All four New Testament gospel writers recounted Christ being anointed with perfume by a woman. Luke’s gospel described an event set in Galilee early in Christ’s ministry. The other gospel writers identified the location as Bethany of Judea and the time frame shortly before Passover and Christ’s crucifixion. Both Matthew and Mark described Christ eating a meal in the home of Simon the Leper’s home. Because the meal was at his home, probably Simon was cured of his leprosy; possible Jesus cured him at some earlier point in time.
As Jesus reclined at the table, a woman entered the room with an alabaster jar of expensive perfume made of pure nard. She broke the jar seal and poured the perfume on Christ’s head. Some of the other guests were indignant and asked why the nard was used for this purpose. They said, “This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor.” The value of the nard was worth a year’s wages, e.g., about 300 denarii, in Jesus’ time and equal to about $2,000 today.
Aware of their indignation and questions, Jesus told the mutterers to leave the woman alone. He explained that what the woman did was beautiful. Then, Jesus said that wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, the story of the woman anointing him would be told in memory of her. The disciples only realized later that the woman anointed Jesus for his burial.
John (John 12:1-8) told a story similar to the one recorded by Matthew and Mark; however, in John’s account the dinner occurred in Lazarus’ home with Martha serving the meal. Lazarus’ sister, Mary, poured nard on Christ’s feet, not his head, and wiped his feet with her hair. The fragrance of the perfume filled the entire house. John recorded that it was Judas Iscariot who objected to Mary using the nard to anoint Christ rather than selling it.
Nard or Spikenard
The nard of the New Testament was Nardostachys jatamans, also known as spikenard. Nard did not and does not grow naturally in Israel. Most likely, prepared nard was transported to Israel via trade routes with entry through the port of Elath. Nard is a perennial herb that grows from 4-24 inches tall. Each plant has a long tap root and 2-7 rhizomes however plants may have as many as 12 rhizomes. The roots and rhizomes are used to make nard. In the Roman Empire, nard was the main ingredient in a perfume called nardinum. Supposedly nard was an ingredient in the Israelite Temple incense.
The nard used to anoint Christ’s feet has sometimes been associated with sacrifice with authors arguing that purchase of the nard was a sacrifice on the part of the woman who anointed Christ. Another perspective of the symbolism is “trustworthy.” The Greek word for spikenard is pistikŏs which means trustworthy in the sense of genuine or unadulterated. In the story of the woman anointing Christ for burial, the nard was pure nard, it was unadulterated. The woman’s love for Christ was so genuine that she bravely entered a room where a meal was served for “men only.” She humbled herself to anoint Christ. The woman saw Christ as trustworthy. She did not expect Christ to reject her offering or expel her from the room. Christ – God the Son — is always a trustworthy when individuals seek him.
I love Bible plants along with their symbolism. If you want to learn more about them, read my two books: 1) Rooted in God and 2) God as a Gardener. You can purchase them from my website: Carolyn Roth Ministry at http://www.CarolynRothMinistry.com/
Copyright: Carolyn A. Roth, 12/13