Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 33: Matthew, Mark and Luke, Part III, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
MATTHEW 26:1-13; MARK 14:1-9; LUKE 22:1-2
1. And it happened when Jesus had finished all these discourses, he said to his disciples, 2. You know that after two days is the passover; and the Son of man is betrayed to be crucified. 3. Then were assembled the chief priests, and scribes, and elders of the people, in the palace of the high priest, who was called Caiaphas, 4. And entered into consultation how they would take Jesus by stratagem, and kill him. 5. But they said, Not during the festival, lest there be a commotion among the people. 6. And when Jesus was in Bethany, in the house of Simon the leper, 7. A woman came to him, having ointment, and poured it on his head, while he sat at table. 8. And his disciples, when they saw it, were angry, saying, Why is this waste? 9. For this ointment might have been sold for a great price, and given to the poor. 10. But Jesus, knowing this, said to them, Why do you trouble the woman? for she hath performed a good action towards me. 11. For you have the poor always with you, but me you have not always. 176 12. For as to this ointment which this woman hath poured on my body, she did it to bury me. 13. Verily I tell you, Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached throughout the whole world, this also which she hath done will be told in remembrance of her.
1. And after two days was the passover, and the feast of unleavened bread; and the chief priests and scribes sought how they would seize him by craft, and kill him. 2. But they said, Not during the festival, lest there be a commotion among the people. 3. And while he was in Bethany, in the house of Simon the leper, while he sat at table, a woman came, having an alabaster box of ointment of spikenard, very precious; and she broke the box, and poured it on his head. 4. And there were some who were angry within themselves, and said, Why is this waste of the ointment? 5. For this might have been sold for more than three hundred denarii, 177 and given to the poor. And they murmured against her. 6. But Jesus said, Let her alone: why do you trouble her? she hath performed a good action towards me. 7. For you have the poor always with you, and whenever you choose, you may do good to them; but me you have not always. 178 8. She hath done what she could; she hath come beforehand, to anoint my body to the burying. 9. Verily I tell you, Wheresoever this gospel hath been preached throughout the whole world, this also which she hath done shall be told in remembrance of her.
1. Now the feast of unleavened bread, which is called the Passover, was at hand. 2. And the chief priests and scribes sought how they might kill him; for they dreaded the people.
Christ now confirms again what we have seen that he had sometimes predicted to his disciples; but this last prediction clearly shows how willingly he offered himself to die; and it was necessary that he should do so, because God could not be appeased but by a sacrifice of obedience. He intended, at the same time, to prevent the disciples from taking offense, lest they might be altogether discouraged by the thought that he was dragged to death by necessity. Two purposes were thus served by this statement: to testify, first, that the Son of God willingly surrendered himself to die, in order to reconcile the world to the Father, (for in no other way could the guilt of sins have been expiated, or righteousness obtained for us;) and, secondly, that he did not die like one oppressed by violence which he could not escape, but because he voluntarily offered himself to die. He therefore declares that he comes to Jerusalem with the express intention of suffering death there; for while he was at liberty to withdraw and to dwell in a safe retreat till that time was come, he knowingly and willfully comes forward at the exact time. And though it was of no advantage to the disciples to be informed, at that time, of the obedience which he was rendering to the Father, yet afterwards this doctrine tended in no small degree to the edification of their faith. In like manner, it is of singular utility to us at the present day, because we behold, as in a bright mirror, the voluntary sacrifice, by which all the transgressions of the world were blotted out, and, contemplating the Son of God advancing with cheerfulness and courage to death, we already behold him victorious over death.
Matthew 26:3. Then were assembled the chief priests. Matthew does not mean that they assembled during the two days, but introduces this narrative to show, that Christ was not led by any opinion of man to fix the day of his death; for by what conjectures could he have been led to it, since his enemies themselves had resolved to delay for a time? The meaning therefore is, that by the spirit of prophecy he spoke of his own death, which no man could have suspected to be so near at hand. John explains the reason why the scribes and priests held this meeting: it was because, from day to day, the people flocked to Christ in greater multitudes, (Joh 11:48.) And at that time it was decided, at the instigation of Caiaphas, that he should be put to death, because they could not succeed against him in any other way.
5. But they said, Not during the festival. They did not think it a fit season, till the festival was past, and the crowd was dispersed. Hence we infer that, although those hungry dogs eagerly opened their mouths to devour Christ, or rather, rushed furiously upon him, still God withheld them, by a secret restraint, from doing any thing by their deliberation or at their pleasure. So far as lies in their power, they delay till another time; but, contrary to their wish, God hastens the hour. And it is of great importance for us to hold, that Christ was not unexpectedly dragged to death by the violence of his enemies, but was led to it by the providence of God; for our confidence in the propitiation is founded on the conviction that he was offered to God as that sacrifice which God had appointed from the beginning. And therefore he determined that; his Son should be sacrificed on the very day of the passover, that the ancient figure might give place to the only sacrifice of eternal redemption. Those who had no other design in view than to ruin Christ thought that another time would be more appropriate; but God, who had appointed him to be a sacrifice for the expiation of sins, selected a suitable day for contrasting the body with its shadow, by placing them together. Hence also we obtain a brighter display of the fruit of Christ’s suffering.
