One thing I never realized about this story was that Bethany literally means, “House of the poor”. That possibly makes the events of this story so much more meaningful. If Mary, Martha, and Lazarus are not very well to do, this magnifies the sacrifice of an already costly gift. This makes even more sense of Judas’ rationalization that the perfume could have been sold and the money given to the poor…not just on some mission street but right here in “Poor man city”, Israel. I have often wondered if she really knew what she was doing or if, like Caiaphas in the previous chapter was doing something that had far more meaning than was realized (John 11:49).
Another thing that is often missed in this story is that her gift is not just valuable because it was worth a year’s wages. It is very possible that her most valuable possession would be her dowry to be used as leverage in a potential marriage. A dowry would be something of value given as sort of a nestegg to help a new couple but it could also be taken away in the event of divorce. This was basically a woman’s insurance toward keeping the marriage and family in tact. Her giving this up was in effect giving up part of her future marital security. This was more than about wages. This had social implications as well.
This story ends with one of the most heinous and sad verses in the entire Gospel of John, “Meanwhile a large crowd of Jews found out that Jesus was there and came, not only because of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. So the chief priests made plans to kill Lazarus as well, for on account of him many of the Jews were going over to Jesus and putting their faith in him.” – 12:9-11
Over and over again we see the willingness of the Jewish authorities (this time the chief priests) to do whatever it takes, no matter what the collateral damage, to cling to their broken thinking, broken living, and bankrupt morality.