Reader: “You will always have the poor among you,”
Response: “but you will not always have me.”
Scripture: John 12:1-11
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. Then the leading priests decided to kill Lazarus, too, for it was because of him that many of the people had deserted them and believed in Jesus.
Reader: This is the word of the Lord.
Response: Thanks be to God.
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 exactly what Mary and Martha did for Jesus in response to his raising Lazarus from the grave. The party honoring Jesus was on a Saturday night, shortly after the brother’s return to this world and six days before the yearly celebration of Passover. As usual, Martha was busy acting as hostess working in the kitchen and serving. And once again, Mary was with Jesus. I see a pattern here!
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 tuned to serving and Mary is tuned to Jesus.
During the meal which included 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 Himilayan mountains between 11,000 and 17,000 feet. You can imagine importing the perfume to Palestine 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 12 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. According to 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 act.
Into this beautiful, honoring, loving and tender moment, Judas is the crude bull in the china shop. Mary is tuned to the Savior and Judas is tuned to Judas the thief, the betrayer. As you 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 by Jesus. It was not that Judas misunderstood Jesus and his mission, Judas was inherently an evil thief who cared not the least for the poor.
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. (Mt.26:10-13). In this case, Jesus’ words to Judas were very different . . . with a curt, “Leave her alone.” I can’t recall anywhere else in Scripture where Jesus dealt that harshly with 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 by what she did.
Then 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 next day after the party, the triumphal procession into Jerusalem, merely confirmed their suspicions and accelerated their murderous plans.
Now that we are on the other side of the resurrection and ascension of our Lord, how might you honor the Savior this day?
Music: “Jesus Shall Reign” Grace Community
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. ―Eerdmans’ Book of Famous Prayers, p.56, Blaise Pascal (1623-1662)