Bible Study: Mary

Each of the four Gospels has a story of a woman pouring expensive perfume on Jesus’ feet. She is criticized for wasting the perfume. Jesus however, doesn’t criticize her but praises her action.

There are some differences in the stories.

Matthew and Mark are in agreement. The incident happens in Bethany, just outside of Jerusalem, at the home of a man known as Simon the Leper, during what is now known as Holy Week. The woman’s name is not given.

Luke tells the story much earlier, in Luke 7:36-50. The name of the town is not given, the woman is described as a sinner (aren’t we all?), and the host is a Pharisee whom Jesus addresses as Simon, so he might be the one know as Simon the Leper. Jesus uses the incident as a teaching moment. He tells a parable and asks Simon a question concerning forgiveness and who might love more, a person forgiven of much or little.

Now in John 12, several things are different.

It still happens in Bethany, but now Martha, Mary, and Lazarus are all mentioned. From chapter 11 we know that they are siblings. Martha is serving, Lazarus is one of them reclining at the table with Jesus, and Mary is the woman who comes and pours the perfume on Jesus’ feet. You can try and figure out whose home it is; Martha’s, the three of them own it together, some unnamed person?

Judas Iscariot is the one who voices objection to Mary’s action.

This story occurs just before Holy Week. It is told in John 12:1-8. Verse 12 begins the story of the triumphal entry (Palm Sunday and the beginning of Holy Week).

One takeaway for me from this story is to not criticize how others spend their money, even when in my mind I’m thinking something like “What a waste! I’d never do anything like that.” Sometimes I’m able to hold my tongue.


Mark Phillips