Emmitsburg Council of Churches


The Holy Gospel according to St. John 12:1-8

Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 12:2 There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. 12:3 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.

12:4 But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, 12:5 "Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?" 12:6 (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.) 12:7 Jesus said, "Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. 12:8 You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me."

The Gospel of the Lord . . .

The Fragrance of Discipleship

In today's Gospel we witness Mary's great affection for Jesus as she pours out this expensive perfume over Jesus' feet and wipes them with her own hair. What great devotion Mary demonstrates toward the Lord Jesus!! It is a kind of outpouring of love for the Savior that few can share with Jesus, save those who have known the depth of his love and pouring out of himself on their behalf.

Such acts of devotion to Jesus put us in mind of the saints and mystics of old who expressed their love for Jesus with extraordinary giving and abandon – that is, they gave themselves wholly to Jesus–sometimes even giving their lives.

When we hear about Mary pouring the perfume over Jesus' feet and wiping them with her hair, this scene may make US uncomfortable. After all, this is a very intimate thing that Mary is doing! I would even suggest that from our perspective, we are probably more comfortable with Judas' outlook on the scene than we are with what Mary does for Jesus.

After all, Judas was being "practical" – whereas Mary was being "wasteful" of the precious ointment . . . never-mind that Judas "helped himself" to the moneybag now and then . . . . Mary's actions are just too intimate for us to relate to.

Perhaps if we reconsider what all had gone on previously to today's scene, it might be helpful in understanding Mary's devotion.

Remember that a few weeks prior to this event Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead.

Lazarus had died and was buried – placed into a sealed tomb for four days! Remember Martha's "practical" warning? "Lord, He's been in the tomb four days – surely by now there is a bad odor -- a stench!"

But Jesus speaks of having faith and if the on lookers have faith, then Jesus says, "you will see the glory of God." And so the grave stone is rolled away and Jesus prays, and Lazarus "Comes Forth From the Tomb." He is resurrected from the dead.

Now it is several weeks later . . . Jesus and his disciples have been much less public in their appearances because the chief priests and Temple authorities are trying to capture Jesus in order to kill him . . . And now it is the week before Passover– and Jesus is in fact, slowly but surely, making his way to Jerusalem -- were he will be crucified. — Lazarus' house in Bethany, is along the way and that is how we have arrived at Today's story of Mary's act of devotion and faithful discipleship.

As Jesus and his disciples enter into the house of Lazarus, there is much familiar about the place. We can imagine that Martha is cooking and serving and is busy (as usual!) In the kitchen. The men are at the table along with Mary. We can imagine the scenery. Much laughter as the men tell their stories about keeping their distance from the authorities both Roman and Jewish,

"We have been down at the town of Ephraim in the region near to the wilderness," says James to Lazarus, "There we have been able to move about more freely, since the High Priest didn't have any "eyes" there looking out for us." Peter, grabbing a whole handful of the delicacies Martha has just placed on the table, remarks, "These young grape leaves sure are delicious Martha, what's in the filling?"

Lazarus is seated beside Jesus and has a certain glow about him. Words come awkwardly for Lazarus as he explains, "Lord I still cannot express my gratitude for the power of your prayer acting on my behalf- – I was dead and was pulled back to the land of the living by your Word – I had gone down to Scheol but was restored to my life . . How Lord? I just can't understand it, but I thank you for all you have done."

Peter continues to eat heartily from Martha's Table, oblivious to the others around him until he notices the fragrance of the Nard. "What's that smell?" Peter remarks, thinking to himself that there may be one more delicious and unusual dish that Martha has prepared.

Judas has already located the source of the fragrance and has made his judgement about the situation. Seeing Mary anointing the feet of Jesus and wiping them with her hair, like a Servant is too much for Judas. So he remarks, "Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?" . . . .

As we consider how John the Gospel writer has painted this picture – we should note that John portrays Mary in the form of a disciple who has the heart of a "Servant" and she is a lavish "Giver" of an extravagant gift to Jesus. We are further reminded of the Servant image when we picture Jesus teaching his disciples at the last supper – Jesus says, "Unless I wash you – you have no place with me." and "If I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another's feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you."

Through Mary's action we see that she has understood the genuine qualities of disciples of the Lord. Generous in service and giving. MARY GETS IT!!

Perhaps this is what we must take from this lesson so near to the end of our Lenten pilgrimage. We should be taking in the fragrance of the aromatic oils Mary has poured on Jesus' feet. We should be considering the connection with Jesus death and burial, soon to come and at the same time we should be considering Lazarus' presence at the table. Christ is not just a man who came to Teach and Heal. He is the Savior of the World, God in Human flesh. His death and resurrection are going to accomplish Salvation for all. And his rising from the grave becomes our guarantee that we will also be raised. This is our Faith and life breath.

And so there is hope for every new day that God gives us here in this life. We will no longer look back longing for what once was. But we smell the oil of anointing and remember to look ahead for what God will do next - - "THE NEW THING" and like Mary, we become intimately involved with God's action in the world today and tomorrow. Thanks be to God for such an example.

Let us Pray

Dear Lord,

We don't always know how to respond to every situation that comes into our lives and into the world. Give us wisdom, generous hearts and a great love for all, that we might be devoted disciples like Mary, filled with faith, devotion, and good works. For it is in your name we pray. Amen

Read more writings of Pastor Jon