In John 12:1 we read that Jesus arrived in Bethany “six days before the Passover.” This would have been on the Sabbath before His death. There are some that do not believe that Jesus would have made a long trip from Jericho to Bethany, but as we have seen elsewhere, Jesus was not concerned about with keeping the laws such as the Sabbath so it is not an issue that he had done this on the Sabbath. Also is He had left for Bethany early on Friday and arrived early on the Sabbath, He would have not violated the Sabbath law. Either of these answers I have no issue with.
A bigger issue many have with this is that of a chronological nature. It deals with the time of this supper and the anointing. Many argue that this banquet is the same that we read about in Matthew 26:6-13 and Mark 14:3-9 in the home of Simon the leper. Close reading of these Scriptures will show that although there are similarities in the passages John’s account as we see in 12:1 is on the Sabbath six days before prior to Passover. In both Matthew and Mark, the anointing occurred on the following Tuesday. Another area that shows these are two separate events is in John 12:3 it is the feet of Jesus that are anointed, where in Matthew and Mark His head is stressed. (Matthew 26:7; Mark 14:3) This would not be an issue to have two separate events because it was common to have a number of banquets surrounded around the Passover because it was a festival that was important and friends were present form all over. (Deuteronomy 16:16)
When burying the dead, the Jews would typically anoint the body, wrap it in the grave clothes, and then anoint the body in the grave clothes a second time. The first anointing that is recorded by John was done by Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea in John 19:38-40, but it was recorded in the synoptic Gospels the women who witnessed the burial went home and prepared spices and returned to the tomb Sunday to finish the anointing that the men began. (Matthew 27:61; 28:1; Mark 15:47-16:3; Luke 23:55-24:1) So in both type and fulfillment John records only the first anointing and the synoptic Gospels only record the second. Jesus was the fulfillment of the type of Passover Lamb. What is interesting is that the four days according to Jewish reckoning between the first and second anointing coincide with the four days between the initial selection and the final approval of the lamb for slaughter. (Exodus 12:3-6) Judas Iscariot contacted the Sanhedrin following the second anointment and made the arrangements to betray Jesus. (Matthew 26:14-16; Mark 14:10-11)
It was common to give a banquet for a means of honoring a guest in the Near East. Both of the anointing’s may have occurred at the same place since it is believed that Simon the leper was the father of Mary, Martha and Lazarus. In John’s gospel we find Martha portrayed as serving, Mary is found at Jesus’ feet where she is usually portrayed and Lazarus probably hosting the meal sat at the table with Jesus.
At some point during the dinner Mary anointed Jesus’ feet with “a pound of expensive ointment (perfume) made from pure nard.” (John 12:3) Looking at the description in John we see the word murou (ointment) is a generic term that would be a liquid perfume and nardou (nard) which would have derived from the Sanskirt term nalada which refers to a particular very fragrant plant grown in India. This plant may have been grown in or around Syria but the word pistikes which means faithful, reliable or genuine would suggest that this as the real thing most likely imported from India. This was an ointment that was used for both bodies and wine. The pound of ointment would have cost about 300 denarii, which is the equivalent of six months’ pay. This may have meant that this ointment would have been in Mary’s family for some time and used only sparingly for special occasions. John uses the adjective polutimou which means very costly.
If you can imagine growing up and smelling your favorite food your grandma made or the way her house smelled or a particular perfume a loved one wore, you can imagine when John wrote about this sixty years later he probably still had that smell of the fragrance of that very expensive perfume. He remembers the scent that filled the room and he wrote in John 12:3, “the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.” In the second anointing of Jesus it was the disciples who questioned why so much money was spent when the money could have been given to the poor, but here it is only Judas Iscariot who voiced his concern with this. John also points out that Judas was not concerned for the poor because he was a thief (kleptes) and was only concerned for himself. The second part of verse 6 gives a hint of Judas’ activities, the verb used is ebastazen which means to carry, beat or lift in the sense of taking away from. This is kind of in our context of embezzlement because Judas was not only in charge of the finances but he was stealing from the disciples as well.
Jesus defends Mary’s actions when He said, “Leave her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of my burial. For the poor you will always have with you, but you do not always have me.” It seems that Mary may have taken Jesus’ talk about His death serious in which she may have first learned of at His feet in Luke 10:39-42. Jesus emphasized to His disciples to care for and help the poor. Here He is explaining to them that He alone is the center of their faith and their focus should be on Him. This would be especially the case when they are spending the last moments with Jesus as a man prior to His exalted form after His resurrection.