Matthew 26 - IVP New Testament Commentaries
How Much Is Jesus Worth?
The extravagant anointing at Bethany (vv. 6-13) is framed by a plot to arrest Jesus (vv. 3-5, 14-16). The disciples, who can appear less wise than the women they seek to silence in the Gospels (as in 15:23; compare Lk 24:11), protest this extravagance. One disciple, Judas, who realizes that Jesus is a martyr messiah, decides that following Jesus will not be profitable and determines to gain at least some profit.Jesus Faces God's Calling Obediently (26:1-2) By adding another passion announcement here (contrast Mk 14:1-2), Matthew reminds us that whatever the power of those who plotted against Jesus, Jesus moved according to his Father's plan and not theirs. No matter how strong the forces arrayed against God's servants, God will ultimately fulfill his purposes. In contrast with Judas in this passage (Mt 26:14-16), Jesus obeys God's calling at great cost to himself and provides a model for those who would follow him.Not All Who Claim to Lead God's People Follow the Rules (26:3-5) The high-priestly office constituted the most powerful religious, and one of the most powerful political, positions in Jewish Palestine; Caiaphas (high priest A.D. 18-36) retained it by giving the Romans what they wanted (E. Sanders 1993:265). That meant, of course, that threats to the political stability of Jerusalem would need to be dealt with swiftly and efficiently. And someone who caused a commotion in the temple in the dangerously crowded period just before Passover was clearly a threat to the public order. Although the plan to arrest Jesus away from the crowds was politically prudent, it was a stratagem of those who could not win by persuasion or demonstrations of God's power (21:46). When someone can win only by subterfuge and force, that person is not serving God--although, as here, God may well use such a one to execute his own purposes.Jesus Is Worth Our Best (26:6-13) We disciples who are grieved by the failure of every single one of our male spiritual predecessors to stand with our Lord in his time of testing (vv. 40-56) can at least find some solace in the love shown by the women disciples (v. 7; 27:61; 28:1; compare Mk 15:40-41). Although the threat to their safety may have been less grave, they nevertheless put us men to shame in the passion narrative. By contrast, it is male disciples here (Mt 26:8) who oppose the woman who anoints Jesus, more clearly than in Mark (Mk 14:4). Particularly in contrast to Judas, who (like many professed worshipers of God today) seeks only what he can get from Jesus (Mt 26:14-16), this woman seeks what she can offer to Jesus. The extravagance of our love is but an infinitesimal symbol compared to the price of his love for us (vv. 26-29), but Jesus both accepts it and gives us all the more (vv. 10, 13).
People often used expensive alabaster bottles, which were semitransparent and resembled marble, to store costly ointments (Argyle 1963:195). They would seal the ointment to prevent evaporation, requiring the long neck of the jar to be broken and the ointment to be expended at once (Meier 1980:312). Nard was a costly ointment imported from India, and its expense might suggest an heirloom passed from one generation to the next (Lane 1974:492). We may contrast Jesus' response to that of the disciples. He honors this obscure woman (despite significant exceptions women generally were obscure) more highly than any of the male disciples: her act would henceforth be preserved as part of the passion tradition relating to Jesus' burial (compare Judith 14:7).
Some modern readers take Jesus' reproof in 26:9-11 as playing down the priority of the poor, and then they inexplicably apply the example of this woman's extravagance to their church building programs or other projects. (That the disciples would have thought of the needs of the poor shortly before Passover fit their culture's custom--m. Pesahim 9:11; 10:1.) The needs of human beings always remain closer to Jesus' heart than most other monetary agendas (as in 5:42), and his very words about the poor remaining with them allude to Deuteronomy 15:11, where the context demands caring for the poor (Deut 15:1-10). This woman supplied something for Jesus shortly before his death that none of the rest of us can repeat (hence Mt 26:13), but she provides a model of sacrificial love. We show that sacrificial love to Jesus now by using all our resources for the work of his kingdom (13:44-46), including serving the poor (6:2, 19-24; compare Lk 12:33-34).Judas Follows Jesus for What He Can Get out of Him (26:14-16) Ancient narrators sometimes contrasted positive and negative moral examples; as Judas contrasts with Peter in 26:69--27:10, he contrasts here with the extravagant love of the woman in 26:6-13. Jesus has continued to discuss his death (vv. 2, 12), and perhaps at least Judas has now caught on. But when Judas finds that Jesus' kingdom will not profit him materially (and may even cost him his life), he chooses to get what he still can from his lengthy investment in Jesus: he sells him for the price of a slave (v. 15; Ex 21:32). Like another disciple of old (2 Kings 5:26-27), Judas abandoned his spiritual birthright for better material conditions, and in saving his own life lost it for eternity (Mt 16:24-27; 27:1-10). Judas represents all those who follow Jesus only for what they can get from him, not for how they can serve him: eventually they may decide that the cost of serving him is higher than it is worth.