The DEEP

Total Devotion

You got a problem with that?

John 12:1–8

Then, six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus was who had been dead, whom He had raised from the dead. There they made Him a supper; and Martha served, but Lazarus was one of those who sat at the table with Him. Then Mary took a pound of very costly oil of spikenard, anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped His feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil.

But one of His disciples, Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, who would betray Him, said, “Why was this fragrant oil not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” This he said, not that he cared for the poor, but because he was a thief, and had the money box; and he used to take what was put in it.

But Jesus said, “Let her alone; she has kept this for the day of My burial. For the poor you have with you always, but Me you do not have always.”

First of all, notice that Mary dumped a huge amount of this fragrant oil on Jesus. The word translated as “pound” (litran) is about a cup and a half. If she’d only used a portion of what was in the bottle, then the total amount wouldn’t have been noted. Matthew 26:7 and Mark 14:3 record the same incident but add that Jesus’s head was anointed (which is the norm with anointings). The passage in Mark clearly implies that the whole bottle was used up.

In other words, Jesus was drenched in the stuff. John notes that the whole house was filled with the fragrance of the oil. No one could not notice.

Also, note that a denarius is a day’s pay for a hired hand. Assuming a weekly sabbath, three hundred denarii is almost a year’s wages. Mary’s act is amazing. It looks amazing and it smells amazing. It’s an astonishing act, but it’s Mary’s bottle of spikenard and if that’s what she wants to do with it, it’s her choice. It’s also Mary’s hair, and if she wants to use it to wipe His feet (which is very degrading) that’s her choice too.

She wants to show her total devotion, and she does it in such an impressive manner that this incident makes it into scripture three times.


John’s recounting here is especially hard on Judas. Not only is he being a control freak, his claim to want to help the poor is a lie.

But notice that Jesus—who surely knows what Judas is up to—chooses not to call him out. Instead, He defends Mary’s actions straight up. That makes sense. It’s even essential.

Although Judas isn’t sincere, he’s saying something that others might be sincerely thinking. Calling Judas out on his duplicity would change the subject. His behavior is a topic for another day.

Instead, Jesus will use this incident as a teaching moment.

What Mary did is incredible, but it’s actually appropriate.


These Monday—Friday DEEPs are written by Mike Slay. The Saturday DEEPs are written by Matt Richardson. To subscribe to all the DEEPs click here:

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The weekly study guides, which include the Monday–Friday devotionals plus related questions for discussion or meditation, are available for download here:

https://www.ailbe.org/resources/itemlist/category/91-deep-studies

Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. ESV stands for the English Standard Version. © Copyright 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved. NIV stands for The Holy Bible, New International Version®. © Copyright 1973 by International Bible Society. Used by permission. All rights reserved. KJV stands for the King James Version.

Mike Slay

As a mathematician, inventor, and ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church in America, Mike Slay brings an analytical, conversational, and even whimsical approach to the daily study of God's Word.