Saturday, March 23

Saturday, March 23     Lazarus Saturday

Scripture:  John 12:1-11

12 Six days before the Passover celebration began, Jesus arrived in Bethany, the home of Lazarus—the man he had raised from the dead. A dinner was prepared in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, and Lazarus was among those who ate with him. Then Mary took a twelve-ounce jar of expensive perfume made from essence of nard, and she anointed Jesus’ feet with it, wiping his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance.

But Judas Iscariot, the disciple who would soon betray him, said, “That perfume was worth a year’s wages. It should have been sold and the money given to the poor.” Not that he cared for the poor—he was a thief, and since he was in charge of the disciples’ money, he often stole some for himself.

Jesus replied, “Leave her alone. She did this in preparation for my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.”

When all the people heard of Jesus’ arrival, they flocked to see him and also to see Lazarus, the man Jesus had raised from the dead. 10 Then the leading priests decided to kill Lazarus, too, 11 for it was because of him that many of the people had deserted them and believed in Jesus.

Some thoughts:   

     This is a most interesting passage as all four gospels record an anointing of Jesus. Without going into great detail, it would appear there is more than one anointing. Luke’s account clearly seems to have occurred early in Jesus’ ministry since the location, the one anointing, the one objecting, the context, and Jesus’ response are completely different from the other gospels (Luke 7:36-50). Remembering the gospel writers had different audiences in mind, they had different emphases. In addition, they did not always record events in chronological order. For example, the above passage tells us Jesus arrived in Bethany six days before the Passover at Lazarus’ home. The next verse says a dinner was prepared in Jesus’ honor. The passage does not say the dinner was prepared the same day Jesus arrived though that may have been the case. Other scholars have interpreted the dinner as being six days before Passover, hence the designation of Lazarus Saturday. Matthew and Mark record the anointing two days before Passover. They also mention the anointing included Jesus’ head, while John and Luke only record Jesus’ feet being anointed. Remember Matthew is writing to a Jewish audience and his citing anointing on the head was significant because Old Testament kings were anointed on the head and Messiah means ‘the anointed one.’ Matthew was concerned with helping Jews make the connection between Jesus as the prophesied Messiah. You begin to see the point in endeavoring to harmonize the various accounts! With some of these various interpretations in mind, let’s look at the anointing itself.

     What do you do for the person who brought your dead brother to life? It doesn’t happen very often . . . ok, never. You have a party honoring the one who restored your sibling’s life. That is apparently what Mary and Martha did for Jesus in response to his raising Lazarus from the grave. As usual, Martha was busy serving. And once again, Mary was with Jesus. I have to smile reading this passage. You’ll recall an earlier occasion with Mary, Martha, and Jesus (Lk.10:38-42). Martha was busy preparing a meal and crabbing to Jesus that her sister wasn’t helping but talking with Jesus. In this pericope, we read once again, Martha is engaged in serving and Mary is tuned to Jesus. I see a family dynamic pattern here! The Bible is so real and covers up nothing. Sibling rivalry has been around a long time!

     During the meal in the presence of Lazarus and the disciples, Mary took a twelve-ounce jar of very expensive perfume from the essence of pure nard. To give us a better understanding of the value of what Mary did, nard is a product of fragrant roots of a plant of the honeysuckle family grown in the Himalayan mountains between 11,000 and 17,000 feet. You can imagine importing the perfume to Judaea from there would not be cheap. It was worth an entire year’s wage. Now put yourself in Martha and Mary’s home at the party. Can you imagine the aroma of a twelve-ounce bottle of potent perfume filling the air? My guess is that for the following days leading up to the crucifixion, Mary was reminded of the anointing of Jesus as the perfume lingered in her own hair having wiped Jesus’ feet. If it is the same anointing, according to Matthew (26:7) and Mark (14:8), she also anointed his head with the oils running down on his garments. During the coming days, my guess is that Jesus also was reminded of this loving act as the aroma lingered with and on him as well.

     Into this beautiful, honoring, loving and tender moment, Judas is the rude crude bull in the China shop. Mary is devoted to the Savior and Judas is devoted to Judas the greedy thief, the betrayer. As we trace the few references to him, he was clearly operating in a different world. I am surprised he was given responsibility for taking care of the money set aside for the disciples since John knew he had sticky fingers. At any rate he makes a crass comment and is rebuked quite strongly and sharply by Jesus. It was not that Judas misunderstood Jesus and his mission; Judas was inherently an evil at the core thief who cared not the least for the poor. He also seemed to be disillusioned and rejected the nature of Jesus’ ministry. 

     Jesus’ rebuke of Judas in this case is unlike his response to the disciples on an earlier occasion when a “woman of ill repute” anointed his feet, and he gave them an explanation of the implication of what had happened (Luke 7:36-50). In this case, Jesus’ words to Judas were very different . . . with a curt, “Leave her alone.” (Mt.26:10-13) I can’t recall anywhere else in Scripture where Jesus spoke that harshly to a person one on one. He was harsh with groups of people (Pharisees), but never with a one-on-one conversation that I remember. In his following comments, he was certainly not advocating that we don’t need to care for the poor, but rather drawing attention to the significance of his coming death. Mary had expressed extravagant devotion and gratitude to Jesus by what she did, even as she anointed him for his burial.

     This portion of Scripture concludes with the spiritual “rubber-neckers” crashing the party to see the “man who did it” and the guy he raised from the dead. It kind of reminds me of the people who slow down to see how bad the wreck was. They don’t really care about what happened, they just want to see the unusual, the spectacular. With the astounding resurrection of Lazarus from the dead, the priests decided this man of miracles was becoming far too popular as more and more people were slipping away from their teachings and believing in Jesus. Hence, he needed to be eliminated. The triumphal procession into Jerusalem, merely confirmed their suspicions and accelerated their murderous plans.

     What can we take from this pericope? Don’t be half-hearted or measured in your devotion to the Lord. Mary gave of herself to Jesus at great personal and material cost. She knelt at his feet, the act of a slave. She let her hair down, a very unsocially unacceptable act, to wipe his feet, a very personal act of devotion. (A short time later, Jesus was to do a similar thing in washing the feet of the disciples in expressing his servitude to and love for them.) She did not care what anyone else thought. She expressed her love and complete devotion to her Lord with unrestrained abandon. Judas, on the other hand, was concerned with himself and earthly material—money, money in relation to himself since he stole. Mary anointed Jesus for his burial. Devotion to Jesus carries into eternity. Judas’ betrayal yielded a different eternal story. May we express devotion to Jesus with innocent extravagant abandon like Mary.

Music: “Jesus Shall Reign” Grace Community Church


O Lord, let me not henceforth desire health or life except to spend them for you, with you and in you. You alone know what is good for me; do therefore what seems best to you. Give to me or take from me; conform my will to yours; and grant that with humble and perfect submission and in holy confidence I may receive the orders of your eternal providence and may equally adore all that comes to me from you. 

              ―Blaise Pascal (1623-1662), Eerdmans’ Book of Famous Prayers, p.56.