“Leave her alone – why are you disturbing her? She is doing an important service for me. For you will always have the poor with you and you are able to do well for them anytime – but I will not always be with you. She has served me within her capacity – and she has anointed my body in preparation for its burial. Truly I tell you, where ever the Gospel is preached around the world, the memory of this woman and her service will be told.” (Mark 14:6-9)Jesus makes this statement in response to this situation:
Now the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread were two days away and the chief priests and scribes sought how to secretly arrest him and kill him. Because they maintained, ‘Not during the feast, otherwise the people might protest.” In Bethany, at the home of Simon the leper, Jesus sat at the table and a woman with an alabaster container of expensive essential oil of spikenard. She opened the container and applied it onto his head. But some remarked indignantly to each other, “Why has this ointment been wasted? For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor.” Thus they admonished her. (Mark 14:1-5)
Jesus is referring to Mary
We find from the Gospel of John that Mary was the one who applied oil onto the body of Jesus:
And they made him supper there and Martha was serving, but Lazarus was among those dining at the table with him. Mary then took a pound of very expensive ointment of essential oil and applied it to the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples, Simon’s son, who was to have him arrested, said, “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” (John 12:2-5)We also find this statement in John:
There was a certain man who was ill, named Lazarus of Bethany – the brother of Mary and her sister Martha. This was the Mary who smeared the Master with ointment, and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill. (John 11:1-2)It is obvious from these verses that the reference to "woman" is Mary. Why is this a problem? We find, for example, in the Gospel of Mary and other references indicate that Mary is not well-respected by many of the men during early Christianity. Why?
Mary was not well-respectedWe can see from many references in the Scriptures that Mary Magdalena was not well respected either by Jesus' immediate disciples nor by many other followers of Jesus. The reason, coming from the Gospel of Mary, appears to relate to her being a woman:
Peter also stated his concerns in this regard. He asked them this about the Savior: “Surely he didn’t speak to a woman secretly without revealing this to us, did he? Do we now turn and all listen to her? Did he choose her over us?” Then Mary wept. She said to Peter, “My brother Peter, what do you think? You think I have conceived all this myself within my mind? Or that I would lie about the Savior?” (Gospel of Mary 31-32)This clarifies that women were not respected as teachers. Even in this case, where Jesus spent time with Mary and taught her many things in confidence, as outlined in the Gospel of Mary.
Serving Jesus is serving GodFurthermore, we see here that Jesus is accepting the application of oil as service to him - rather, "an important service," according to Jesus. This is a critical point made by Jesus because he is indicating that one can serve God by serving God's representative. And Jesus was clear that his purpose for coming to this planet was to preach in service to God.
We can see here, for example, that applying oil was being performed in service to Jesus, as his body was being prepared for burial according to the verse. Certainly, Jesus' body had been weathered and beaten up by the elements over the recent past. He typically walked through the wilderness barefoot in the hot sun - sometimes in desert-like conditions - as he preached. This most certainly resulted in Jesus' body needing some rejuvenation. Especially as he prepared for his impending persecution.
Saving the oil to give money to poor people may be commendable in normal situations. But this was not a normal situation. Jesus is God's representative, and his purpose is to do what the Supreme Being wants him to do:
“My food is to do what pleases Him who sent me and to complete His work." (John 4:34)This means that someone who is aiding in Jesus doing God's work is also serving the Supreme Being.
Was the oil put on his head or his feet?We might notice that Mark states the essential oil was applied to Jesus' head, while John speaks of her applying the oil to his feet.
Does it really matter?
Not really. Yes, there is an inconsistency between the two Gospels. But Mary could have also applied oil to Jesus more than once.
It doesn't really matter because the point was Jesus' response regarding Mary's service to Jesus and thus her service to the Supreme Being. That is the true point of the event.