6. And when Jesus was in Bethany. What the Evangelist now relates had happened a little before Christ came to Jerusalem, but is here introduced seasonably, in order to inform us what was the occasion that suddenly drove the priests to make haste. They did not venture to attack Christ by open violence, and to oppress him by stratagem was no easy matter; but now that Judas suggests to them a plan of which they had not thought, the very facility of execution leads them to adopt a different opinion. As to some slight diversity between John’s narrative and that of Matthew and Mark, it is easy to remove the apparent inconsistency, which has led some commentators erroneously to imagine that it is a different narrative. Joh 12:3 expresses the name of the woman who anointed Christ, which is omitted by the other two Evangelists; but he does not mention the person who received Christ as a guest, while Mt 26:6 and Mr 14:3 expressly state that he was then at supper in the house of Simon the leper. As to its being said by John that his feet were anointed, while the other two Evangelists say that she anointed his head, this involves no contradiction. Unquestionably we know that anointments were not poured on the feet; but as it was then poured in greater abundance than usual, John, by way of amplification, informs us that Christ’s very feet were moistened with the oil. Mark too relates, that she broke the alabaster-box, and poured the whole of the ointment on his head; and it agrees very well with this to say that it flowed down to his feet. Let us therefore hold it to be a settled point, that all the three Evangelists relate the same narrative.
8. And when the disciples saw it. This also is not unusual with the Evangelists, when a thing has been done by one, to attribute it to many persons, if they give their consent to it. John says that the murmur proceeded from Judas, who betrayed Christ, (Joh 12:4.) Matthew and Mark include all the disciples along with him. The reason is, that none of the others would ever have dared to murmur if the wicked slander of Judas had not served for a torch to kindle them. But when he began, under a plausible pretext, to condemn the expense as superfluous, all of them easily caught the contagion. And this example shows what danger arises from malignant and envenomed tongues; for even those who are naturally reasonable, and candid, and modest, if they do not exercise prudence and caution, are easily deceived by unfavorable speeches, and led to adopt false judgments. But if light and foolish credulity induced the disciples of Christ to take part with Judas, what shall become of us, if we are too easy in admitting murmurers, who are in the habit of carping wickedly at the best actions?
We ought to draw from it another warning, not to pronounce rashly on a matter which is not sufficiently known. The disciples seize on what Judas said, and, as it has some show of plausibility, they are too harsh in forming a judgment. They ought, on the contrary, to have inquired more fully if the action deserved reproof; more especially when their Master was present, by whose decision it was their duty to abide. Let us know, therefore, that we act improperly, when we form our opinion without paying regard to the word of God; for, as Paul informs us,
None of us liveth or dieth to himself, but all must stand before the judgment-seat of Christ, where we must give our account,
(Rom. 14:7, 10; 2Co 5:10.)
And though there was a wide difference between Judas and the others — because he wickedly held out a plausible cloak for his theft, while the rest were actuated by foolish simplicity — still we see how their imprudence withdrew them from Christ, and made them the companions of Judas.
10. Why do you trouble the woman? It is wonderful that Christ, whose whole life was a rule and pattern of temperance and frugality, now approves of immoderate expense, which appears to have been closely allied to luxury and superfluous indulgence. But we must observe the kind of defense which he employs; for he does not maintain that the woman did right, in such a manner as if he wished that the same thing should be done every day, but maintains that what she had done in a single instance was agreeable to God, because it must have been done for a good reason. Though Christ had no desire for the use of the ointment, yet this anointing pleased him on account of the circumstances in which it happened. Hence we infer that certain extraordinary ways of acting are sometimes approved by God, and yet that it would be improper to make them an example. Nor have we any reason to doubt that Mary was led by a secret movement of the Spirit to anoint Christ; as it is certain that, whenever the saints were called to any extraordinary performance, they were led by an unusual movement, so as not to attempt any thing without the guidance and authority of God. There was no precept in existence enjoining on Mary this anointing, nor was it necessary that a law should be laid down for every single action; but as the heavenly calling is the only origin and principle of proper conduct, and as God rejects every thing which men undertake at their own suggestion, Mary was directed by the inspiration of the Spirit, so that this duty, which she performed to Christ, was founded on assured confidence.
