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John 12:1-3, NIV 1 Six days before the Passover, Jesus arrived at Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. 2 Here a dinner was given in Jesus' honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. 3 Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus' feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.
November 2, 2011Bethany, two miles outside Jerusalem. Jesus came back to the place of his greatest miracle, the place that personified his teaching about being "the resurrection and the life", to the home of Lazarus, Martha and Mary. Didn't they know they could be excommunicated? Their friendship with Jesus defied the command of the established religious authorities.
They each had a role at the dinner given in honor of Jesus. Martha served the meal, Lazarus entertained Jesus at the table, and Mary did an outrageous thing.
Was it an act of hospitality? It was customary to wash the feet of your house guests. Roads were dusty; the climate mild; shoes resembled sandals. Today people can leave their footwear at the door if they don't want to bring dirt into the host's home. Back then the host provided water and towels. It was all part of making your visitors feel comfortable.
But Mary did not use water and towels. I don't know if Mary's hospitality was an example of thinking outside the box. More likely it was evidence of extreme devotion and love for Jesus.
A pint of very expensive perfume poured on the feet of Jesus. That was certainly extravagant beyond measure. Much more than was needed for the task. The odor must have been overwhelming. Her deed could not have been ignored. Maybe the nard also affected the taste of the food. It was the kind of situation that is more pleasant days/months/years after it happened. An event that grows with the re-telling.
All four Gospels have a similar version of this story. Matthew and Mark place it two days before the day of Passover, also in Bethany but at the home of Simon the Leper. They do not mention Mary by name; she is simply referred to as "a woman with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume." Both of those gospel writers say she poured the perfume on Jesus' head. Luke's account is much different and may have been a separate incident. Luke placed the scene much earlier in time when "one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him." A "sinful woman" crashed the party and washed the feet of Jesus with her tears, dried them with her hair, kissed them and then poured perfume on his feet. Luke told this story as a lead-in to a parable about two debtors, their moneylender and the idea that the one who is forgiven more will also love more.
Back to Mary and her story as described by John. Her nard was pure and we assume her devotion was also. "You will not always have me", that's what Jesus told these loving friends and all who were gathered around the dining area. That statement might have been even more overpowering than the nard.
The image of anointing someone's head with oil is not unusual in the Bible. The 23rd Psalm has a reference to it--"The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. . . . You prepare a table . . . , You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy will follow me . . . ." Mary didn't do the head, maybe because when men ate they reclined at the table with their feet extended outward and Mary may have thought she could reach his feet without interfering with the meal.
Mary had a strange way of connecting herself to Jesus. They would both have the unmistakable smell of nard on their person for many days to come. The same could be said for the whole house, and possibly for everyone who was there. (Forgive me for this distracting tangent, but I am reminded of the time our Siberian Husky was sprayed by a skunk. It took a long time and many baths before we allowed him in the house again.)
John 12:4-6, NIV4 But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, 5 "Why wasn't this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year's wages." 6 He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it. 7 "Leave her alone," Jesus replied. "It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. 8 You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me."
Judas speaks for many of us. At least for the Pennsylvania Dutch where I live and especially those who are old enough to retire. You wouldn't find us using more than is necessary to get the job done. Our parents lived through the great depression of the 1930's, so we know the value of money. Sadly, now a whole new generation is learning how tight the finances can be when times are tough. Yes, Judas sees the waste and speaks what is on our mind as well. A whole year's wages poured on the feet of Jesus! Just think what we could do with all that money! All those debts paid, all the worn out stuff replaced, plus a little cushion so we could live without so many fears.
Judas worded it differently, a little more acceptably. Think how much you could give to the poor! Giving always sounds better than keeping it all for ourselves. Surely Jesus would agree and condemn this waste. Expensive perfume, one year's wages . . . poured on his feet! What is this!
How did Jesus react to Mary's loving deed which was now embroiled in controversy? He said, "Leave her be." Don't fuss at her; don't diminish her or her deed. Matthew quotes Jesus as saying she had done a beautiful thing for him. He did not reject her gift of love. Any negative reaction from the others was probably based on jealousy because they had no such act of love to give.
November 3, 2011Jesus' response also implies that she was saving the nard to use on him when he died. His death was not unexpected. He was too good to live in our world. Although his days on earth would be brief, the poor will be with us forever. We can worry about them tomorrow. Mary did not deserve to be berated. Today, this moment, Mary has done a beautiful thing. A sacred, holy and love-filled act.
I wonder often about the value of things. How professional athletes can earn a million dollars for one game! While child care workers make minimum wage! How much is the kindness of a neighbor worth? Or a photograph of our parents when they were young? What is the value of love? Or a fun phone call from our grownup son or daughter? Or a memento from a loved one who has died? Is there anything I would trade a year's wages in order to experience? Is it true, as Henri Nouwen said, that good memories are the best gift we can give each other?
Mary anointed Jesus in life, not death. How often do we wish that the deceased could hear all the good things spoken at his or her funeral? We are left thinking. . . if only the affectopmate sentiments had been spoken to the deceased before they died. Mary did a beautiful thing for us by reminding us to demonstrate our love . . . now, today. She also gave Jesus a memory to treasure, one that would strengthen him throughout the brutal ordeal he would endure in the next few days.
John 12:9-11, NIV9 Meanwhile a large crowd of Jews found out that Jesus was there and came, not only because of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 10 So the chief priests made plans to kill Lazarus as well, 11 for on account of him many of the Jews were going over to Jesus and putting their faith in him.November 4, 2011Lazarus, Martha and Mary were being very courageous when they hosted Jesus. Surely they knew the danger of defying the authorities. As always happened in the gospel accounts, the presence of Jesus attracted the attention of many people.
You can't hide a crowd, especially when it's on the street in front of your house. These people came, not only to see Jesus, but also to get a look at Lazarus, whom they heard had died, but is alive again.
The last thing this family needed was a crowd outside their house. Many of the verses in this chapter are about death, so now we have a house that smells of nard which at that time was typically used to anoint a dead body, we have Mary with the odor of the nard throughout her hair and dripping over her shoulders, we have Lazarus who was dead but is now alive, and we have lots of spectators attracting the attention of the authorities as though they held signs for all to see reading, "Jesus is here."
Naturally, Lazarus had a bulls eye on his chest. He had to be put back into the grave. Whether Lazarus was actually murdered remains a mystery. The gospels do not follow up on his part of the story.
Because of Lazarus, many people believed in Jesus. That's a wonderful way to be remembered. The whole family was very brave, and very strong. They sided with Jesus at an extremely dangerous time. I think this is the last we hear from them.