Peace be with you!
As Christians, we live with a difficult tension between “already” and “not yet” of Jesus’s crucifixion, death, and resurrection. Jesus has already walked the earth, done his ministry, and suffered greatly for our sins, and yet he will also come again to judge the living and the dead.
The next two weeks also have us on edge as we observe the passion and are tempted to jump to the ending: Jesus’s resurrection. We do not want to remember the pain and suffering Jesus went through on our behalf. We do not want to imagine Jesus being beaten and whipped, crawling to Golgotha with his crossbeam, falling under its weight, being crucified, and dying. We would like to go from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday without the detour to the cross. However, we have to take the painful road to the cross, because without it we miss the point of Jesus’s resurrection—that God the Father loves us so much that he sent his only begotten Son into the world to experience our pain and sorrow and to ultimately defeat these broken things.
The story of Mary anointing Jesus lives out this “already” and “not yet” oxymoron. Jesus is alive and well when Mary anoints his body with perfume (John 12:3)—a selfless act performed on Jesus’ behalf. Mary’s devotion is one of deep love and affection for her Savior. Jesus will show his disciples the same kind of love when he washes their feet at the Last Supper (John 13:8). Like Mary, Jesus expresses his humility towards his disciples—the master is not greater than his workers.
Mary anoints Jesus’s feet with expensive perfume and wipes them with her hair (John 12:3a). When people anointed others’ feet, it was common to use water and to be done by a servant. When people are anointed with oil, it is normally done on the head. Mary shows humility when she anoints Jesus’ feet with the expensive nard perfume and wipes them with her hair. Mary lives out the command to love one another even before Jesus teaches it (John 13:34-35). Mary responds to the true reason Jesus has to die on the cross before he explains it (John 14:2-4; 16:19-24). Mary anoints Jesus out of love and devotion. Mary’s act demonstrates what discipleship looks like. Discipleship is the pouring out of your love for God and Jesus Christ into the world. It is the kind of selflessness that will also work later to help the poor, the homeless, the disabled, and the naked. Mary shows her devotion to Jesus by giving of herself in his time of need.
Judas Iscariot is outraged with Mary for wasting such an expensive perfume on anointing Jesus’s feet, saying it could have been sold to help the poor (John 12:4-5). The author clues us in on Judas’s selfish reasons for wanting to keep the perfume: he takes care of the common purse and would sometimes steal out of it (John 12:6). His intentions are self-centered. Judas Iscariot is an example of an individual who tends to the needs and wants of the world and serves only himself. If the perfume is sold for money, it would get a year’s salary and would allow Judas to have [whatever “it” was] that he wanted. Judas does not care about the poor, the homeless, the disabled, and the naked. Judas is not interested in living as a disciple or loving God and his neighbor. Judas is only concerned with his own needs and desirers.
Jesus scolds Judas Iscariot for being harsh with Mary when she has done a great service for him. Mary brought the perfume as if for the day of his burial (John 12:7). In biblical times, family members would anoint the dead before burial as a way to show them honor. By anointing Jesus before his death, Mary is showing him her devotion and love. She is making preparations for his journey to the cross and beyond.
Jesus is also scolding Judas for giving into the pressures of the world. After everything Judas has seen Jesus do, he is still blind to God’s love. His main concern is how he can get ahead in the world, which has nothing to do with the good news or with being a disciple of Jesus Christ. Jesus has to be frustrated with Judas, because after three years together he still does not get it. Jesus is days away from dying, and one of his disciples is still in the dark. What more can he do?
As Christians, we live with the tension of being in but not of the world. We live in the world as God’s children who answer his call of discipleship to spread the good news. We live according to the commandments to love God and neighbor commandments. However, we do not belong to the world. We do not care to be the richest or most famous; instead, we tend to the needs of others—the poor, the homeless, the disabled, and the naked. We do not give into the pressures of the world; instead, we believe in the power of the resurrection and look forward to Jesus’s second coming. The world does not own us, though we work in the world to take back what belongs to God.
Jesus also states the poor will always be in the world, but he will not always be with his disciples (John 12:8). There will always be someone who needs assistance—physically, psychosocially, or spiritually. Someone in the world will always need shelter; others will need clothes; others will need food and water; others will need prayers. The world is a needy place where someone will always need something. However, Jesus was not to always be physically present in the world. Mary is taking the opportunity to express her devotion and love for Jesus—the one who brought her brother back to life, the one who has healed so many, the one who has taken care of the poor, and the one who will die for our sins. Mary does the one thing she can do for Jesus—anoint him for burial.
Mary’s devotion to Jesus shows us what discipleship means. Discipleship is our devotion to Jesus’s death and resurrection and what is to come. As disciples, we dedicate our lives to spreading the good news and Jesus’s love in the world. We give up ourselves as Jesus gave up himself for the sake of our sins. We acknowledge our brokenness and our need for Jesus to die on the cross, so we can be in relationship with God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.
Thanks be to God!
Dear Heavenly Father, Thank you for giving us an example of discipleship. Help us to live in but not of the world. Give us the strength to help the poor, the homeless, the disabled, and the naked. Lead us to be your hands and voice in the world as your disciples. Thank you for giving up your Son for our sake. Amen.