Saturday, April 9 (Lazarus Saturday)
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 the 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.”
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, Mary is tuned to the Savior and Judas is tuned to Judas the thief. Matthew tells us that all the disciples complained about what Mary had done. (Matt. 26:8) They were concerned that it could have been sold and the money given to the poor, a noble reason. But notice John tells us a little more about Judas’ motive. Any way you look at it, Judas was motivated by greed. He was the one who said the nard should have been sold for a year’s wages. He was always thinking dollars. His real motive was to steal more money from the coffer.
Have you ever wondered why Jesus allowed Judas to be in charge of the money since he knew he was a thief? I’m guessing Jesus may have been giving him a chance to overcome his lust for money. He traveled with Jesus for three years. Jesus gave him apostolic authority as one of the twelve. He washed his feet. He let him take part in the Last Supper. Yet, as you trace the few references to him, Judas was clearly operating with a different agenda. At any rate he makes a crass comment and is rebuked quite strongly by Jesus. It was not that he misunderstood Jesus and his mission, Judas had the heart of an evil thief whose greed for money led to his betrayal. He may also have wanted to force Jesus’ hand to set up his kingdom.
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.” Except for the sharp rebuke of Peter, (Matt.16:23), 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. 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. We now move into the final week of Jesus’ earthly life.
Music: “Jesus Shall Reign” Grace Community
O thou that hearest prayer, teach me to pray, I confess that in religious exercises the language of my lips and the feelings of my heart have not always agreed. Let thy Spirit help my infirmities, for I know not what to pray for as I ought. May I never think I prosper unless my soul prospers, or that I am rich unless rich toward thee. May I value things in relation to eternity. May I seek my happiness in thy favor, image, presence, and service.
In Jesus’ name, Amen. ―from The Valley of Vision, p.106