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Mary Anoints Jesus

Updated: Nov 20, 2021

I would like to address some recent news that an ancient document has been newly translated, in which it is reported to reveal text that referred to Jesus (Christ) as married, to Mary Magdalene, and that the two had two children together.  There has been blanket rejection of this revelation as untrue, from theologians and scholars.  Still, there are those who claim this news makes Jesus appear more common, and therefore more within the grasp of duplication, which is the wrong reason to appreciate this news, if true.

I have previously written a blog here entitled “Jesus Wept.”  The Gospel of John says those tears occurred after contact between Jesus and Mary Magdalene, as Jesus returned to Bethany due to the death and burial of Mary and Martha’s brother, Lazarus.  In my blog post, I give my opinion that the tears Jesus shed were due to Mary’s special relationship with him.  Because of their special bond, when Jesus realized Mary could not console her sister Martha or the neighbors and family who also came crying to meet Jesus, he wept.

Jesus cried because he realized he was alone in his attempt to save a misled religion.  He would again weep at Gethsemane, understanding that no one could die in his place, and he alone had to die.  Loneliness is the source of many tears, because regardless of how much we feel God is with us, it is our human hearts that long for other human support.  Even though Mary was Jesus’ most trusted companion, to whom he had to have shared many unwritten conversations and plans, she still did not realize the total divinity of the man with whom she was in a relationship.

Prior to my being aware of the advent of a new scholarly book announcing Jesus as a married man, our church’s Bible Studies class discussed John 12:1-11, which soon follows the story of Jesus resurrecting Lazarus (John 11:17-44).  That section of chapter 12 is headed (in many bibles), “Mary Anoints Jesus.”

The anointing was done with “nard,” and John recalled how Judas Iscariot complained about the cost of this fragrant oil.  John also recalled Mary anointing Jesus’ feet, and how Jesus explained Mary had purchased the nard for his burial.  That statement acts as an explanation that Mary obtained the nard for preparing Lazarus’ body for burial, and because some was still left over, he prophesied his coming death and the need for his own tomb preparation.

As we were discussing this reading from John, one woman shared what she had heard preached about this anointing, sometime before.  The preacher had explained how an anointing with fragrant oil was a ritual that brides did for their husbands, on their wedding night.  She said the preacher had pointed out it was an act of subservience, from a wife to her husband.  She then explained how nard was given to the bride in an alabaster box, which was broken open in the wedding tent, and then poured on the head of her husband.  Because Mary was doing a ritualistic application to Jesus’ feet, the woman in our group discussion presumed (from what she heard the preacher explain) the act was not one of marriage to a man, but devotion to her Lord.

At the time, I argued that a ritual of love, intended to be private, would have been inappropriate in a public setting, like a banquet honoring Jesus.  I also reminded the woman of the two deaths this scene appeared between, that of Lazarus prior and that of Jesus to follow.  The use of nard had a practical use, without any need to bring in sensual overtones of love and adoration.

The woman said to me, “But isn’t that such a poignant way to look at it?  It makes this story have more purpose to me.”

In the week that followed our study group meeting, I delved into this anointing, and the element of an alabaster jar and the symbolic uses of nard.  The anointing observed by John is the same anointing witnessed by the disciples Matthew and Mark, as written in their Gospels.  The Gospel of Luke also tells of a woman anointing Jesus, probably Mary Magdalene and probably in the same house in Bethany, only at a time early in Jesus’ ministry, before the feeding of the five thousand.  John, Matthew and Mark all recalled this anointing as taking place just prior to Jesus’ final Passover in Jerusalem.

In the four accounts of Jesus being anointed by a woman (Mary), both his feet and his head are stated as the point of contact.  The differences in the four accounts makes for another detailed discussion, on how much depth of meaning comes when one sees all four accounts as interconnected and completely accurate; but my point here will focus only on the books by Matthew and Mark remembering the anointing to be on Jesus’ head.  That remembrance acts as a statement that supports a relationship of marriage between Jesus and Mary Magdalene.  The anointing of Jesus’ feet, only recalled by John, is then a statement about that relationship being between a human servant and God, as the woman in our study group maintained.

This makes the poignant element of symbolism important to more fully understand.  Mary anointing Jesus’s head can be viewed as a public statement, akin to a couple renewing their wedding vows, years after their first being married.  Matthew and Mark witnessed Mary anointing Jesus’ head because they were flawed human beings, just as was Judas (another character in this story), and they had jealousies about the relationship Mary had with their master and rabbi, as his wife.  Jesus preached turning away from family in one’s service to God, but he kept a wife to return to.  Neither Matthew nor Mark gave dignity to Mary by naming her specifically, instead recalling how “a woman” performed a private act publicly.

John recalled the anointing of Jesus’ feet as memorable.  This should not be seen as a flaw in any way, or how John was not able to remember things as well as the other Gospel writers.  It is a statement that two places were anointed during that same event.

I believe John was a child at the time of Jesus’ ministry, so he was naïve to all marital rituals with sensual overtones.  The use of Mary’s hair to spread the nard was also noticed by John, and not by the other two.  That act becomes a symbolic reversal of the ritual where a bride applies scented oil to the head (thus hair) of her beloved.  As such, Mary, as the wife of Jesus, then applied the oil to her own head (hair) from a position of complete subservience.  Mary was not only devoting herself to Jesus the man, she was receiving the message that God was within Jesus, with all humanity at the feet of God.

While John was too young to understand any of the symbolism of any of those actions at that time, and the adult males attendees were either too aghast to notice anything other than a woman was publicly acting slutty or aghast at how such valuable oil was being wasted on someone’s feet, the ultimate meaning is missed.  The anointing by Mary that John recalled is a public statement made privately between Mary Magdalene and Jesus.  Jesus understood this act instantly, and thus he defended Mary’s actions, saying, “Leave her alone.  She has done a beautiful thing to me.” (Mark 14:6 & Matthew 26:10)

The true poignant meaning of this event then relates back to the point in time when Jesus wept.  His wife has pierced his heart with her commitment to him only as a man, as a lover to whom she was completely subservient; but she was not married to Jesus as the Messiah, as Jesus Christ.  When she anointed Jesus’ head AND then his feet at a public banquet that was for the purpose of recognizing the miracle of Jesus raising Lazarus from his death, she did so because she wanted Jesus to know she was fully committed to him as the Son of God.  Her symbolic statement was to never doubt the power of God again, knowing God was within Jesus and to let Jesus know (clearly, through symbolism) that she would forever follow in his footsteps.

Again, stating my belief that John was a child (probably around twelve years of age when Mary anointed Jesus’ feet), it makes sense to me that John could have been the son of Jesus, although he could have been his youngest brother, son of Joseph and another wife.  In either case, this would make John be related to Mary Magdalene, through her “marriage” to Jesus.  It would also explain why John named Mary as the woman who performed the anointing, because of his close interaction with her (as son or brother-in-law).  John was intently observing the actions of his relatives, with John, Mary, and Lazarus all stated in John’s Gospel as those beings “who Jesus loved.”

The lack of Mary having realized the ultimate holiness of Jesus (the man), could indicate that there had been physical contact between the two (beyond kissing), which could have resulted in children (two, if the document in question is true).  While the possibility of another virgin birth is always well within the scope of God’s power, Mary’s actions (as well as her life history) would indicate she did not qualify for such dignity.  But, this is another topic indeed.

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