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A Closer look at the Four Narratives. Chapter Sixteen in The Alabaster Jar by Theresia Saers

A Closer look at the Four Narratives

Chapter Sixteen in The Alabaster Jar by Theresia Saers

Matth. 26: 1-16 Mark 14: 1-11 John 11:57 and 12: 1-11 Luke 7:30 and 7:36-50

It is two days before the Passover.

Priests and Pharisees are plotting Jesus’ death, through some kind of trick.

The scene is laid in Bethany.

In a house which belongs to Simon the Leper.

A woman comes in with an alabaster jar of the most expensive ointment.

She pours it on Jesus’ head.

The disciples are indignant.

They say, ‘Why this waste?

The money should have been given to the poor.’

Jesus intervenes, coming to the woman’s defence.

He says, ‘Why are you upsetting the woman?

What she has done for me is one of the good works indeed.

You have the poor with you always, but you will not always have me.

She did it to prepare me for burial.

I tell you solemnly, wherever this Good News is proclaimed, what she has done will be told also, in remembrance of her.

Judas Iscariot goes to the chief priests with a plan to hand Jesus over.

They pay him thirty pieces of silver.

From then on he looks for an opportunity to betray Jesus.

It is two days before the Passover.

Priests and Pharisees are looking for a way to arrest Jesus, but the arrest must not be in the open.

The scene is again laid in Bethany.

It is in the house of Simon the Leper.

A woman comes in with an alabaster jar of very costly ointment.

She breaks the jar and pours the ointment on his head.

Some among those present are indignant.

They say, ‘Why this waste of ointment?

The money, three hundred denarii, could have been given to the poor.’

Jesus intervenes, coming to the woman’s defence.

He says, ‘Leave her alone; why are you upsetting her?

What she has done for me is one of the good works.

You have the poor with you always, you will not always have me.

She has done what was in her power to do.

She has anointed my body beforehand for burial.

Wherever throughout the world the Good News is proclaimed, what she has done will be told also, in remembrance of her.’

Judas approaches the chief priests with an offer to hand Jesus over.

They are delighted.

They promise to give him money.

Judas looks for a way of betraying him, when the opportunity occurs.

It is six days before the Passover.

The chief priests and the Pharisees have by now given their orders.

Anyone who knows Jesus’ whereabouts must inform them so that they can arrest him.

The scene is laid in Bethany.

The host’s name is not mentioned.

Lazarus is present and at table.

Martha waits on them.

Mary brings in a a pound of very costly ointment, pure nard.

She anoints Jesus’ feet.

She wipes them with her hair.

Judas, who is to betray him, says,

Why wasn’t this ointment sold for three hundred denarii, and the money given to the poor?’

Jesus intervenes, coming to the woman, Mary’s, defence.

He answers, ‘Leave her alone.

She had to keep this scent for the day of my burial.

You have the poor with you always, you will not always have me.’

The priests decide to kill Lazarus as well.

‘…the Pharisees had thwarted what God had in mind for them.

The host is a Pharisee, name of Simon.

The name of the town is not mentioned.

It is obvious that real hospitality is far from the host’s mind.

A woman comes in who has a bad name in the town.

She brings with her an alabaster jar of ointment.

She anoints Jesus’ feet with the ointment.

She weeps, her tears fall on his feet and she wipes them away with her hair.

The Pharisee is inwardly condemning both the woman and Jesus himself.

Jesus intervenes, coming to the woman’s defence; he makes use of a story.

It is about money and money lenders, and is meant to make the Pharisee judge his own conduct.

He points out the Pharisee’s lack of decency, let alone love.

He contrasts this with the respect and love shown by the woman.

He says that her sins, whatever they may have been, must have been forgiven.

He says to the woman, ‘Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.

The bystanders are intrigued about the fact that Jesus forgives sins.


If we consider all these points, we cannot help but see the similarities.

