John's Gospel Commentary by Robert Brow (www.brow.on.ca) 2000
Jesus came back to Bethany, where Lazarus had very recently been raised from the dead. In the Synoptic Gospels we have the account of the triumphal entry (Matthew 21:1-11), and Mark tells us he went back to stay the night in Bethany (Mark 11:11). The next day Jesus went in to Jerusalem to clear the temple (Mark 11:15, see the previous clearing in John 2:13-22). On the Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday evenings he also went back to spend the night with the two sisters Martha and Mary, and their brother Lazarus (Mark 11:19). So the meal that John now describes was probably on the Tuesday of that Holy Week.
We have noted again and again how John avoids a chronological sequence (see notes on 1:29, 35, 43, 2:1, 3:22, 5:1). And here "the next day" (12:12) actually describes what had happened two days before when Jesus entered the city on Palm Sunday. The reason for putting the account of the dinner before the entry was that John wanted the flow of the story to move straight from the triumphal entry to the important announcements of the Wednesday (12:20-50), the last supper (13:1-18:11), the trial (18:28-19:16) the crucifixion on the Day of Preparation (19:17- 42) and the resurrection (20:1-21:25). In the creative account that John gives us the dinner in Bethany is therefore a beautiful parenthesis, a calm before the storm of the crucifixion.
12:2-3 The dinner given in Jesus's honor was probably on the Tuesday. Martha, as on a previous occasion (Luke 10:38-42) was busy serving.
In two of the Gospels the home is called the house of Simon the Leper (Matthew 26:6, Mark 14:3). We have no proof of this, but it is possible Simon was Martha's husband, and he was put out of the home (as required in Leviticus 13:45-46) when he contracted leprosy. He might have been one of the lepers healed by Jesus, which would explain how Jesus got to know Martha and Mary. After the required period of quarantine (Leviticus 14:1-9) he could have been allowed home, but we can imagine that John would not want to announce in his Gospel that Simon had been a leper.
If the feast (12:2) was to celebrate both Lazarus being raised , and Simon the Leper being healed and allowed home, we can imagine it was a very joyous occasion. Only Mary has the insight to know that Jesus's crucifixion was so close, and she used the very expensive perfume (that came from the Himalaya mountains of India) which she had probably kept for her wedding day. Now she uses it to anoint Jesus (as was the custom) for his burial (12:7). Usually it was the head of the person that was anointed (as recorded in Matthew 26:7 and Mark 14:3), but John remembers how Mary bent down, poured some of the ointment on Jesus' feet, and then wiped his feet with her hair. John also remembers the powerful perfume filling the whole house. Evidently John is adding his eye witness impressions to what the other Gospels recorded.
The word Messiah means "anointed," usually of a king being anointed with oil (as in 1 Samuel 16:1, 12-13, and as in the coronation of kings and queens to this day). So it is interesting that the only anointing Jesus the Messiah ever had to be King of kings and Lord of lords was by a woman, Mary of Bethany. No wonder what she did was to be spoken of throughout the world (Matthew 26:13, Mark 14:9).
Matthew and Mark do not mention Lazarus being present, and they do not name Mary - they call her "a woman" (Matthew 26:7, Mark 14:3). This was perhaps to guard the identity of this prominent Jerusalem family. Luke does not mention the incident at all. But he does include the story of a previous occasion in the house of a Pharisee named Simon (Luke 7:36-39). A woman from the street embarrassed the host by coming in to anoint and kiss Jesus's feet (as he was reclining at Simon's table) and then dried her tears with her hair. Could it be that the Pharisee on that occasion was Simon, the father of Martha and Mary and Lazarus, and he later contracted leprosy? Mary would have been impressed by Jesus' acceptance of the woman's devotion and Jesus' assurance that she was forgiven (Luke 7:40-50), and impetuously decided to do the same on this occasion.
