Reading: John 12:1-8
It’s hard to believe Easter is at hand. I suppose our little ones look forward to it with some obvious enthusiasm. Who can resist those chocolate bunnies and yummy eggs? Mainly music and Messy Church were both quite animated this week by the idea of bunnies and chocolates. At Mainly Music we held off on real chocolate eggs as one of the team managed to find some rubber bouncing ones. The easter egg hunt at Messy Church was a hit I am sure.
For Jesus, the impending suffering he was about to face would have been less than enticing. Thankfully there were people in his life who expressed love and commitment to him in extravagant ways, ways which would have been hugely inspiring and encouraging.
Early on that extravagance was seen in Jesus’ first miracle at a wedding in Cana of Galilee. If you don’t know the story, it’s a great one. The wine had run out. Jesus’ supporters were there. Mary his mother for example. Your mum is always your best supporter.
At the wedding her advice to the servants has got to be the most sensible advice for us all: “Do whatever He tells you” (John 2:5).
The surprising extravagance seen in buckets of new wine (transformed bath water!) is a joy and a surprise in every sense. Jesus loved breaking conventions (bringing out the best wine last is an example at the wedding).
That story is in John chapter 2. Jump ten chapters in John’s Gospel and another Mary extravagantly shows her love for Jesus and fills the house with the fragrance of a pint of perfume poured out on his feet.
The story is recorded elsewhere and in the other accounts the perfume or nard is poured on his head. Here it’s on his feet – and there’s this interesting and sensual act by Mary (Lazarus’ sister) of wiping his feet with her hair. Mind you Mary was the one who sat at his feet listening to his teaching. It wasn’t an unfamiliar place for her to be.
This anointing of Jesus is an intimate and generous moment which would have affirmed and emboldened him as he faced a terrifying and tortuous Passover – the event we celebrate with lollies (chocolates and sweets, if you don’t know the kiwi word).
The Passover for him would not be the celebration of liberation from slavery by eating a delicious sacrificial roast lamb.
He would be the sacrifice.
I think I may be slowly understanding the effect of extravagant love like Mary’s for Jesus. I think I love him extravagantly. I hope he understands and knows this. I seek to pour out my life in praise and adoration every moment. And in sacrifice.When we have levels of intense pain and physical struggle in our lives, perhaps we will begin to have a sense of sharing in his suffering and becoming like him in his death (Phil 3:10).
On those days maybe we too will be inspired by those who love us extravagantly.
For me – whatever the fragrance is, and there are many that are beautiful and enriching – from sandalwood to lavender, vanilla, rosemary, cinnamon, or some other lovely aroma – our lives are meant to be a lovely aroma for him and for others.
May the fragrance of Jesus fill our lives. Remember Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 2:14: “But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him.”
Mary’s beautiful gift which incensed those who saw its dollar value was both incense and myrrh. It foreshadowed his death and enriched his life.
We should also be grateful to those who love us and show it generously. It helps us enormously when we have to face my passovers of pain.
The rather starting and amazing thing about this sacrificial gift of a year’s worth of precious spikenard was that it may well have been all she had – perhaps her inheritance. But she loved him more. Only the characters in Andrew Lloyd Weber’s JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR have to sing “I don’t know how to love him”. We do. We know. Scripture tells us how. Wesley’s hymn reminds us: “Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.” We can learn new ways of loving him of course.
What is really beautiful too is that it would not be long between this dinner where he his anointed so sensually and completely and his horrible crucifixion. And while the nails were being slammed into his wrists, while the whip cracked on his back, and while he had to haul himself up for every breath on the cross in such naked and violent agony, he would still have had the residue of the nard on his skin – the aroma would have still been there. The aromatic memory that he was totally loved – that would have been comfort and courage.
This generous sacrifice and most beautiful act of giving all happened at a dinner given in Jesus’ honour. We meet in Jesus’ honour each week.
May our lives be a banquet in honour of this Jesus whose mum would still like to remind us today: “Do whatever he tells you!” And may we pour out our lives and precious ointments at his feet.
Reading: John 12:1-8
Joh 12:1 Six days before the Passover, Jesus arrived at Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead.
Joh 12:2 Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him.
Joh 12:3 Then Mary took about a pint 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.
Joh 12:4 But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected,
Joh 12:5 “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.”
Joh 12:6 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.
Joh 12:7 “Leave her alone,” Jesus replied. “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial.
Joh 12:8 You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.”
We are moving rapidly towards Easter.
Jesus is with his closest friends, at a special dinner given in his honour.
In this private place Mary performs and intimate and moving act – pouring this costly perfume on Jesus’ feet, and wiping them with her hair.
I’ve only had my feet washed once by a fellow Christian. It was here in Browns Bay actually, and it was very moving. This act of sacrifice is more intense than foot washing.
This act of sacrifice gives us an insight into the real commitment of discipleship – the commitment of sacrificial service and love for Jesus, manifested in generous and risky giving. It’s an act of following Jesus and surrendering to Jesus.
