John 12:1-8 - Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to 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[a] 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. 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.”
I will be speaking at The Porch, here in Spokane on March 17th. They have asked me to teach from John 12. The story is fairly familiar to most Bible readers. A few usual suspects: Jesus, of course, Lazarus, Judas Iscariot and the polar opposite sisters of Martha and Mary. The center of the story captures Mary pouring out a seemingly inordinate amount of expensive perfume (pure nard) on the feet of Jesus. Crazy, right?
In looking at the story I'm struck initially by a couple of things.
The first is Mary's apparent imperviousness to the pressure to do domestic stuff with Martha. We know from their other encounter with Jesus (Luke 10) that Martha was quite a fastidious (and demanding) hostess and almost certainly wanted Mary to help with the service part of caring for Jesus. Mary, however, was resolved. She must have been incredibly focused on what she was about to do.
The second thing, however, is the difficulty of how to describe what Mary did. The common homiletical description is that Mary “worship.” For me though, that doesn't sum up what was happening accurately. It almost seems trite and a bit lazy to describe it that way. I was trying to think of several other words that described what she was doing. It very well could be called worship, but I think what was going on was more along lines of “adoration.” A definition of “adore” is, “To regard with deep, often rapturous love.” She was expressing adoration. I don't think she was thinking I'm going to worship Jesus, but she was simply expressing her love for him in the way that made the most sense to her.
So, what of it? What are the take aways?
- It was sacrificial. It cost her a great deal. We see that in the response from Judas Iscariot in the text. It says that it cost about a years wages! That’s why Judas got so bent out of shape. It says that he was dipping into the community purse at his pleasure and when he saw this un-collected bit, he sanctimoniously weighed in, “We could use that for the, a-hem, the poor…and stuff.” Here's a question: When was the last time, in one sitting, have you committed the equivalent of a years wages (without any tangible ROI) as a gesture of love for Jesus? My answer, "A...ne-ver!"
second thing though, it must've been awkward. Try to put yourself in the room...even as a back
row by-stander. I have a hard time conceiving of the scenario that took place without some feeling of awkwardness in the room. Though I am not one of those who believe anything weird went on between Jesus and the women around him, this event is incredible sensual (related to our senses). It may have been slightly more comfortable in their context, but can you imagine a group of people in the room and all of a sudden such an intimate act begins to happen? If I were there I would almost go, “Um, would you put your hair away? It's quite distracting! I'm trying to pay my respects to this guy and you're making a spectacle.”
Mary seemed indifferent to the excessive expense or the potential awkwardness. She simply loved...in a tangible way.
One other thing about this beautiful story though is it says that because of this self-effacing and astonishing act of Mary’s, the room, no the whole house was filled with the stunning fragrance of the perfume. I suppose that could be the missional element of the narrative. By a real person extravagantly adoring Christ, in a natural way, there was a beautiful fragrance that billowed through the entire house. Could that be a model for us? In our homes? In our churches? In our cities?
I’m afraid that many people I hang around with are more concerned about what others think of them than an unrestrained gesture of adoration of Christ. I’m afraid I might be one of them.