If we had as much written about every week of the Savior's life as we do about the last week, we’d fill the Library of Congress with just those books. We'll beginning detailing that week soon, but there are a few things that happened just prior to His last week that get our minds and hearts ready for what is to come.
Six days before Passover, on the day before the Triumphal entry, Jesus arrived in Bethany at the home of the siblings Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. He often stayed with them and his great love for them was made evident when He raised Lazarus from the dead probably a couple months before this time. (See John 11:43.) When He arrived a supper was made for him, and as we know, Martha was chief caretaker at that event. It is easy to imagine her bustling around making sure everyone is comfortable and has enough to eat. She must have been the consummate hostess. But while Martha showed her love for the Savior by taking care of His physical needs, Mary expressed her love by taking a pound of ointment of spikenard, which we are told was “very costly” and anointed Jesus’ feet. The word spikenard in Hebrew is nard and means “light.” In Greek the word for spikenard means “pure and genuine.”
The amount of ointment is amazing. Think of the size of a pound of butter. No wonder John tells us that the house was filled with the beautiful scent of the ointment. In a day when the stink of unwashed bodies, rotting food, waste, and debris constantly accosted people, the fact that this sweet scent of spikenard filled the air must have been unforgettable. But instead of enjoying the aroma Judas Iscariot, was displeased. “Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred pence, and given to the poor?” (John 8:5), he asked. A pence was a day’s wages for the common working man, which makes Judas’ concern understandable if one is only looking at the materiality of the event.
But in John the Savior responds, “Let her alone; against the day of my burying hath she kept this. For the poor always ye have with you; but me ye have not always” (John 12:7-8). And Mark reports that he says,“For verily she has come beforehand to anoint my body to the burying. She has done what she could: and this which she has done unto me shall be had in remembrance in generations to come, wheresoever my gospel shall be preached; Verily I say unto you, Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached throughout the whole world, what she hath done shall be spoken of also for a memorial of her” (JST Mark 14:8-9).
The Savior’s words indicate that Mary knew what was coming. She knows He is going to die and is anointing Him in preparation for that death, but besides the anointing we are told that Mary wiped his feet with her hair. The reverence, the awe, the love of that gesture sink deep into my heart. This is an event filled with significant symbolic meaning. In great reverence she anoints the Light of Life with spikenard (a symbol of light) and wipes the ointment onto His feet with her hair (anciently a symbol of life). In doing so, she is symbolically proclaiming that He will die, but His death will give light and life to us.