One writer has suggested this: In this context Mary and the nard perfume become the father in the parable of the prodigal — extravagant love incarnated.
This is merely the extravagant love of the Father in last week’s prodigal son parable – manifest in extravagant love of a follower for Jesus.This act goes way beyond the washing of feet.
It reminds me of the hymn so well loved:
Take my life, and let it be
Consecrated, Lord, to Thee;
Take my moments and my days,
Let them flow in ceaseless praise,
Let them flow in ceaseless praise.
The verse which goes like this:
Take my silver and my gold;
Not a mite would I withhold;
Take my intellect, and use
Every power as Thou shalt choose,
Every power as Thou shalt choose.
– is sometimes left out so not as to embarrass people. The truth is the writer of the hymn (Frances Havergal) used to meditate on it each Advent (the season when she wrote it) and came under the conviction of giving her jewellery and treasures to the Church Missionary Society of the day. (The same society that supported Samuel Marsden who brought the gospel to New Zealand on Christmas day 1815).
The hymn ends with
Take my love; my Lord, I pour
At Thy feet its treasure-store.
Take myself, and I will be
Ever, only, all for Thee,
Ever, only, all for Thee.
The value of the gift poured on a rabbi’s feet – is staggering. A year’s wages. The Judas-reaction is quite predicable and we see this kind of reaction sometimes in churches which decide to become gloriously generous in giving money away. People want to see where the money goes! To control their gift – forgetting that when you give a gift it is no longer yours!
Remember that Judas was the treasurer. Of course when you read Mark and Matthew’s account of this it was not just Judas who struggled with the extent of the gift’s value.
1. Perhaps gratitude to the Lord Jesus for raising her brother Lazarus.
At the time her sister Martha was quite grumpy wasn’t she? Remember her saying:
John 11:21 “Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
They go on to talk about the resurrection – a wonderful passage where Martha professes her belief in the resurrection.
Of Mary we read:
John 11:32 –When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
She also was at his feet that time when Martha played the irritated sister. We read:
Luke 10:39 She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. And in the next verse we read: But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”
Mary was in the right place. I think all this is about being a disciple of Jesus. Sitting at his feet, having faith in Him, and worshiping him. Her life was poured out at his feet – and so too this sacrificial intimate gift of worship. We forget that the word “worship” in the New Testament means to bow down and kiss the feet of another.
If you want to follow the church’s motto or mission statement here in Browns Bay, which is – building loving communities that help people find and follow Jesus – we too have to sit at Jesus’ feet, listen to him, and get intimate. Wherever you are and wherever you worship, this is the key for you too!
Yes gratitude for the resurrection of Lazarus is a possibility – but it was also about her devotion and love for her Lord. And there’s more:
2. Lavish generosity is part of this story.
I think Jesus is not just speaking to Judas here. He’s speaking to us too.
Listen to verse 7 again: Joh 12:7 “Leave her alone,” Jesus replied. “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial.”
This is not the anointing on the head of a king – rather the anointing for burial. Something beautiful that preempts a more beautiful and yet grotesque sacrifice for us.
How can I make this real today?
Something like this – flowers at a funeral are one thing. But sacrificial love for a person while they are alive – that’s something else altogether.
Verse 7 is challenging. If it was intended for the day of his burial – why then was it poured out on this day?
Perhaps it was a powerful sign – in addition to lavish love and generosity – the cost of discipleship in giving up everything for Jesus – a sign of his impending death. The process had begun. In fact, it began the moment he preached in the synagogue on the day they tried to throw him over a cliff. And – as we heard on Tuesday – when we talked about the day when he healed the man at the Pool of Bethesda – his enemies were always going to be after him. Death was always lurking.
We must not be derailed by the last sentence about the poor. The focus is on the moment on this day – between Mary and Jesus. Jesus us saying – never mind what could be done with the money Judas (and Robin, Ian, Janet, Susan and George – whoever we are here today).
Listen again to Jesus’ words: John 12:8 You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.”
It simply means that there will be plenty of opportunities to help the poor in the future for his disciples. And they did exactly that in the early church – they sold assets to make sure that no one went without in the community. They fasted on certain days so they could make sure others did not go hungry. And we need to do this today as well.
“Leave her alone,” is the word we need to hear. This is a worship moment.
Christians – take heed here. If people worship with the hands in the air or flat on their faces – if they generously give to Jesus and do radical things – stay out of it. It’s a holy moment and has nothing to do with you. Our responsibility is to sort ourselves out before God. 🙂
This woman – Mary the sister of Martha and Lazarus – was ministering to Jesus in an intimate way – a profound way – and we can learn from this.
He has not finished with us yet. For some we have not even begun. We started last week as prodigals standing before the Lord admitting we were lost and now found.
Let’s take many more steps closer in our intimate worship of Jesus the resurrected Lord and Christ.
What would you do? What could you give?
He’s not finished with us – in worship and radical devotion, in extravagant generosity, in sacrificial service, in compassion for the poor, in love for Jesus and one another!