This article is part 4 of an 8 part series. Go back to part 3.
The Beginning of the End
As the end of the ministry of Jesus came closer, all the gospels stressed two points:
- The anointing by Mary and its symbolism of death, sacrifice, and forgiveness.
- The acceptance of the kingship of Jesus in the triumphal entry into Jerusalem.
The Anointing by Mary
There is debate as to whether the four accounts of anointing are the same event and the same women.1 I’m focusing on the simple harmonized details. We know this much: all four gospels agree that a woman poured perfume on Jesus and that someone objected to the anointing.
In Matthew, Mark, and John, Jesus insists that the expensive perfume was not wasted, even though it could have been sold and the money used for the poor. He points out that the money raised would not have solved the problem of poverty. In contrast, the anointing served as preparation for the burial of Jesus, a symbol of the great value of his death as sacrifice for sin.
In Luke, Jesus defends the anointing by suggesting that the sinful woman’s sin-debt was so great that the forgiveness was more meaningful to her. The greater gift (the perfume) represented her sacrifice in proportion to her sin. The anointing was a symbolic foreshadowing of the sacrifice of Jesus for the forgiveness of sin.
Through the anointing we have a picture of Jesus setting up the crucifixion, burial, and resurrection. Jesus understood what his death and resurrection would mean for the forgiveness of sin and salvation from spiritual poverty.2 Contrary to the objections raised against the anointing, he wasn’t approving of sin or ignoring the reality of physical poverty. But he was pointing towards the greater purpose of his life.
The Triumphal Entry
At the start of the final week of the life of Jesus, he sent his disciples into town to retrieve a colt of a donkey so that he could ride it into Jerusalem. He then rode it into Jerusalem. On the way the crowds gathered, laying down their garments and tree branches so that the colt would ride over them. They shouted praise to God and to Jesus as God’s kingly representative, acknowledging him as a prophet of God and the King of Israel come to rule and save them.3
Throughout the ministry of Jesus to that point, Jesus had refused to accept the title of King publicly. He chose this time to make his claim and the people accepted his claim.
Preparing the Death of a King
It is no real surprise that the prelude to the death of Jesus was his declaration of kingship. Jesus had always resisted accepting the kingship because doing so meant a near certainty of death. The Roman rulers would not take kindly to, as they saw it, an upstart king sowing political dissent and fomenting violence.
The gospel writers all preceded the triumphal entry with the anointing: the declaration of death, sacrifice, and forgiveness of sin. What was the point of accepting kingship if he knew he would be dead before the week ended?
The answer to this question leads to one of the core principles of Christianity: That we must acknowledge Jesus as our King to receive his sacrifice as payment for our sin. We acknowledge that Jesus is our Lord by following his commands and becoming his followers. We acknowledge that his kingdom, that is, authority from God, leads to forgiveness and a path to God.
1 John describes “Mary of Bethany”. Luke identifies the woman as “sinful” (traditionally interpreted to be a prostitute). Tradition also identifies the woman as Mary Magdalen. Another difference is whether the perfume was poured on the head or the feet (presumably both). Luke differs with Matthew, Mark, and John in discussing the anointing. There are plenty of resources that discuss the differences in greater detail, so I won’t discuss them here.
2 Jesus consistently viewed the spiritual as relatively more important than the mundane. He was not without compassion, but he realized what was most important. This was the motivation behind the Lord’s Prayer and his healings.
3 They shouted “Hosanna”, which was a shout of praise. The meaning of Hosanna had an ancient meaning of “save”. They were acknowledging Jesus as their King (and by implication their savior).