Please read John 12:1-12
This Jesus has to die! There’s just no getting around it. He’s disrupting our agenda. He’s affecting our livelihood. He’s challenging our authority. He’s dismantling our influence. Either he goes or we’ll all be undone. That was the motivation behind the sinister conspiracy to kill Jesus of Nazareth. The religious and political bosses had met and the decision was made. Come Passover we’re going to abduct this Jesus and rub him out before anymore of this gets out of hand. We owe it to ourselves, our institution, and our nation to remove this upstart reformer from the equation. As such, we’ll send out spies to infiltrate meetings and gatherings in order to learn of his whereabouts. And when the time is right, we’ll make our move.
That is the contextual setting for the lesson John presents here. Jesus comes to Bethany knowing full well what is about to unfold. He is not deterred. He understands completely the implications of his mission and he will not be frightened off. The will and work of God will continue, regardless.
A brief respite takes place. In honor and appreciation for what he did for Lazarus, Martha and Mary host a banquet. It is a moment of worship and thanksgiving. Both followers and guests are present. The mood is festive. The meal is delicious. The conversation is pleasant. It has all the markings of a warm reception.
Suddenly, Mary decides to infuse the proceedings with a personal display of affection and appreciation. She brings out a jar of expensive perfume. Falling to her knees before him, she breaks open the seal, and begins to anoint Jesus’ feet. That act in itself would have caused eyebrows to raise.
Women back then were not permitted to make such audacious displays before rabbis. What’s more, she does the unthinkable. She removes her head covering, unbinds her hair, and begins to wipe his feet with it. That was even a worse taboo. Only within the intimate confines of a marriage was anything like that permissible. Yet such was the worshipful offering being made. It was extreme as well as extravagant and Jesus fully embraced it.
It didn’t take long before the rest of the assembly to notice what was going on. The fragrance alone sensitized the guests to what was begin shown. It was an experiential moment. And all took it in. All, except one. And what is amazing is that the criticism comes from one of Jesus’ closest companions. Judas sees this not only as being disrespectful but also excessive. Forget about the intention and who it was that was being so honored, this is a total waste of a good resource. And then, in a note of self-righteous piety, he remarks, “it could have instead been used to help the poor.”
Jesus defends her action. He not only graciously accepts Mary’s worship, he also points out that there is a difference between being socially sensitive and spiritually respectful. Both are equated by the sincerity of the action. And when that is not considered neither service is blessed.
The lesson ends as it began, with the conspirators seeking to destroy the influence of Jesus. But now with an added twist. It’s not enough to simply kill him, we’ve got to get rid of any incriminating evidence. We’ve got to kill this Lazarus too. When self interest becomes the norm suppressing the truth soon becomes the standard. Not a very uplifting lesson, to say the least. But it’s accurate and its authentic. It calls to question our own response to Jesus and the sincerity of our worship.
You would think by now we would have longed settled the issue. Unfortunately, twenty-one centuries later, whether within local congregations, regions, or denominations, we repeat the same mistakes and so is it any wonder we suffer the same affects? Lord, open our eyes and sensitize our hearts. Unlike those who seek to supplant you, may we, like Mary, come to affirm you and appreciate you without fear or intimidation.
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