John 12:1-11 (NRSV)
Mary Anoints Jesus
Six days before the Passover
John gave a time marker, telling us that this was the last week before the death and burial of Jesus. Almost one-half of John’s Gospel is given to this last week. Matthew used more than 33% of his Gospel to cover that week, Mark nearly 40% and Luke over 25% – to seven days of Jesus’ entire life.
Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 2There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. 3Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair.
Let’s look at each part:
“Costly perfume” — According to the Archaeological Study Bible, one pint of nard would have cost about a year’s wage for a day-laborer. Cheaper by far is one of the most expensive perfumes in the world today — Joy, by Jean Patou. Henri Alméras designed and brewed the perfume in 1929. He mixed jasmine odor and rose in the perfume. Each 30 ml perfume in the bottle includes the extraction of 10,000 jasmine flowers combined with 28 dozen roses. It sells for only (!) $800 per ounce.
“anointed Jesus’ feet” — This was unusual. Usually the head was anointed.
“wiped them with her hair” — This is almost scandalous. A proper woman would not show her hair in a public setting.
The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.
We may see a double meaning here. Not only the room in Martha’s house, but the whole Church is filled with the sweet memory of Mary’s action.
4But 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.)
In the midst of this beautiful moment, this act of love and gratitude that Mary is giving to Jesus, Judas pipes up. “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor?” The moment is ruined. Judas has re-interpreted this lovely scene to his own ends. Perhaps he was uncomfortable with the display of affection, or perhaps as John suggests, he has other intentions for the money. Whatever Judas’ reasons, he wants to disconnect from the intimate and personal moment. He tries to make it about how money should be used, about practicality. He almost steals away Mary’s extravagant love, diminishing her by rebuking her feelings. Judas tries to dismiss Mary’s love and gratefulness with his distant and impersonal righteous indignation.
–Erik Parker, The Millennial Pastor
7Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. 8You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”
Mary is a model for us in devotion to Christ. We see her three times in Scripture.
1) In Luke 10:38-42, her sister Martha complains to Jesus that Mary is shirking her household duties by sitting at Jesus’ feet; Jesus replies that Mary has chosen the better part.
2) In John 11, Mary drops to her knees in her grief at the death of her brother and tells Jesus she wishes he had been there earlier.
3) Here in John 12, Mary understands something the disciples do not — that Jesus is soon going to die. She prepares his body for burial by anointing it with precious oil.
Note that in all three stories, we find Mary at the feet of Jesus.
In the parallel accounts of this event in Matthew 26 and Mark 14, the perfume is poured on Jesus’ head.
HERE is “Broken and Spilled Out” sung by Steve Green.
The Plot to Kill Lazarus
Put picture of Lazarus here.
9When the great crowd of the Jews learned that he was there, they came not only because of Jesus but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 10So the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death as well, 11since it was on account of him that many of the Jews were deserting and were believing in Jesus.
They are proposing to get rid of the evidence! Many of the “chief priests” were Sadducees, and they did not believe in the resurrection, or miracles. Lazarus was a living example that their theology was wrong!
1) Do you, like Mary, sit at Jesus’ feet, learning to know him? Do you wish you could do that more? Pray for his help; God has said, “Those who seek me, will find me.”
2) Barclay says that Mary’s action teaches us three things about love: its extravagance, its humility, and its unself-consciousness. Consider how you love the Lord, how you love your family and friends. Are Mary’s signs of love visible in your actions, too?
The New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.