Dinner with friends. Relaxed, familiar environment. No surprises. Or so we thought. I should know by now, it is always different with him. People react. All sorts of ways – they love him, they hate him, but they always react to him. It had been tense for a while. The rumours were flying. We were laying low. The authorities were muttering, and when they start muttering, somebody ought to start worrying. Well I was worrying. No idea what was coming next, but I had a bad feeling it wasn’t going to be fun.
John 12 (Amplified Bible)
1SO SIX days before the Passover Feast, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, who had died and whom He had raised from the dead.2So they made Him a supper; and Martha served, but Lazarus was one of those at the table with Him.
3Mary took a pound of ointment of pure liquid nard [a rare perfume] that was very expensive, and she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped them with her hair. And the whole house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.
4But Judas Iscariot, the one of His disciples who was about to betray Him, said,
5Why was this perfume not sold for 300 denarii [a year’s wages for an ordinary workman] and that [money] given to the poor (the destitute)?
6Now he did not say this because he cared for the poor but because he was a thief; and having the bag (the money box, the purse of the Twelve), he took for himself what was put into it [pilfering the collections].
7But Jesus said, Let her alone. It was [intended] that she should keep it for the time of My preparation for burial. [She has kept it that she might have it for the time of My [a]embalming.]
8You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have Me.
9Now a great crowd of the Jews heard that He was at Bethany, and they came there, not only because of Jesus but that they also might see Lazarus, whom He had raised from the dead.
10So the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death also,
11Because on account of him many of the Jews were going away [were withdrawing from and leaving the Judeans] and believing in and adhering to Jesus.
The above passage was the one I was preaching on to video camera earlier this week. ( An exercise in self/peer assessment, looking at your style, content and physical mannerisms when speaking- scary stuff.) The thoughts below were my reflections, having spent time at this particular table, and watching my own reactions.
“Extravagant waste!” The Tuttting Club were having none of it. The sneer became an audible tut, that became a whisper, and because no one seemed to be taking any notice, the harsh voice of Pious Reason broke the uncomfortable silence. “Should have been used for the poor! (Think how many we could have helped!) Ridiculous thing to do!”
“And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume” Mary’s love and heart outpoured. Breaking open the costly perfumed oil, Mary held nothing back. She gave until it hurt. Gave Jesus perhaps the most costly thing she owned. Gave him her dignity as she lavished on him a public display of love, affection and esteem . An ‘over the top’ unselfconscious gesture. The room may have been full of people, but it seems Mary was only aware of Jesus. She poured out the oil and then wiped his feet with her hair. She didn’t care what people thought. What it may have done to her reputation. Her passionate self giving was unstinting. Unreserved. She laid her heart at his feet.
Judas was affronted. His cold logic and cutting words were intended to put her down. He wasn’t interested in the poor. He was thinking of his pocket, but in contrast to Mary, he was all about appearances. He wrapt up his bitterness in sanctimonious social concern. (You would have thought he had been around Jesus long enough to know how that would go down.) I imagine Jesus giving Judas a long sad look, before telling him to leave Mary alone. You really don’t get it do you Judas? You have travelled with me, watched me, listened to my words- but none of it has touched you. You have been my disciple, but you don’t know who I am or what I am going to do. Love hasn’t touched your heart, or melted any of the ice there.
Mary had understood.She may not have grasped the whole picture, but she had listened deeply to his words, and his life, and seen him have power over death – and her response was abandonment of self. Jesus was all she saw. The week before he got down on his knees and washed his disciples feet, Mary poured out her oil on his feet, in extravagant love. I wonder if they remembered and made the connection? Smells create powerful memory associations in our brains- which is why incense works so well when associated with worship. Those disciples in the house that night, and anyone else who was there, wouldn’t be able to smell Nard again without thinking of Jesus. ( and sacrificial worship)
The fragrance filled the whole house. It was overwhelming. Mary’s actions no doubt challenged those who witnessed them, which was probably why Judas reacted as he did. She didn’t care if she was misunderstood . She could have given Jesus the perfumed oil in the sealed jar as a generous gift. She could have done it discreetly with perhaps only her family present. But it wasn’t perfume until it was spilt. She gave it to him in a way that she couldn’t take it back. She gave him far more than simply a precious possession, or a ‘nest egg’ for the future. She gave him her heart. And Jesus received it. The week before he got down on his knees to wash his disciples feet, he let someone else wash his.
Both Mary and Judas’ reactions to Jesus challenge me . It is easy enough to look down my nose at Judas, as he did to Mary, and dismiss him. To think that I wouldn’t belong to the Tutting Club. Mary’s lavish, public gesture of self- abandon asks big questions of me, as to where my heart is, and who fills my vision? She both inspires and scares me. But then Love is a scary business. It requires uncomfortable amounts of vulnerability.
Judas saw Jesus, but didn’t see him. Mary saw Jesus and He was all she saw.
I can only pray as we sang this morning…
Open our eyes Lord, We want to see Jesus, to reach out and touch him and tell him we love him, Open our ears Lord and help us to Listen. Open our eyes Lord, We want to see Jesus.