For she hath performed a good action towards me. By this reply, Christ not merely defended the cause of one woman, but likewise maintained the holy boasting of all who rest satisfied with having themselves and their works approved by God. It will often happen that not only censure, but open condemnation, is pronounced on godly men, who are convinced in their own consciences that what they do is agreeable to the command of God; and it is ascribed to pride, if they set at naught the false judgments of the world, and rest satisfied with being approved by God alone. Since this is a hard temptation, and since it is scarcely possible not to be shaken by the agreement of many people against us, even when they are in the wrong, we ought to hold this doctrine, that none will ever be courageous and steady in acting properly, unless they depend solely on the will of God. And therefore Christ settles here the distinction between what is good and evil by his own solitary decision: for by affirming that what the woman has done is a good action, when that action had been already condemned by the disciples, he represses by this word the rashness of men, who freely allow themselves to pronounce judgment.
Relying on this testimony, let us learn to set little value on any reports concerning us that are spread abroad in the world, provided we know that what men condemn God approves. In this manner Isaiah, when oppressed by wicked calumnies, makes reference to God as his voucher, (Isa 50:7,) and Paul likewise appeals to the day of the Lord, (1 Cor. 4:3, 4.) Let us therefore learn to pay no deference to the opinions of men farther than that they may be edified by our example in obedience to God, and when the world rises against us with a loud noise, let us satisfy ourselves with this consolation, that what is reckoned bad on earth is pronounced to be good in heaven.
11. For you have the poor always with you. Christ does not simply defend the anointing, so that we may imitate it, but assures us that it pleases God on some particular account. This must be carefully weighed, that we may not fall into the error of contriving expensive modes of worshipping God, as the Papists do; for, hearing it said that Christ was pleased with being anointed by Mary, they supposed that he took delight in incense, wax-tapers, splendid decorations, and pompous exhibitions of that nature. Hence arises the great display which is to be found in their ceremonies; and they do not believe that they will worship God in a proper manner, if they are not immoderate in expense. But Christ plainly makes this exception, that what he wished to be done once would not be agreeable to him in future. For by saying that the poor will always be in the world, he distinguishes between the ordinary service, which ought to be maintained among believers, and that extraordinary service, which ceased after his ascension to heaven.
Do we wish to lay out our money properly on true sacrifices? Let us bestow it on the poor, for Christ says that he is not with us, to be served by outward display. True, indeed, we know and fed by the experience of faith, that he is present with us by power and spiritual grace; but he is not visibly with us, so as to receive from us earthly honors. How utterly mad, therefore, is the obstinacy of those who press upon him foolish expenses which he does not choose, and which he absolutely refuses! Again, when he says that the poor will always be with us, we infer from it, that if many are in poverty, this does not arise from accident, but that, by a fixed purpose, God presents to us those on whom our charity may be exercised. In short, this passage teaches us that, though the Lord commands us to dedicate to him ourselves and all our property, yet, with respect to himself, lie demands no worship but that which is spiritual, and which is attended by no expense, but rather desires us to bestow on the poor what superstition foolishly expends on the worship of God.
12 She hath done it to bury me. By these words Christ confirms what we have said, that the precious ointment was not valued by him on account of its odor, but solely in reference to his burial. It was because he wished to testify by this symbol, that his grave would yield a sweet odor, as it breathed life and salvation through the whole world. Accordingly, we are told by John (Joh 12:7) that Christ praised Mary for having reserved that anointing till the day of his burial. But since the truth of this figure has been made fully apparent, and since Christ, in departing from the sepulcher, perfumed not one house, but the whole world, by the quickening odor of his death, it would be childish to repeat an action for which no reason and no advantage could be assigned.
13. Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached. He says that this action will do honor to Mary, because it will be praised by the doctrine of the gospel. Hence we infer, that we ought to estimate our works not by the opinion of men, but by the testimony of the word of God. When he says that she will be held in honorable remembrance throughout the whole world, by this comparison he indirectly censures his disciples; for among strangers, and in distant parts of the world, all nations, with one consent, will applaud this action, which the members of his own household condemned with such bitterness. Christ gently reproves the disciples also, for not entertaining sufficiently honorable views of his future reign; but at the same time, by this expression he bears testimony to the calling of the Gentiles, on which our salvation is founded. In what sense the gospel must be preached throughout the whole world, we have explained under Mt 24:14
“Mais vous ne m’aurez point tousjours;” — “but you will not have me always.”
Reckoning silver at five shillings an ounce, a denarius, which weighed a drachm, was worth sevenpence-halfpenny; and three hundred denarii were equal to nine pounds, seven shillings, and sixpence, of our money. — Ed.
“Mais vous ne m’aurez point tousjours;” — “but you will not have me always.”