Whilst, for some, the story of Jesus being anointed with oil is a source of contradiction, with a little bit of consideration it is clear there is no mystery. During the early stages of Jesus’ ministry, when Jesus was eating at the house of Simon the Pharisee, an anonymous woman interrupts the meal carrying an ‘alabaster jar of perfume’ (Luke 7:37) - which she proceeds, with the tears of repentance, to pour upon the feet of Jesus. The incident, however, is not the only one of its type and Luke narrates that two years later, six days before Jesus’ final Passover, whilst at the house of Lazarus, Mary, just as the anonymous woman of Luke 7 had done, ‘took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume’ and ‘poured it on Jesus’ feet’ (John 12:3). In the same verse John records, ‘And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume’. These events are not to be confused (although they often are) with what unfolds in Mark 14 and Matthew 26 – although Jesus is once again in Bethany, it is four days later and he is in the company of a different Simon, ‘Simon the Leper’. As Jesus is reclining at the table another anonymous woman intrudes, with an ‘alabaster jar of very expensive perfume made of pure nard’. Both Matthew and Mark record that ‘she broke the jar and poured the perfume’ on the head of Jesus (Mark 14:3). Despite the fact that the reaction of the disciples sadly corresponds with that found in John’s gospel, this does not mean that the same event is being reported. In short, what becomes clear is that, during his ministry, Jesus was not anointed once, or twice, but three times.
Although these anointings can be interpreted as random acts of devotion and worship towards Jesus, it is also possible that something more significant was happening. Five hundred years before the events unfolding near Jerusalem, the revelation was given to Daniel by the angel Gabriel that ‘the Anointed One will be put to death and will have nothing’ (Daniel 9:26). In the light of such prophecies the Jewish people were waiting expectantly for the arrival of the Messiah (המשיח) – literally, the ‘anointed one’, or in Greek, χριστός - the Christ. Although Simon the Pharisee failed to identify the man eating with him, and Judas blinded by his greed, failed to understand the man he was about to betray, God had raised up three women who understood that Jesus was the promised, anointed one – the one who was born to die. As such their actions were a proclamation of Jesus’ coming sacrifice for all.
And so, just as prophets, priests and kings were anointed in the Israelite tradition, Jesus was anointed by these three women, in affirmation of both his identity and threefold ministry - Jesus is being declared to be the true prophet (Deuteronomy 18:15), a High Priest forever (Hebrews 6:13-7:28) and the king who would sit upon the throne of David (2 Samuel 7:12–16) – in short, he was none other than 'the Christ, the Son of the living God’ (Matthew 16:17).