  • The ill disposed host in Luke and the death trap meal in the other three gospels.
  • The woman who comes in with a jar made of alabaster and pours the ointment on Jesus.
  • The indignation the men feel, where the woman is concerned.
  • The talk about money.
  • The way Jesus intervenes in the woman’s defence.
  • The host’s name, Simon, that ties the reputedly different story of Luke firmly to that of Matthew and Mark. It is really quite natural that the early Christians, looking back, hate to mention name and official title of this awful host. The term ‘leper’ in this case would demonstrate their contempt for this horrible man. It would be on a par with the name ‘the Magdalene’ for Mary of Bethany, when Pharisees and common folk of Bethany refer to her.

One important question remains. What about ‘the many sins’ that Jesus refers to?

When we compare the behaviour of the Pharisee-host in Luke with the woman who anoints the Lord, it is easy to see that the host himself is by far the greater sinner. Even if the woman in question is a prostitute, which is what we have so often been told in well-meant sermons, adultery is far less abominable than what the Pharisees are plotting collectively, which is the rejection and murder of the Messiah. Denying that the Holy Spirit works through Jesus. The latter has made it clear that this is the greatest sin of all, for which there is no forgiveness. So, when Jesus speaks about a big sinner and a small one, we may be sure that we should direct the camera of our attention on the Pharisee, not on Mary. There is an inconsistency in the story or a paradox. Jesus speaks about the difference in love that big and small sinners would show after the absolution. However, the woman shows a lot of love even before there is any mention of an absolution. No wonder that Jesus says about the woman, ‘Whatever sins she may have committed, they have been forgiven. ‘Why are you, my disrespectful host, thinking of her sins, whereas it is you yourself who are the sinner?’ And to the woman he adds, ‘Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.’ Note that Jesus does not dismiss her because of her contrition but because of her faith. We see her go from the house with the same aura as her father in faith, Abraham, who was also justified through faith.

We have John’s word that Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus, was the woman who anointed the Lord, not one of the women who anointed the Lord, and that, according to me makes it very plausible indeed that there was only one anointing. It is interesting to note that the Fourth Gospel in this case follows the story line of Matthew and Mark, where in nearly most other cases it does not. In this case it is Luke who is the dissenter. Luke is at the bottom of the debate whether or not Mary of Bethany and Mary Magdalen are one and the same person. Luke, we have already pointed out, is very ambiguous in his writing about the women that followed Jesus. When he tells this story of the anointing he obviously cannot help showing the intrinsic qualities of the woman. Jesus himself points out her love and her faith and there are too many of the contemporaries of the evangelist who remember it. Still Luke makes her smaller when he starts the talk about sin. When the unnamed woman of the anointing walks out of the Pharisee´s house, crowned as it were in the high praise of Jesus, Your faith has saved you, (true daughter of Abraham), Luke immediately sees fit to bring in a whole group of women. They apparently followed Jesus and his disciples during the time of the latter ´s ministry. Luke crowns them, as it were, when he tells us how the women serve Jesus even with their worldly goods, a thing that is not mentioned about the male disciples. However, what he does immediately after, throwing blemishes around in the shape of demons and sickness, results again in making these women look smaller in retrospect. Readers will infer that the woman that was the subject of the preceding story is this same Magdalen. The demons have stuck, so to say. They have even clawed backwards.

How come that the Church and we with her, have all the time remembered that the woman of the anointing is a certain woman surnamed the Magdalene, rather than the clear statement of John, who says twice that it was Mary of Bethany, the sister of Martha and Lazarus? How come that the Church has never installed a special feast day for Mary of Bethany, as far as I know? Or mentioned her name in the Litany of All Saints?

The common people until 1200 have honoured one woman only as the person that anointed Jesus, the Christ, every time they made a sculpture or painting of the event. The idea of her being a sinner simply does not occur in early art.

It is a curious thing that the faithful hardly ever mention Mary of Bethany as the woman with the alabaster jar. We all seem to have embraced Mary Magdalen and, recognising her gesture, honoured it by calling ourselves christians, followers of the Anointed One. Do I find it important, if the two Maries prove to be one? Obviously I do. It makes me understand the real greatness of this woman, her early choice to become a disciple of Jesus, and her unwavering faith, even in the face of death. She inspires me no end. I am no Bible scholar. I notice however that those that are, and lay the scientific foundation for the truth about the two Maries, make up an ever growing multitude.

© Theresia Saers

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