“And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment.”
Luke 7:37-38 ESV
Through the Bible: Matthew 9, Luke 7
All four gospels tell the story of Jesus being anointed with oil by a woman. The stories have so much in common that some have concluded they are the same story. However, there are enough differences that others believe there were two or even three separate anointings.
Matthew 26:6-13 and Mark 14:3-9 are the most similar. The basic details are nearly identical. Jesus is dining in the home of Simon the Leper, in Bethany, after the triumphal entry into Jerusalem. An unnamed woman (with no mention of sin) enters, and pours an alabaster jar of expensive perfume on Jesus’ head. The disciples (all of them) are indignant at the waste of money. Jesus defends the woman, pointing out that she has anointed Him for burial.
Luke’s account in 7:36-50 is strikingly different. For one thing, it happens much earlier in Jesus’ ministry. The disciples are still in Galilee, not Bethany. They are at the house of Simon the Pharisee, not Simon the Leper. The woman is identified as a sinful woman. She anoints Jesus’ feet, not His head. Jesus rebukes Simon, not the disciples. The key takeaway is about being forgiven, not preparing Jesus for burial.
John’s account contains elements of both Luke’s account and Matthew and Mark’s, but is different enough from all three to lead some to conclude it is a separate account. As with Matthew and Luke’s accounts, Jesus is in Bethany in John 12:1-7. However, he is at Lazarus’ house, not Simon’s. It is before the entry into Jerusalem, not after. The woman is Mary, Lazarus’s sister. And like Luke’s account, she anoints Jesus feet and wipes them with her hair. Judas is the disciple that complains.
While opinions run the gamut between one, two, or three anointings, it seems clear that there were at least two distinct episodes. It seems reasonable that the story of Jesus’ anointing in Galilee earlier in his ministry was known to Mary; and that she followed the unnamed woman’s example of extravagant love at the end of Jesus’ ministry.
I love the idea that Mary was impacted by the story of this unnamed woman. Even more, I love that it’s at least possible that Mary, sweet, sheltered Mary, who wanted only to sit at Jesus feet (see Luke 10:38-42), was influenced by the actions of a sinful woman, probably even a prostitute. It reminds me that there is no one I can’t learn from, and there is no one who is unqualified to teach me.