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  • Rıdvan Demir

MARIA MAGDELENA ANOINTS JESUS’S FEET (JOHN, 12:1-8)




I. OUTLINE OF THE PASSAGE


1. Jesus comes to Bethany before the Passover. (Festival)

2. Martha serves Jesus, someone else and Lazarus whom Jesus had raised from the dead .

3. Mary anoints Jesus with nard at mealtime.

4. Judas Iscariot objects, complaining to Jesus that the expensive perfume should have been sold.

5. Judas Iscariot is a thief.

6. Jesus rebukes Judas Iscariot, and he states whom he will die in soon.


PLAYBILL COVER


Main Topic: Respect Jesus and believe his signs (miracles)

Sub-Topic: Lazarus was raised from the dead by Jesus.

Sub-Topic: Jesus informs about his death before his death.

Sub-Topic: Mary anoint Jesus.

Place: Bethany in Judea.

Time: Six days before the Passover feast.

Lead: Jesus.

Supporting: Lazarus; Mary; and Judas Iscariot.

Others: Someone who is at the meal; and the poor.


II. TEXT / TRANSLATION ISSUES


A. Textual issues


1. Passover (12:1): Passover Feast: Pascha

2. Pure nard: (Pistikos nardos) (12:3): a perfumed ointment imported from the Himalayas.

3. Wiped them (12:3): Jesus' feet.

4. Pint: a Greek litra (about 0.5 liter), probably Roman pound was about 12 ounces, or 340 grams.

5. Denarii (dinarion) (12:5): three hundred denarii approximately one year’s wages for a laborer

6. She bought it (12:7): Gk lacks.


B. Textual Questions


What does Passover meaning in the OT and in the NT context? Is there a difference between Passover and the Passover feast in Judaism? Why is this feast important before Jesus’ death (as paschal lamb)? What did God intend in this relationship? Can we learn if nard was available in the Middle East at the time of Jesus? Was import-export possible then between the Middle East and Himalayas? If so, how and in what ways? Can we say Mary had great respect for Jesus because she anointed Jesus' feet and wiped them with her hair? Is there a connection between this pericope and John 13:4-9 (Jesus washing the disciples' feet?) Can we say that to wash/wipe means respect, faith or humility? What is the meaning of wiping/anointing feet in Jesus’ time? How should we compare this in our modern age? (for more information, see Bruce M. Metzger, Commentary on GkNT, p. 236-237).


C. Translation Issues:


While NRSV uses “the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus”; NIV uses “the Passover, Jesus arrived at Bethany, where Lazarus lived”; and YC (Yeni Ceviri / Turkish new translation) uses “the Passover feast Jesus came Bethany, where Lazarus existed.” NRSV uses “there they gave a dinner for him”; NIV use “here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor"; and YC uses here "they organized for him a banquet." It is not clear who gave the dinner in the NIV (passive voice, “was given.”) It is not clear in the YC (12:2) that it is a dinner, where the dinner in Bethany is, or whose home it was (in YC, NRSV and also NIV.) Compare Mark (“in the home of a man knows as Simon the leper”) and Luke (“when a woman who had lived a sinful life in that town learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house”). In John, Jesus was probably at the home of Martha and Mary, but this is not very clear. The NRSV uses “And Lazarus was one of those at the table with him”; NIV uses “While Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him”; and YC uses “Lazar was one of those at the meal table (Turkish sofra) with Jesus (12:2). The NRSV uses “pound” (Roman pound about 12 ounces, or 340 grams); NIV uses “pint” (Gk litra, about 0.5 liter); and YC uses about 0.5 liter (330g, see the YC, table of units, p. 1610.)




NRSV

NIV

YC

one of those at the table

was among those reclining at the table

was sit one of those at the meal table

Costly

expensive

very valued

anointed / wiped

poured / wiped

smear / wiped

Them (fn, Gk. His feet)

his feet

Jesus' feet

‘The one who was about to betray him’ is in parentheses

who was later to betray him

one of the disciples of his was later to betray Jesus

three hundred denarii (fn; nearly a years wages for a laborer)

it was worth a year's wages (fn, in Greek three hundred denarii

Three hundred dinar (denarii)

she bought it (Gk. lacks)

It was intended that she should

-

(He said…was put into it)

he did not say…because he was a thief

he was not saying…for he was a thief

Keep

Save

Keep

leave her alone

leave her alone

leave women alone




III. CULTURAL and HISTORICAL ISSUES


A. The Passover feast is very important in the Jewish traditions, because Passover (pascha) means the Jews escaped from Egypt (Ex. 12:1-13:10; Deut. 16:1-8). On the other hand, to anoint someone's feet and wipe them with hair probably means very high respect, humility and belief in that person.