12:4-6 Judas was the treasurer for the apostolic band of disciples (13:29), and he complained about Mary's extravagant waste. The flask of perfume could have been sold for a huge sum (300 denarii was what a laborer might have earned in a year, Matthew 20:2). Judas thought the money should have been given to him for distribution to the poor. But John adds a note that he had observed Judas using donations for his own purposes. We need not assume that he was enriching himself personally, but he was putting the money for uses which Jesus would not have approved.
Judas is typical of those who begin wanting to free their country and free the poor from poverty, but they soon become slaves of the very money that they collect. Fund raising is always dangerous business. Which is why Paul warns Timothy that "the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil" (1 Timothy 6:10, see 1 Timothy 3:2, Titus 1:7)
12:7 The NRSV adds the words "she bought it"suggesting that Mary bought the perfume for the occasion, but the meaning is simply that "she set it aside" (as a sign of her devotion) for Jesus' imminent death and burial.
12:8 The words "You always have the poor with you" are omitted by some Greek manuscripts, as this might suggest a callous indifference towards the needs of the poor. But Jesus is pointing out that, when we are surrounded by vast human need, there is still a place for acts of extravagant devotion. Mary knew Jesus was about to be crucified, and she was right to express her devotion.
Two of the Gospels add the astonishing prophecy : "Wherever the good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her" (Matthew 26:13, Mark 14:9). And since the Gospels of Matthew and Mark are usually the first to be translated, there are hundreds of major languages and thousands of tribal languages continually announcing Mary's devotion throughout the world. It is possible that Judas felt slighted by Jesus' approval of Mary, and this convinced him it was time to betray the one who could not be the kind of Messiah he had in mind (Matthew 26:14-5, Mark 14:10-11).
12:9-11 Lazarus had been raised from the dead only a short while before so the crowds were still milling around. In their desperation the chief priests of the temple (who were mainly Sadducees, as opposed to the Pharisees who were more concerned with teaching obedience to the law) even thought of having Lazarus disposed of as well as Jesus. Previously the Sadducees and Pharisees had made an unholy alliance to eliminate Jesus that John has already reported (11:47).
12:12-13 John now goes back to the triumphal entry on Palm Sunday into Jerusalem which chronologically (see the notes above) occurred before the supper in Bethany. It was Passover time, and people came to Jerusalem early to get lodging and make preparations. So when it was announced that Jesus was coming into the city, a "great crowd" went out along the Jericho Road to meet him (see the reason given in 12:18)..
They welcomed him by waving palm branches and singing the last part of the Hallel (Psalms 113-118). The Hallel psalms were recognized as psalms to welcome the Messiah, and they were sung at all the major feasts. Hosanna is a transliteration of the Aramaic hoshag na, Hebrew Hoshigah na meaning help or save us (last word of Psalm 118:25). The Psalm goes on "Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord" (Psalm 118:26).
12:14 The young donkey probably belonged to the family of Martha, Mary, and Lazarus (Matthew 21:2), so Jesus would have known it from the time it was born. And knowing the problem of riding an unbroken colt, Martha would have sent the mother donkey along to accompany and quieten it (Matthew 21:2, 7).
12:15 As John thought about the scene John remembered the verse : "Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey" (Zechariah 9:9). When entering a city a victorious king rode a horse, not a donkey.
12:16 It seems that at the time the disciples were puzzled by Jesus's astonishing plan to enter the city riding a young donkey. Wasn't he the Messiah King? It was only after the resurrection that his strange behavior made sense to them. Perhaps Jesus had to explain what he had in mind, and how it related to the Old Testament prophecies (Luke 24:25-27, 44-45).
12:17-18 The crowd's main topic of conversation was the raising of Lazarus. And this was why they were so enthusiastic about going out to see Jesus. But evidently their curiosity did not translate into keeping him from being crucified (18:38-40).
12:19 By now the Pharisees were totally exasperated. There was nothing they could do to discredit Jesus. He would need to be arrested at night, and crucified on the Day of Preparation when every family would be busy preparing for the celebration on the Friday evening.
12:20-50 Facing Death