The anointing of Jesus is one of those few stories that make it into all the gospel accounts. John is recognized as different from the other gospels because so little of what he tells in his gospel can be found anywhere else.
There are some differences between the anointing stories in the gospels, causing some people to wonder how many anointings there really were. This will not be our focus today.
Jesus is on his way to his death. There is a steady progression of thought in John about this. You will see it in Jesus’ comments about being “lifted up” (signifying the kind of death he would suffer (3:14; 8:28; 12:32), and in John’s observations on the treachery of the Jewish leaders (5:16, 18; 7:1, 19-25; 8:37-40; 10:31). In fact, when Jesus gets word about Lazarus’ death, he makes plans to go to Judea – which the disciples think is a bad idea because of the plots against Jesus’ life. They believe, and rightly so, his journey to Judea will result in his death.
John notes that the irrational hatred of the Jewish leadership for Jesus extends even to Lazarus, whose resurrection stands as a lasting rebuke to their rejection of Jesus.
Mary anoints Jesus for burial. She pours the very expensive perfume on his feet and wipes them with her hair. In the ancient world, this would be an act of utmost humility. Guests routinely wiped their hands of excess water or oil on the heads of servants. Mary is offering herself to Jesus in an even more humiliating way. Note the contrast: the leadership wants to kill Jesus for no reason other than they are jealous of him. Mary, on the other hand, offers him service. It’s the kind of service Jesus himself will exhibit in the next chapter.
Jesus went to Bethany to give Lazarus new life. This new life may now cost him his life by those who oppose Jesus. The point is clear: those who wish to follow Jesus must be willing to face opposition and death by the world. Not even a benevolent mindset toward the plight of others (seen in Judas’ remarks about the poor) can disguise the life that is unwilling to honor Jesus.