In Eastern culture at the time of Jesus the Messiah, the ways of thinking and culture were similar. In the Bible, Jesus usually appreciates the poor… except here. In this passage, Jesus does not insult the poor, but just states that he will die and implicitly defines his own worth. Elsewhere in the NT, we see Jesus values the poor and their families. So, here Jesus is not diminishing the value of the poor but emphasizing his own high value as God’s Messiah.


Why did Jesus come to Bethany before the Passover feast and not at a different time? Was this a plan of God for Jesus' life? What was meant by using hair and pure nard on someone's feet in this time? How can John say Judas was a thief? How did Jesus talk about his death before he entered Jerusalem? Can we say that God informed Jesus of his death through the Holy Spirit, the angel Gabriel, or in other ways? If we could answer this question completely, could we really understand it very well? Does the historical OT background provide a relationship between the words of Passover and this pericope?


B. Use of Sources:


1. Passover: meant the escape of Jews from Egypt that archangel of death was passing over all Jewish homes which there were sign sacrifice blood over their homes door.

2. Denarii/Pound: (or pint) were modules of its term.

3. Anointing with pure nard: Jewish burial customs included anointing the body with perfumed oil. (wee NRVS, fn. for John 12:7-8, p. 2037; cf. Luke 23:56 and its fn., p. 2007; and fn. John 19:40 and its fn., p. 2052.) According to Jewish funeral tradition, if someone dies, he/she was anointed with oil and perfume. Probably pure nard was one of them and was very valued and expensive/exclusive. This women (probably Mary) wanted to imply that Jesus is very valued and special. How can we learn about this process of washing someone's feet in the Middle East during the time of Jesus? How many books talk about this? How can we obtain this type of information? It is so important to know the historical background of the pericopes to understand the holy scriptures?


IV. LITERARY AND RHETORICAL ISSUES


A. Key Words


1. Passover (12:1)

2. Raise (12:1)

3. Anoint (12:3)


1. Passover: (Unleavened bread)


* Feast: Mt. 26:2; 26:18; mark 14:1; Luk. 2:41; 22:1; John 2:13; 2:23; 6:4; 11:55;

11:55 (again); 12:1; 13:1; 18:39; 19:14; Acts 12:4.

* Lamb/Sacrifice: Mk 14:12; Lk 22:7; Heb 11:28 (Passover sacrifice and its blood.)

* Eat: Mt., 26:17; Mark 14:12; 14:14; Luk. 22:11; 22:15; John 18:28.

* Meal: Mt. 26:19; Mark 14:16; Luk. 22:8; Luk. 22:13.


* Historical background: "It is the Passover of the Lord. For I will pass... it is a festival to the world." (Ex. 12:11-20). As specific, word Passover used implicitly to mean the sacrifice of Jesus. Jesus was the sacrificed Lamb of God when crucified on the cross (his blood, cf. Exodus) All sins of mankind would be “Passed Over” by the cross. That was a part of God’s plan, according to Christian theology. John has not loaded different meanings on the word Passover different from other NT writers.


2. Raise: (anistemi, “revive”): Implicit parallel with the Quran: hereafter and judgment day beliefs) see II Cor 1:9 and John 5:21. Death will not have power over Jesus (Acts 6:9); beliefs in the hereafter (Cor 15:12-34); resurrection of the dead (I Cor. 15:35-54); and the resurrection of the body. The word “raise” used with many meanings in the NT but is generally used with the the meaning of “revive” in the NT as in the Gospel of John.


3. Anoint: (aleipho) The NT uses this word for “wipe, touch, smear, rub, etc.” (cf., Mt. 6:17; 6:13). In the Gospel of John, this concept is used in this meaning, particularly with oil and perfumes together. This word sometimes has been used by Jesus for God who anointed Jesus to preach good news to poor. (cf. Lk 4:18; Acts. 4:27 and 10:38; Heb. 1:9). Gospel of John also used “the word of anointed” as smear (epicherio, 9:6, 11.) In Acts, it has been used as literal meaning for Christos (Acts 4:26). This concept is very large in Christianity, because chrio (“anoint”), chrisma (“anointed be, anointing”) christianos (“christian”), and christos (“anointed”) concepts come from the Hebrew/Aramaic word for “Messiah.” John does not use this concept in this literal meaning.


B. Context of the Passage


This passage seems dependent on the previous passage because the passage talks about Lazarus resurrected by Jesus. (11:43-44) Also talks about being anointed by Mary at Bethany (12:3). However, my pericope includes Judas Iscariot who has later to betray him and also who was a thief (12:4-5) so I can say that my pericope includes new people and themes that will be important later in the Gospel. The passage links Lazarus’ resurrection and Jesus’ death because “for account of him the Jews were going over to Jesus and putting their faith in him.” At the same time, it is talked about from Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. It is very interesting that the passage connects appropriately with both previous and following passages. In Ch. 12 and throughout the Gospel of John it is clear characterstic of signs and miracles of Jesus. Besides, it is very amazing that being informed of his own death, Jesus still decides (11:8) to go to Jerusalem and goes there knowing he will die there. (cf., 12:8-12:23) When Lazarus, whom Jesus revived, is at dinner with Jesus, is Jesus thinking about his own future resurrection?


