in the privacy of the family dinner will be later on make public (12:12–19).
But, there is another explanation provided by Jesus’ himself (12:7). Since, there will not be time to anoint Jesus’ body for his burial after his death on the cross, Mary is doing it ahead of time.
(2) She wiped his feet with her hair. Why not towel? Some suggest that it is a sign of extreme gratitude and humility.
Both action would indicate then Mary’s service to Jesus as the true King, her gratitude for what he did for her brother, and her faith in Jesus’ own resurrection.
In sharp contrast to what King Jesus would receive from the Jewish authorities and Roman guards, Mary provides for him what is rightly due to Him.
The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. Some interpret it symbolically that the Gospel will soon be spread and fill the whole world. Others connect it with Song 1:2.
Judas was mentioned in (6:70–71) - as “one of the Twelve” and as “the devil”. His action of betraying Jesus, could not be erased from the memory of his former companions. If the act of Mary is always remembered wherever the Gospel is being preached, so it is with the betrayal of Judas.
His comment is a rebuke of both Mary and Jesus.
300 denarii was an equivalent of nearly one year of work (a wage - denarii a day). It was like Mary offered Jesus everything she had - a servant maiden offering her inheritance to her King.
Judas is very practical. Two observations:
There is a distinction between Mary and Judas regarding the value of the perfume.
For Mary its value was that it was the most worthy substance with which to anoint Jesus, and its worth was to be equated with the worth of the person upon whom it was placed. Moreover, even such a luxurious oil was only worthy to be placed on the feet of Jesus.
For Judas the perfume was to be measured by its purchase price; its value was found in the amount of dollars with which it could be compared and exchanged.
This is the only place in the NT where something is said about Judas apart of his betrayal.
The Evangelist explains that Judas was not interested in the poor but in the perfume itself. He knew the value of such perfume very well.
Here, we are told that Judas was a “thief” and the treasurer of the community.
The “money-box” - a box for gifts made to Jesus and the disciples by well-disposed people (cf. Luke 8:2).
But was Mary wrong to offer such extravagant gift to Jesus when there are others for whom the gift could be offered?
Jesus answers that problem.
12:7 - cf. Mk 14:8
Jesus directly answers Judas by defending Mary: “Leave her alone”. Then, Jesus tells that the perfume was always intended for Jesus.
Unusual expense at a funeral was not regarded as unseemly; why should then anyone object if the ointment which would otherwise have been used to anoint his dead body was poured over him while he was still alive? Why not appreciate the love which prompted the action?
As it was discussed in 12:3, a person was anointed to mark the beginning of their rule, not the end. Jesus shall reign from the Cross (3:14; 12:32).
As shocking as it may sound today, the poor cannot compare with Jesus. It is not just about the shortage of time in this situation, but about something more important - Jesus is the sole object of devotion.
Concern for the poor is good and praiseworthy and commanded in the Bible, but ultimately Christian devotion to the poor is a subset of Christian devotion to Christ, the King, who commands his people to serve others.
Deut 15:11 - was true in Jesus’ time and is also true in our times.
We give to the poor because they are in need; but we give to Jesus because we are in need.
Perhaps, the Evangelist refers to those Jews from 11:55–56. How did they know about Jesus being in Bethany it is not stated. But, the point is that they come out of curiosity. They want to see not only Jesus but also Lazarus who after being brought back to life also became a celebrity.
The Sanhedrin is getting worst. Why Lazarus also? Could murder of Lazarus prevent Jesus from bringing him back to life again? Could they not realise that he who can bring dead to life has also the power to rise (10:18)?
There reason for the murder of Lazarus is stated here
Because he was the living witness to the power of Jesus. As long as he was alive and around, people would remember the ‘sign’ that had been performed for him, and acknowledge Jesus as the resurrection and the life.
The word (ὑπῆγον) “leaving” means “to depart from one’s allegiance” (cf. 6:67). Lazarus’ living testimony drew people to Jesus. He did not have to say anything - it was enough to see him alive. He proclaimed the Gospel by being alive!
Jesus is the King of Kings, the one who comes in the name of the Lord. The “glory” of King Jesus must be understood not only by his royal entrance into Jerusalem but also by his departure form the grave, his resurrection from the dead.
Since the events of the previous day occurred on the Jewish Sabbath, the arrival of Jesus to Jerusalem must be occurring on Sunday (Palm Sunday).
