Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.
But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor? (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.)
Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”
When the great crowd of the Jews learned that he was there, they came not only because of Jesus but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. So the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death as well, since it was on account of him that many of the Jews were deserting and were believing in Jesus.
Reflection – Kevin Washburn
Let’s start by just recognizing the sequence of events in the passage. Jesus visits Lazarus, Mary, and Martha. During dinner, Mary pours perfume on Jesus’s feet and spreads it around with her hair. Judas objects because he saw dollar signs rather than worship and offers some pious basis for his annoyance. Jesus responds, stating that Mary bought the perfume to use at His burial. People hear that Jesus and Lazarus are in town and they show up to see the miracle team. The chief priests, however, are not fans, and so they develop a plot to kill both Jesus and Lazarus.
Scripture does not lack drama!
Now, what concepts do we see illustrated here?
First, note the evident friendship. Jesus sits, eats, and converses with those He loves. He was there for one reason: fellowship. There is no sense of Jesus honoring these dinner companions with His presence. Jesus does not communicate any entitlement to Martha’s culinary skills. He is there as a friend among friends, being refreshed physically, emotionally, and spiritually by simply being together.
Second, we see extravagant worship. Mary did not use the ancient version of Axe Body Spray on the Messiah’s feet. She bought the finest perfume and brought it to the table. During the dinner, something stirred Mary to adoration and she acted. The fragrant result left no doubt to anyone nearby; Mary brought her best and gave it in worship. (Imagine being at a restaurant with friends when one of them launches into “How Great Thou Art” at the top of his/her lungs.) Mary came prepared to worship, and when she was so moved, she exalted the Lord wholeheartedly.
Third, we see motivation, and what a contrast is clear! Mary is at Jesus’s feet, worshipping from a place of love for Christ. Meanwhile, Judas is at the table, complaining that Mary wasted money that could have been used in better ways—specifically, to line his own pockets. Mary’s focus is on the Savior, while Judas’s focus is on himself. He knows enough not to make himself the center of his protest, though. He couches it in religious speech.
Fourth, we see eagerness. Although Mary bought the perfume to use at His burial, she could not wait. She was so moved to worship right then that her act could not be put off. There, in the moment, with her best perfume at the ready, she’s on the floor, lifting Him up by wiping down His feet. Jesus recognizes, accepts, and defends her beautiful act.
Fifth, we see curiosity. The crowd shows up. They heard about Lazarus. They heard about Jesus. And the opportunity to see them together was too great to allow them to stay at home. So many questions flooded their minds, and here was a chance for answers.
Finally, we see resentment. The chief priests must have mumbled, “Who does he think he is?” so many times that they justified giving Jesus the ultimate humiliation. Not only would they prove that He was not the Son of God, but they would also show Him who was really in charge.
Both the chief priests and Judas communicated a piety that was not authentic. Mary demonstrates genuine worship without saying a word.
In writing, I teach students to “show, not tell.” If a writer can convey an idea through a character’s actions, for example, the writing will be stronger than if the author states, “Mary was an authentic worshipper.”
We all like to see ourselves as Mary in this passage. Certainly we would worship, not plot or pilfer, right? Hmm. How many times have I used the language of piety to cover more personal opinions or desires? Honestly, some days I am more Judas than Mary. How can I, like Mary, engage in extravagant worship?
We gather weekly. We worship as a community each Sunday. We may not eat together, but we do fellowship. Are we eager to engage in extravagant worship? This week, that is a challenge I am pursuing—to be ready on Sunday (and not just on Sunday) to worship authentically, extravagantly, and without pretense. To be more Mary, less Judas.