Read John 12.
I want you to see the table. Jesus is reclining there.
Mary brings in a sealed flask of precious perfume. It’s spikenard, an eastern perfume with a potent fragrance. It comes from the root of the nard plant found on the mountains of northern India.
It is obscenely expensive perfume, not oil—a luxury that few people could afford and enjoy in that day. Spikenard was used for burial rites as well as for cosmetic and romantic purposes. And it was virtually always used in small quantities.
Mary breaks open the seal and pours out the perfume upon the Lord’s head, anointing Him as though He were a king. As the perfume drips down His body and reaches His feet, she anoints His feet with the perfume as though she is a slave and He is her master.
Jesus interprets the act as preparation for His burial, something very important to first-century Jews. He invites those in the room to view Mary’s outrageous gesture as a symbolic embalming. She is anointing Him as one would a corpse.
Mary anointed Him for burial.
Anointing a dead body with spices and ointment was done in preparation for entombment. The perfume would conceal the smell of the decaying corpse. It was as if Mary understood that the Lord wouldn’t be with them much longer, almost without realizing that she understood.
Mary perceived that her king was going to die. The kings of Judah were anointed before their coronations. Not by women, but by male prophets. In this case, Mary took on the role of a prophet.
Anointing a person’s feet was also done to bring comfort and refreshment to them in a day when their feet were weary from travel. Mary’s loving gesture of lowly devotion would comfort Jesus before His trial of pain.