John 12:1-8 Mary Anoints Jesus
1 Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 2 There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. 3 Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. 4 But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, 5 ‘Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?’ 6 (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) 7 Jesus said, ‘Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. 8 You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.’
In this story Jesus has moved out of the limelight and the public square into a domestic scene. He is with his friends and his followers; they are being given hospitality and are guests at a meal. We are told of two different responses to Jesus.
Firstly Mary’s. For Mary, Jesus is the one she loves. The household of Mary, Martha and Lazarus are shown as particular friends of Jesus. During the meal Mary takes up a jar of rich ointment with its heady aroma and anoints Jesus feet with it and then dries them with her hair! This was an intimate and quite scandalous act! I looked on google for the ways this moment was depicted in various paintings and images and discovered myself recoiling from the vulnerability and intimacy expressed.
Mary sets out to honour and bless Jesus, and she is extravagant in her gesture. She abases herself in order to show Jesus her love. Mary knows Jesus is her Lord, the one whom God has sent and I’m sure she instinctively knows that Jesus’ life now hangs in the balance. In her actions Mary is saying to Jesus, I know who you are, and you are deserving of my worship and of having your feet bathed in this costly gorgeous substance. Her response to Jesus is one of love and concern. She almost can’t do enough.
Contrast this with the response of Judas to Jesus. Judas is standing at the brink of his own disillusionment with Jesus. Judas doesn’t want to give that credence to who Jesus is. Judas has his own political agendas, he may have been a thief as the gospel account asserts, but whatever the truth of this point, his discomfort with the nature of Jesus’ mission is growing. Judas is embarrassed by Mary’s actions; he cannot accept what Mary has done and goes on to make out it was a waste of money. He turns the attention away from Mary and her gesture and starts talking about how the value of the ointment could have been better used. The ointment was worth a year’s wages (300 denarii), if sold the money could have been used to help the poor – but the poor at this point are a red herring.
As we look at their response to Jesus, we consider our own. Can we give him Jesus honour and recognise him as Lord and seek to serve him? How generous are we in our own love for Jesus? Do we wonder more about how Jesus can serve us than us him? Perhaps we are disillusioned because we had our own idea of who Jesus is and what he does and that doesn’t seem to play out.
One other aspect of the nature of Jesus in this story is that Jesus is one who is contemplating death. He accepts Mary’s gesture as an anointing for burial. In his understanding it is part of a divine purpose. It occurs to me that in this way Jesus is standing in the place of many who are ill with the coronavirus who are in a time of waiting to see what will happen and what will unfold, perhaps contemplating their death and accepting the generous care and devotion of those who tend them.
Lord Jesus open our eyes to see you clearly, fill our hearts with love for you, help us to serve you generously in the way we serve others. Reveal to us your presence in this sorrowful and difficult time.
You may know this prayer.
Watch dear Lord, with those who wake or watch or weep tonight and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend your sick ones, O Lord, rest your weary ones, bless your dying ones, soothe your suffering ones, shield your joyous ones, and all for your love’s sake. Amen.
You may like this song.