Well isn’t this interesting! The woman who anointed Jesus turns out to be Mary, the sister of Martha. In the first three gospels, when this story is related, she is nameless. In Luke 7 she is even described as immoral or sinful, yet later in his gospel (ch 10), Luke tells us that Jesus was a guest in the sisters’ home. But John makes the relationship clear because now Jesus raises their brother Lazarus from the dead. Also John comments that Jesus loved the family, implying a close relationship. Pretty significant, right?
So then if Jesus clearly knew the women, and raised their brother from the dead, then why wasn’t that mentioned in the first three gospels along with the part about Mary anointing Jesus? Contradiction and confusion, much? Anyway, so much for love and compassion – when Jesus hears that Lazarus is seriously ill, he doesn’t bother to go and help while the guy is still alive – he waits, just to prove a point. Sure – subject both the patient and the family to needless suffering and grief just to bolster his ego and/or reputation.
Note that v 8 casts aspersion on the Jews again; it’s one of many like this and I will not point them all out – you get the idea. Then we get to the biggie – v 25. Every Christian knows this one. It’s very popular at Easter and used at funeral liturgies. But when read by a non-believer, it only sounds like Jesus is a nutcase with a big ego. Don’t ya love the bystander’s comment in v 37? And get the foreshadowing in v 38-39?
The last part of the chapter (v 45 on) concerns the plot to kill Jesus. It doesn’t make much sense to me. For starters, the Pharisees wouldn’t have collaborated with the Jewish high council (Sanhedrin); they were bitter enemies. And what makes them think the Romans are after them? There’s nothing in the historical record to indicate that the Romans were ever after Jesus. It sounds more like John trumped up the plot so that he could make Jesus’ death sound like prophesy. Then John goes on about Jesus ending his ministry and going in to hiding – I don’t remember reading that in the synoptic gospels; he was certainly out in public there, preaching all over. This whole story is bizarre, and the more I read and learn, the more obvious that becomes.
Back to the story of the anointing – told in all 4 gospels, and predictably different in each one. The first 3 all claim it took place in Simon’s home; only John introduces Lazarus. Mark and Matthew say the ointment (essence of nard, according to Mark and John, but Matthew and Luke don’t specify what it is) was put on Jesus’ head. Luke and John say Mary put it on his feet, and then wiped them with her hair. (Yuck doesn’t begin to describe this.) In Luke, no one complains about the cost of the ointment, only about Jesus allowing this ‘immoral woman’ to anoint him. In the other gospels, people gripe about the waste; in Mark it’s the dinner guests, in Matthew, the disciples, and in John, incredibly, it’s Judas! Where was he the other 3 times this story was told? Is there an apologist who could possibly reconcile all these different versions?
Next, John offers a very much abbreviated version of Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem – a very big deal in churches today, celebrated as Palm Sunday. And yet, John doesn’t seem to really care. Which actually makes sense in context – John wasn’t so much into Jesus’ earthly struggles as he was into the spiritual stuff. This is obvious in the next section (v 20-36) where he talks about his upcoming death. He begins with a very bad analogy, based on lack of scientific knowledge about basic biology. He says that a single seed remains alone unless it is buried in the soil and allowed to die; then it will be reborn and yield many more plants. Jesus thinks that a seed must die before it can reproduce. Wow, that’s pretty concrete thinking – anything buried in the ground must be dead, right? A logical way of thinking if you’re 5 years old – or if you’re an adult in a culture of bronze-age herdsmen, maybe. And so Jesus believes that he must die in order to produce a bountiful harvest of followers.
In John, Jesus is calm and serene approaching his death, not troubled like in Mark’s version. This Jesus is on a mission. God speaks to him before the crowd, and some claim it was just thunder… haha, there were skeptics even then! They continue to question, and John provides the standard apologist rebuttal in v 38-40: assume that anyone who questions has been subjected to undue influence, or that their hearts have been hardened so that they cannot believe. But what kind of sick bastard would deliberately do this? (see Isaiah 6:10) Jesus just blathers on to the end of the chapter about being the light of the world etc – he’s pretty full of himself.
As well, it’s a pretty ominous message – all positive about love and light and not judging, until v 48 when suddenly we are told that all who reject the message will be judged after all. Who here has heard Dan Barker’s ‘you don’t have to come down my basement’ speech? If you haven’t now’s the time, because that’s pretty much the message here. The link below is just a clip, but the whole speech is worth listening to – look it up.