6 And when Jesus was in Bethany at the house of Simon the leper,
7 a woman came to Him having an alabaster flask of very costly fragrant oil, and she poured it on His head as He sat at the table.
8 But when His disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, “Why this waste?
9 For this fragrant oil might have been sold for much and given to the poor.”
10 But when Jesus was aware of it, He said to them, “Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a good work for Me.
11 For you have the poor with you always, but Me you do not have always.
12 For in pouring this fragrant oil on My body, she did it for My burial.
13 Assuredly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be told as a memorial to her.”
This account is also found in Mark 14:3-9 and John 12:1-8. John says it took place six days before Passover, so therefore, in Matthew, it is given in topical order and not chronological order.
Simon the leper (v.6) — Most commentaries think he was probably the father of Lazarus, Martha and Mary, but the Bible doesn’t say.
disciples (v.8) — apparently led by Judas (John 12:4)
good (v.10) = beautiful
It was common to anoint the heads of the Rabbis who attended marriage feasts with fragrant oil, and special guests were sometimes similarly honored. Jesus Himself, at an earlier date [Luke 7:36-50], had had even His feet anointed by a grateful penitent, who had, besides, washed them with her tears and wiped them with her hair, flowing loose, in self-forgetfulness. But now, Mary outdid all former honor paid Him. The costliest anointing oil of antiquity was the pure spikenard, drawn from an Indian plant, and exported in flasks of alabaster for sale throughout the Roman Empire, where it fetched a price that put it beyond any but the wealthy.
Of this Mary had bought a flask, containing about twelve ounces weight, and now, coming behind the guests as they reclined, opened the seal, and poured some of the perfume, first on the head and then on the feet of Jesus, drying them, presently, with the hair of her head, like her predecessor. — Pentecost, page 413.
Mary, probably because she was more content to sit and listen, understood more about the Lord’s coming death of which He repeatedly spoke than any of the other disciples. Because of the resurrection of her brother, Lazarus, she may have also understood that Jesus Christ would also rise from the dead. It was due to this understanding that she anointed the Lord (v.12).
The Lord’s words about the poor in verse 11 don’t mean that helping the poor isn’t important, but that there are things that are more important — like the salvation of rich and poor alike that would be available because of His death and resurrection.