Black and White silhouette of Jesus in rays of sunshine, as if He had just risen from the grave.

Why Did Mary Anoint Jesus For His Burial Before He Died?

A big plastic red cup sits on the edge of the tub where he bathes. It keeps company with a yellow ducky, Noah’s ark, and a flapping tailed fish. The cup, once used for drinking water, now has graduated to one of those communal rites of childhood baths. Dipped and filled it streams a river over my grandson’s head and down his back. Thick black wet stuck-together lashes fringe eyes squeezed tightly shut. His cheeks are puffed with held breath. He lifts his shiny face toward the ceiling. A cascade of soapy shampoo runs down, and I inhale deeply the smell of sweet-clean little-boy. 

I don’t know what deep devotion moved Mary to anoint Jesus’ head and feet with perfumed oil. The sister of Martha and Lazarus, portrayed at Jesus’ feet during a dinner is reminiscent of another well-known Bible story with the same siblings and a similar posture. Martha served guests, Lazarus, somewhat of a local phenomenon after being raised from the dead, reclined at the table with Jesus.

Mary held an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, worth nearly a laborer’s yearly wage. She poured it on the Master’s head and then knelt down and poured some on his feet. Bending over, she wiped them with her long flowing hair.   

There is a lot there I don’t get. 

Whether or not Mary herself understood, Jesus saw this anointing as a preparation for the events to take place during His last week on this earth. 

In pouring this ointment on my body, she has done it to prepare me for burial,” Jesus told the others at the table. Matthew 26:12 ESV

Anointing guests in the Old Testament was an act of hospitality and honor. In the New Testament, the act of washing a guest’s feet was practical. It cleaned off dirt and dust of travel but also displayed humility and devotion. 

Examples throughout the Bible show kings, priests, and prophets anointed as part of being set apart and chosen for a specific and profound role. 

Jesus is our anointed King, Priest and Prophet. The Hebrew Old Testament word Messiah (Mashiach), or Anointed One is translated as Christ (Christos) in the Greek New Testament.  

 Easter is a joyous victory. He is not dead, He is risen. But it bears the fruits of death and sin. His victory was bought through cruel payment. 

How I love to embrace the brilliance of glorious resurrection, Easter’s triumph, clean and washed. But, first I must wrestle with the reality of why He died and what His death accomplished. For without sin’s entombment, how can there be a resurrection to new life? 

But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8 NKJV

In full acknowledgement of need Mary approached Jesus. Humility and surrender spilled from her heart with the fragrance of devoted love and faith. 

Self-righteous and hypocritical, Judas Iscariot pilfered funds from the disciple’s money bag. Quick to condemn Mary’s waste as though Jesus was not a worthy recipient, he called her out. The costly nard, probably imported from India, could have been sold and given to the poor he argued. His betrayal of the Messiah would amount to a mere fraction of the worth of Mary’s perfume.    

We can’t skip the burial to arrive at the resurrection. 

  • “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” 2 Corinthians 5:12 ESV
  • “For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.” Romans 5:17 ESV

Buried with Christ, risen to life in Him. Mary knelt before the Savior. Judas did not.  

And it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us, and who has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.” 2 Cor. 1:21-22 ESV

If you know Christ as Savior, you too are anointed, sealed and His Spirit within guarantees you belong to Him. You are anointed with His grace, like rivers of sweet perfume. 

I pull my grandson from the gray tinged water. Rivulets course from his gleamy skin. I grab a towel to stem the shivers and wrap it snugly around him, not minding that I too am getting drenched. 

“She has done a beautiful thing.” Jesus said. 

Jesus payed an immeasurable wage for the forgiveness of our sins.  There the repentant heart finds forgiveness and soars in the freedom of resurrection. The ugliness of a tomb promises the beauty of eternal life.