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, 2011
Bethany, 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, NIV
4 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, 2011
Jesus' 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, NIV
9 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, 2011
Lazarus, 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.

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