At study group tonight we looked at the passage of the Bible in John’s gospel where Mary anoints Jesus just before his triumphal entry into Jerusalem (John 12: 1- 8). We looked at it in terms of where we see God in the picture, and our discussion meandered its way through the relationships of the people there. In case you are not familiar with the passage, here it is:
Jesus anointed at Bethany
12 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’ honour. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. 3 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.
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 think that in the past we have concentrated much on the roles of Martha and Mary in this story but as we discovered tonight there is far more to it than just those two.
For example, Judas Iscariot. According to this account he has already been named as a thief – it raises the question to me over whether his betrayal of Jesus was in punishment for this crime, or if the two are not linked. I can’t see them not being linked, which leads me to think about Judas’ motives for wanting to preserve the expensive perfume. We can look at his motives in terms of our own stewardship of our churches, and to some extent to our rites and practices in our worship. Do we hang on to things that are better off being used, or are we guilty of trying to preserve our assets based on their value…just in case? On the face of it, Judas was acting in the interests of the poor – ‘why wasn’t that sold and the proceeds given to the poor?’ he asks. But his own selfish motives were lurking underneath and I wonder sometimes if we are serving our own interests rather than those we are here to serve and hiding behind the words ‘it’s for the poor’?
Another aspect is the inclusion of Lazarus at this dinner. Lazarus was raised from the dead not so long ago by Jesus, and here Jesus is dining with him as large as life. This is doubly striking because not only do we know that Lazarus lived on (and lived well), but that he was dicing with death simply by hosting Jesus and his disciples in his house. Anyone who knew where Jesus was at that time was risking being arrested and put to death themselves, but here, Lazarus simply doesn’t care about that. He is reclining and enjoying peaceful and unhurried dining with Jesus at home with his family.
Wow. That makes me think.
Having brushed with death once before you’d perhaps think that Lazarus would want to steer clear of trouble and would not have Jesus over his threshold. But he didn’t, and it raises with me the point that he must have had absolute faith and trust in Jesus that all would be well. He welcomed him in, he threw a dinner in his honour, and he was relaxed and enjoying his company rather than worrying about soldiers knocking on his door.
What a great picture that paints for us if we do the same; if we welcome Jesus into our hearts and honour him with the everyday things that we do, being relaxed and enjoying his presence then how much easier would life be because we are not worrying about anything knocking on our door.
So, my question to you today is this: Where do you see yourself in the scenario of when Mary anointed Jesus before the Passover? Do you see yourself as Lazarus, relaxed and happy, or do you see yourself as Martha, serving the others in Jesus’ presence? Do you recognise the Judas Iscariot in you where you are perhaps saying one thing that looks good to the others but with entirely different motives underneath? Or how about one of the unnamed disciples there too? Are you watching and listening, or are you engaged and taking part in the conversation? What would you be saying? Maybe you are too worried about the soldiers outside the door to be fully enjoying the experience of having Jesus by your side.
Let me know your thoughts in the comments.