"Mary took a pound of very costly oil of spikenard, anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped His feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil. But one of His disciples, Judas Iscariot, Simon's son, who would betray Him, said 'Why was this fragrant oil not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?' This he said, not that he cared for the poor, but because he was a thief, and had the money box; and he used to take what was put in it" (John 12:3-6).
Spikenard was a liquid perfume derived from a plant and mixed with oil. It was sealed in flasks or alabaster boxes and imported from the Far East. This amount of the costly perfume would have been valued at approximately a year's wages (cf. 12:5; i.e., a little more than $50). The fact that Mary can afford such expensive perfume indicates that her family was not poor by any means. Also, there is no record of Lazarus or Martha objecting to this use of the spikenard, which would imply their approval of her actions.
According to Mark's account (14:3), the spikenard was in an alabaster flask, and it was broken in order to administer the perfume generously. Likely, the flask was designed with a long, narrow neck that made it possible to extract a drop or two at a time. But, Mary had no interest in saving the spikenard; she intended to use it all, and thus she breaks the neck of the flask off so that the contents could be easily poured out.
The perfume was not just applied to Jesus' feet, but also to His head (cf. Matt. 26:7). Mary's hair was long enough that she could easily wipe Jesus' feet with it. It is undeniable that Mary's actions here, both her generosity and humility, indicate the deep respect and devotion she had for Jesus. Nothing was too costly or too humiliating for her to hold back as she paid honor to the Messiah, God's anointed one.
"And the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil" - Mary's generosity contributed to the pleasure of the other guests. Even today, the "aroma" of most good deeds will benefit more than just the intended recipient.
Judas Iscariot, the one who would soon betray Jesus, spoke in opposition to the action in John 12:5. Judas views Mary's use of the spikenard as economically unwise. He believed it would have been much better to sell the perfume and distribute the funds to the poor, rather than "waste it" on Jesus. It appears that Judas started this murmuring and others joined in out of anger (cf. Matt. 26:8). Tragically, many still think that anything of value given to the Lord is a waste.
"This he said, not that he cared for the poor, but because he was a thief, and had the money box; and he used to take what was put in it" (John 12:6). Although the other disciples spoke out of sincerity, Judas had an ulterior motive. He was not concerned about the needs of the poor, but his own desires. Judas felt regret that he hadn't been able to stop Mary from pouring out this expensive perfume on Jesus. He would have loved to convince her to sell the perfume and give the money to him, steward of the moneybox. This would have enabled him to steal some of the money for himself, as he had evidently done in the past. It is doubtful that Judas was a thief when originally entrusted with this responsibility, but the temptation of handling money must have become too great for him.
Tragically, Judas would soon betray Jesus for less money than the value of this spikenard. Sadly, there are always some who hide their real intentions under a mask of religion. They use sacred things to advance their own selfish interests.
In Matthew 26:10, Jesus responded - "Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a good work for Me." The Lord praised Mary for her work of love even though His disciples were critical of her humble, loving, and sacrificial action.
We will conclude studying this narrative in our next lesson.