John 12: 1 – 11 Jesus anointed at Bethany
Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honour. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at table with him. Then Mary took about half a litre 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.
But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, ‘Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.’ 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.
‘Leave her alone,’ Jesus replied. It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.’
Meanwhile a large crowd of Jews found out that Jesus was there and came, not only because of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. So the chief priests made plans to kill Lazarus as well, for on account of him many of the Jews were going over to Jesus and believing in him.
I find the story of Mary anointing Jesus’ feet very moving. It’s such a human gesture, arising out of a profound human love. It is an act of adoration; even an act of worship. It is an extravagant, emotional act.
When I was musing on it this morning, I was struck by the contrast between the emotion expressed here and the business-like approach of Judaism. God made a contract with Abraham, and through him with the Jewish people; you can read it in Genesis 17. The Old Testament is full of references to the numerous ways the Israelites broke the terms of the contract, and how, when they did, they were punished. But God always kept the original contract with Abraham, and, indeed, he still does today.
This contractual arrangement seems to me to make the main response to God one of fear. Keep these rules, or else.
Mary, though, responds to Jesus with love, not just with her head, not just with her heart, but with her whole being. I don’t know to what extent the disciples found this behaviour inappropriate; St John says that Judas Iscariot objected for dishonest reasons, but St Matthew says that all the disciples objected. ‘The perfume should have been sold and the money given to the poor,’ they said.
Jesus, however, defends her.
‘Leave her alone,’ Jesus replied. ‘It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.’
In other words, it’s absolutely okay to worship like this. Jesus welcomes our adoration, and responds to it with love.
What a wonderful thought that is!
Thank you that you call us to worship you with every part of our being, body, mind and spirit. Please accept my worship despite its many imperfections.
In Jesus name, Amen