The large crowd, probably those mentioned in 11:55. The excitement that Jesus created could lead to messianic expectations on the part of the crowds (cf. 6:14–15), the very thing that the Sanhedrin was afraid of (11:48).
The crowd expresses their growing messianic fervour by their action.
“Went out to meet him” indicate ‘the official welcome of a newly arrived dignitary’.
“Palm branches” figured in the procession which celebrated the rededication of the temple in 165 BC (2 Macc. 10:7) and again when gaining the full independence under Simon in ca. 141 BC (1 Macc 13:51). Thus, it became a symbol of victory.
On this occasion, the palm-branches probably signify the people’s imminent national liberation.
The words come from Ps 118:25–26, from psalm of thanksgiving to the God of Israel for victory granted to his people, and for the king’s role as God’s representative.
The words of greeting are also significant: “Hosanna” - “Save!” Or “give salvation/victory [now]”. By this one word, the crowd expresses their hopes about Jesus assuming he is God’s light shining upon them (Ps 118:27).
“Blessed is the one ….” (Ps 118:26). Were the crowds aware that Jesus is the one coming? (John 1:15, 27, 30; 4:25; 6:14; 11:27).
“Even, the King of Israel” - this is not found in Ps 118:26. The crowds added it thus revealing their understanding of Jesus (6:14–15).
Mk 11:1 - From this side Messiah was expected to come.
Mk 11:3 - Jesus claims the right of kings to get for themselves the means of transport.
A colt was not used by anybody - another prerogative of king.
Gen 49:10–11 and Zech 9:9;
Jesus’ way is already ‘foreseen’ in the Scripture.
See 1 Kings 1:33–34; See also 2 Kings 9:13
Zech 9:10 includes this divine promise (Ps 72:8 - Christ’s dominion).
The king rides triumphantly in order to crush the wars. The “peace” this king secures is an extensions of his powerful and authoritative kingship.
After defeating his enemies, this king welcomes the people into his kingdom, under his rule (Zech 9:11,15).
This king’s humility and peace consist in the fact that he is for the people to whom he comes; yet this makes him no less powerful and authoritative.
Interestingly, “do not fear” is not found in Zechariah 9:9. The phrase commonly occurs in the OT in the contexts of theophanies and announcements of God’s reign.
The change from “rejoice” (Zech 9:9), to “do not fear” serves to emphasise the royal authority of this king.
“Daughter of Zion” refers to the city of Jerusalem.
By re-enacting Zech 9:9, Jesus fulfils that prophecy, the fulfilment of salvation which he has come to establish by “the blood of” his covenant (Zech 9:11).
But, Jesus’ words and action will explain the manner of his kingship.
The explanation of Jesus’ entry to Jerusalem does not come only from the past (Zech 9:9), but also from the future - the death and the resurrection of Jesus.
It was only after Jesus died and rose again that the disciple were able to understand the deeper meaning of what had just transpired. Only the Holy Spirit could make them understand the true nature of Christ’s kingship (cf. 14:26; 16:13).
At that moment, however, it was only Jesus who knew what kind of king he truly was (the Son of Man; the King of kings), what kind of kingly duty he had to fulfil (the cross), and how inappropriately low were the kingly hopes and expectations of these people, including his disciples (cf. Acts 1:6).
Two crowds are distinguished: (1) the crowd that had witnessed the raising of Lazarus (11:45) and the crowd of pilgrims that had reached Jerusalem earlier and now came out to meet Jesus with palm branches (12:12).
It seems that the former crowd testify to what they had seen, and the other crowd voiced their appreciative response.
Perhaps they were thinking: one who could summon a dead man back to life would certainly bring the entire nation from slavery to the Romans into freedom. Perhaps!
But, see 12:37.
The Pharisees - considering their plans a failure (11:53; 7:1) - become prophets like Caiaphas. Indeed, Jesus is the Saviour of the whole world (4:42; cf. 3:16–17).
But, what they probably had in mind - a possibility that Jesus would lead now a violent apprising against the Romans.
Most of the Pharisees saw the Roman occupation as God’s will that need to be endured till He himself will remove it. On the other hand, the Zealots were convicted that they have to ‘help’ God in this task. The Sadducean establishment thought that the path of wisdom lay in co-operation with the occupying power.
None of them actually understood Jesus and the divine plan of God.
Every human being is enslaved to greater power than any human empire!