C. Function of the Passage in its Context


It is very clear that this pericope is like a bridge that connects previous and following passages. When Jesus resurrects Lazarus and talks about his own death before this passage, Jesus goes from Bethany to Jerusalem to die for God’s plan. When Mary anoints Jesus and when Judas Iscariot objects, there is a connection with passages to come. Jesus shows a sign when He revives Lazar. How can we learn what Lazarus was doing after resurrection and before joining this dinner given in Jesus’ honor?


D. Relation to Other New Testament Texts


My pericope is not unique in the NT (Mt. 26:6-13; Mark. 14:3-9), but it is unique in the Gospel of John. Jesus was at home of Mary (Martha or Simon the leper?) when anointed by a woman (Mary?) See Mt. 26:6 and Mark 14:3. Who relaly objected to Jesus with concern over the expensive oil (or nard): Judas or Jesus’ disciples? (Mt. 26:8; Mark 4:5) Was the feet or head of Jesus anointed by this women or Mary? (Mt. 26:7; Mark 14:3) Where are the similarities or tensions in those parallel NT passage? Are there more similarities or tensions between those passages?


E. Issues of Characterization: Lazar, Mary, Martha, and Judas Iscariot


Who is Lazarus? What was his job? Is he the brother of Mary and Martha? (John 11:2) Was he alive after Jesus? Are the same roles of Lazarus in the gospel of John as in the Synoptics? Why did Jesus like Mary, Martha and Lazarus? (John 11:3-5) Can we say that each of them believed (11:27; 11:32) in Jesus and his miracles with all their hearts? Why did Judas object to Jesus? Why did only Judas betray Jesus? (John 12:4-5) and why not Peter or other disciples? Can we answer all those questions by saying that all of those events were the plan of God? (John 6:70-71; 13:27) Why did God use Judas for his plan? (John 13:2) Why was Judas chosen by God? (John 18:13) How did Jesus know that Judas would betray him and did Judas himself know in advance? (cf. John 13:26) Did God inform Jesus who would betray him or just that someone would? How can we say that these four characters (Lazar, Mary, Martha and Judas) compare with each other?



V. SIGNIFICANCE FOR THEOLOGICAL REFLECTION AND PREACHING

(This chapter will be an academic / dialogic approach for me)


A. How do you think about this passage? Can we say that this passage has only one topic? What is significance of anointing the feet of Jesus? What does this process mean? Why was Jesus informed of his death, and how? Do you think God inform him? Why did Jesus plan to go to Jerusalem when he knew that he would die there? Was that the plan of God for Jesus?


B. Why did Jesus rebuke Judas? Jesus wants to say implicitly that Judas will betray him in the near future. Is there any ideology as clear or not clear (implicitly) in this pericope? Is it possible that Jesus knowingly went to death for our sin? How does this passage affect our understanding of this question? Can we understand and interpret from this pericope whether or not Jesus went to his death intentionally?


C. If there were not Christian Councils, how could we interpret this sentence: "it was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me." Does it have the same meaning that Jesus knew of his death beforehand and is still considered that Jesus would die like ordinary people?


D. If scientists today find a way to revive the dead, would it change our interpretation of this passage? If a supernatural action were performed by some other prophet in history but this miracle was a “sign” pointing to an extraordinary situation, is it still a miracle? Can we accept as a miracle that it was a miracle in history if this is not a very normal thing today? Islam says concerning that “Yes, because it was an extraordinary situation that this is definition of a miracle and it was not impossible in past.” We can gain great insights into this topic by reading articles written by people with dual Ph.D.s of neurology and Christian theology. They are called neuro-theologs, a growing field in American academics.


E. Do you know that Quran talks about miracles of those kinds that are the same? Why Allah is saying again and again that by Allah's leave? Can we say that Allah wants to imply that Jesus was not divine? Is it possible that according to Islamic perspective?


"And Allah will teach him the Book and Wisdom, the Law and the Gospel, "And (appoint him) an apostle to the Children of Israel, (with this message): "'I have come to you, with a Sign from your Lord, in that I make for you out of clay, as it were, the figure of a bird, and breathe into it, and it becomes a bird by Allah's leave: And I heal those born blind, and the lepers, and I quicken the dead, by Allah's leave; and I declare to you what ye eat, and what ye store in your houses. Surely therein is a Sign for you if ye did believe; "'(I have come to you), to attest the Law which was before me. And to make lawful to you part of what was (Before) forbidden to you; I have come to you with a Sign from your Lord. So fear Allah, and obey me." 'It is Allah Who is my Lord and your Lord; then worships Him. This is a Way that is straight.'" "(See Quran, Trs. Yusuf Ali, Al-i Imran Chapter; 3:48-51)



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