from WL Worcester (H Blackmer, ed.), 
The Sower.  Helps to the Study of the Bible in Home and Sunday School
(Boston: Massachusetts New-Church Union, n.d.)

Table of Contents


Lesson 28

Mark 14:1-11  The Anointing in Bethany

The Story


Our lesson today is of a supper in Bethany at the house of "Simon the leper." He, perhaps, was a leper who had been healed by the Lord. Do you know how the people sat at feasts? Not up straight in chairs as we sit at table, but half lying on wide couches in such a way that the feet of a person would come behind his neighbor on one side, bringing his head in front of his neighbor on the other side. In this way you see the feet would be near the outer edge of the couch and could be easily washed by the servants. And it was one of the marks of hospitality to provide for the washing of the feet of guests, for they wore only sandals, which were no protection from the dust of the streets. There is one other thing about the arrangement of the table which will help us to see the picture as it really was. It was sometimes arranged on three sides of a square, the couches for the people being only on the outer sides. Sometimes the couches were arranged on three sides of a square table. In this way the servants could wait upon the guests from the inside of the square, or from the free side of the table without reaching between the guests.

It was at such a table that the Lord sat at meat in Simon's house in the little town of Bethany. John tells us that Lazarus was among the guests at the supper, sitting at the table with the Lord - the same Lazarus whom the Lord raised from the dead - and that his sister Martha was one of the people who waited upon the guests. Their sister Mary came bringing a beautiful box, or flask, of spikenard, a most precious perfumed ointment. She broke the cruse, and poured the precious ointment upon the Lord's head, and then upon His feet, wiping them with the hair of her head; and the whole house was filled with the sweet smell. This was a tribute that might have been paid to a king. No one else in the world had treated Him with so great an honor.

Judas Iscariot and some of the others thought it a waste, for they said the ointment might have been sold for three hundred pence and the money given to the poor. But the Lord said that it was a good work she had done, and that wherever the gospel should be preached in the whole world this that this woman had done would be told as a memorial of her. It is a very precious story.


The story of the anointing in Bethany is told by Matthew, Mark, and John. Matthew and Mark tell of it as if it might have happened on Wednesday of this last week. John places it definitely on the day before Palm Sunday, but the story is the same. A different anointing, in Galilee, is described in Luke 7:36-50.

You remember Bethany, the village on the Mount of Olives, about two miles from, Jerusalem. Tell me what you can about the family in Bethany whom Jesus loved, and of His visits to their home.

It was probably on the Sabbath evening as the Lord rested in Bethany, that they made Him this supper. The scene is before you, let us think of a few points before we read the story. Alabaster is a fine white stone like marble. The cruse was a little flask, perhaps "rosebud" shape, sealed at the neck. The spikenard was a plant growing mostly in the mountains of India, from which ointment was made which was highly valued. We read in the Song of Solomon, "While the king sitteth at his table, my spikenard sendeth forth the smell thereof." (1:12 ; 4:13, 14) The cruse of ointment which Mary brought was "very costly." It might have been sold for three hundred pence, which is a great deal when we remember that a penny was a day's wages. (Matthew 20:2) She broke the box, perhaps only the wax which sealed the neck, and poured the ointment on the Lord's head and on His feet, and wiped His feet with her hair; and the house was filled with the odor of the ointment.

They murmured against Mary, but Jesus said, "Let her alone; why trouble ye her? She bath wrought a good work on me." It reminds us of the time when Martha complained that Mary did not help in serving, but the Lord said, "Mary hath chosen that good part which shall not be taken away from her." The serving was right and useful, but there was need also to sit at the Lord's feet to hear His word. Then one can serve without being anxious and troubled. So now the Lord's answer shows that it is right to help the poor, but that there is need first to feel and show love for Him. The natural works are really good only when we remember the Lord first and do them for His sake.

The Lord said that Mary anointed Him for His burial. Perhaps Mary who loved to sit at the Lord's feet had understood more than others when He had spoken of His crucifixion now so near. She perhaps felt that it was almost the last time that she could show her love for her dear Lord. What help and comfort He had given them, especially that day when He came to them in their sadness, and raised their brother! What grateful love she poured out with the costly ointment! Was it the costliness of the gift, or the love that was in it which made it precious to the Lord? The grateful affection filled the house with the sweetest fragrance. And so does a sweet odor fill the house whenever we feel grateful love for the Lord and express it in our prayer, or in kind words and deeds to one another. (Compare Genesis 8:21; Leviticus 1:9.)

Notice that both before and after this story of Mary's love, we read of the betrayal of the Lord by Judas. It brings into contrast with true love for the Lord, the love which is only for selfish gain.

1. What do you know of Bethany? Mary? Martha? Lazarus?

2. How did Mary show her love for the Lord?

3. Who objected? On what ground?

4. What did the Lord say of Mary's act?

Spiritual Study


Ointments were usually olive oil made sweet with various fragrant spices. Read how the ointment was compounded to anoint the holy things of the tabernacle. (Exodus 30:22-26) The olive oil we know is a symbol of the Lord's love and of our love for Him, which should consecrate all things of worship. But love is perceived by the thoughts associated with it. The spices in the ointment represent the thoughts of gratitude and humility which bring our love for the Lord distinctly to our perception and make it delightful. (C. 9474)

The head and feet. The head represents the interior life of purpose and thought; the feet, the outward conduct. And we can love the Lord on both planes, anointing both His head and feet. But to anoint His feet is harder, even as practice is harder than theory. (Compare John 13:6-10.) We sit at the Lord's feet and hear His word, when we come to Him in His human life to teach us how to live, and as we obey His teaching. We anoint His feet, when through obedience we have learned the goodness of His paths, and our heart overflows with grateful love for Him who leads us in them. (A. 2162; R. 49)

Anointing for burial. Death suggests to the natural thought burial, but to the spiritual thought resurrection and eternal life. The custom of embalming the body arose not from any thought that the body would rise again, but from the desire to represent the eternal life of the spirit. The anointing of the Lord's body represented the fact that He could not die, but was "alive for evermore." Grateful love for the Lord keeps Him not merely a precious memory, but a living presence in every heart. (John 19:39; Luke 23:56; 24:1; A. 10252)

The Lord said that Mary's act should be told for a memorial of her. She became known, and will always be known, as "that Mary which anointed the Lord with ointment, and wiped His feet with her hair." And so will every one be remembered by His anointing of the Lord. As we love the Lord and live for His sake our spiritual character is formed, by which we shall be known forever in heaven.

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