In contrast to Mary’s giving spirit was the action of Judas, a man driven by greed. Judas was not impressed with this scene, or the aroma filling the house. All he could think of was the enormous amount of money that had been lost, money he could have skimmed off a handsome sum from, for himself. A loving heart gives while a darkened heart keeps for itself. Judas’ growing resentment, disrespect for Jesus, and greed, all came bubbling up.
Then Judas the Iscariot, one of his disciples—the one who was about to deliver [Jesus] up—said, “Why was this perfumed oil not sold for 300 denarii and supplied to the impoverished?”
But he said this not because the impoverished were remaining concerning to him, but rather that he was secretly a thief, fraudulent and cunning, and the one who had the purse, taking what was put into it.Judas the Iscariot to Jesus, John 12:4-6
And it sounds so pious, does it not? It is amazing how you and I can think up such good reasons to cover what are often selfish, self-centered motives. Why had Mary wasted this expensive item? Think of the poor families who could have benefitted, especially now, during Passover.
We know from the other gospel accounts that many of the disciples also criticized her. What was she thinking? How could God possibly approve of such thoughtlessness?
Reading this, I had to pause and self-reflect. How do I treat fellow servants, especially the ones I disagree with, or do not like their methods? When am I tempted to criticize, or complain, even though I have not done anything to help or serve in that area? What affect does my opinion have on others’ service?
The Face of Evil
You and I might think evil is easy to recognize. The bad guy always looks bad, right? He is the sleazy one wearing a black hat and sweeping black cape. Pictures of the devil show him in horns with a pitchfork and a tail.
But the truth is, evil much more often comes in disguise, pretending to be oh so good, oh so high-minded. The other disciples admired Judas. They had no idea that he stole from them, or that he had been preparing to stab Jesus in the back. Until the very end, they thought Judas was a devoted follower of the Lord.
Jesus knew Judas’ heart. He knew Judas did not respect him. Jesus knew Judas was stealing regularly from their common purse—from the funds often sacrificially given by some of the women in their inner circle who had their own means, and from the many, many grateful people who believed in Jesus, and had benefitted from his teaching and healing ministry.
Jesus loved Judas to the end, a love Judas never seemed to have responded to. This event was the trigger that sent Judas to the high priest Caiaphas to betray Jesus.
Jesus gently rebuked the disciples. He loved Mary’s gift, it was not too much, it was beautiful. Jesus noted that what she had done was prophetic, God intended it for Jesus.
And so Jesus said, “Leave her alone, she kept watchful care over it in order for the day of the preparation of my burial. For the impoverished you have with you, but me you do not always have.”Jesus to Judas, John 12:7-8
Two other gospels add to the telling of this event. Mark, the gospel Peter preached alongside John in those early days, remembered Jesus saying,
“She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. She did what she could.
She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial.
I tell you the truth, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”Jesus to Judas and the disciples, Mark 14:6-9 (NIV)
Matthew’s account followed Mark’s closely, almost word for word.
The Lord’s rebuke had to have been both unsettling and troubling.
Jesus had been telling them he was going to die soon and apparently, Mary had been the only one who was listening. She got it. She got Jesus. And she did what she could to honor him, to show him she understood.
Generosity is one of the distinctive qualities of love.
Mary—with her brother’s and sister’s help—had given what was the most precious to her, to Jesus. I feel sure Mary understood at least something of what she was doing. She had only just buried her brother a month or so ago, and together with her sister had rubbed myrrh into his dead skin, weeping over him, wishing with all her heart that he were still with them.
When Jesus had spoken of his death to come, he did not talk in riddles. He spoke very plainly. His disciples seemed not to have registered what they were hearing. But Mary did, and I believe Lazarus and Martha also did.
The three most intimate human activities we engage in are talking, eating together, and touching. Yet talking becomes intimate only when we share what is deepest within us and the one listening understands and receives with embracing love. In this, talking becomes revelation, and receiving means taking in the true other. How often did Jesus otherwise feel truly heard, truly understood, and truly received?
The pure spikenard was worth about $40,000, but the costly gift Mary actually gave was to listen, understand, receive without judgment, and know.
Costly devotion is precious to Jesus
What costly sacrifice am I willing to anoint Jesus with?
Mary actually illustrates the beautiful concept of sacrificing all and gaining even more.
She, in a sense, gave up herself, her love, to Jesus, by letting down her hair for him, and pouring what might very well have been her dowry on his head. What she unexpectedly gained was to be wrapped up in the gospel for all eternity, her story forever entwined with Jesus’ story.
A Growing Throng
The news got out that Jesus was in Bethany again, so many of the people gathering in Jerusalem went to Bethany, just two miles out of town, to see not only Jesus but the resurrected Lazarus.
Meanwhile, the Sanhedrin had broadened their plan to kill Lazarus as well as Jesus,
because, through [Lazarus], many of the Judeans were leaving, and believing in Jesus.John 12:11
When the evidence cannot be refuted, some will seek to destroy it, including other people.
Watch out, then for campaigns that try to tear down people’s credibility and character. That is what the Sanhedrin was seeking to do. If they could send Lazarus back to the grave, then Jesus’ credibility would be undermined, they hoped.
Publicly identifying with Jesus is going to have its risks even today. Lazarus had already experienced the worst that could happen—he had already been dead for four days! That gave him courage to be bold, whatever the cost, because the privilege of knowing and following Jesus far outweighed whatever penalty the religious authorities would come up with.
Cover image | William Hole, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons]