On one summer day, I decided to go out for a run. After a mile of poor running, I found myself at the local Oakland Cemetery. Among the silent graves, I heard my lungs wheezing. And in an asthma attack, I scrabbled to the pavement. Once I caught my breath, I looked up to see this gravestone (pictured below).
How ironic! Here is this once lively “Happy Birthday” balloon that just happened to be airless at a dormant gravestone. I pondered, "Life certainly does take the wind out of us."
Here's a warm thought... We are going to die! Someday. Ouch! That's a cold reality we don't pounder often. It's the truth though. What are we going to do about it? Will you be remembered? And by what or by whom? What do you want to be remembered by? It's partly your choice.
All of us here, I assume, want to change the world in some significant way - big or small. We want to be remembered, and not forgotten. We want our lives to count. Even better... we want to stand as a memorial of faith to others. So. How do we accomplish such a large task?
What no better way than to look in the Bible for such an idea.
And before we dive into our passage today... I want to paint a picture for you of what is all going on and within this epic story:
We find Jesus at the peak of his ministry after raising Lazarus from the dead as both the gentiles and Jews are praising him in a larger following than before. However, this “peak” of glory for Jesus, is seen by the religious leaders as a threat to their own glory, religion and stability of their nation.
The story serves as an transition from this worship of believers to confrontation from unbelievers...
The passage we are going to look at today, memorializes the faith of a figure in the Bible of named Mary (the sister of Lazarus). In this account, we find Mary at the feet of Jesus, in worship. Search with me, to see when and where Jesus worshiped, and why it stands as an memorial for all today…
John chapter 12, starting at the first verse...
OK. When was Jesus reclining? Six days before... Passover. Seems like a non-essential detail... but that is where I was wrong. Just think about what week Jesus was in... take a look at the below dates and events:
OK. So we have Friday, March 27, circa 33AD with Jesus at Bethany, raising Lazarus up from the dead. The next day, Saturday, March 28, Jesus is invited to stay for a "party" held in his with Lazarus and his sisters (this is where Mary comes in). The following day, Sunday, March 29, Jesus is going to leave the comfortable place of Bethany to enter into Jerusalem for his last time as he was going to be slaughtered on the cross for our sins. This means... while Jesus was at the "party" where his resurrection powers were being celebrated, he was six days away from being our sacrificial lamb. What we will soon find out, is that while Jesus is a week before his burial enjoying a Saturday with friends... he will be anointed King that day.
It is here we should be alert to the fact that the above passage mentioned three people... Jesus, Lazarus, and Martha. But Lazarus and Martha share a sister... Mary. Where is Mary? Mary is always with here siblings in other passages! Well, she is not busy in the kitchen with Martha (like Martha normally is) serving the dinner... and she is not with Lazarus and Jesus at the dinner table. Where is Mary!!??
Check out verse 3...
Ok. Mary is on the floor. And she has nard. What the heck is nard? Sounds like it may be something nasty or gnarly? Nard is a flower/root (see in below photo). A special flower that was grown in India. Oil was extracted from the root and was exported to places like Rome. Nard was used by the Romans to anoint the head of their kings.
So Mary has a flask of perfume. But no ordinary flask... A flask of perfume normally would only hold about one once back in the day of Jesus. From what I know about perfume and cologne is that one once is really all what you needed if you were going to out several times a week. It can last you for several months. Plus, one-to-three oz is more gentle on your wallet... it's more of an economic size.
So Mary using an 11 once bottle... a Coca Cola bottle sized bottle of perfume... well, it's odd, not ordinary. All three gospel writers express how expensive this perfume was. Mary's bank account took a hit once she bought the bottle of this concentrated perfume oil. And it's right here that we see that this act of adoration of Jesus would denote a huge sacrifice given by Mary.
The story gets crazier. Now, Mary is this expensive pouring it on Jesus' feet. But why? No one wakes up and perfumes their feet! (Or do I just have clean feet?.) During that time anointing someone’s head and washing one’s feet were common place manners. You invite someone over, and when they come, you get down and cleanse their feet. But in Apostle Mark's recording, Mary breaks the jar of perfume which tell us that she used all of it. I don't know about you, but the only time I break a jar or cut into a plastic bottle of lotion... I am trying to get all the contents out... because I am a penny pincer! So for Mary to break the bottle... It is likely that Mary poured perfume on not just the feet of Jesus... but his head and shoulder. Thus, using all of the contents of the bottle.
The very word “pour” renders the application of the perfume to be of a scared or ceremonial anointing. Yeah, remember what I wrote above about Romans anointed their kings? It can be easily assumed through the perspective of John’s theme (his them being Jesus as "life" giver and king) that using Mary pouring perfume on Jesus is symbolizing His excellence as King... not not only a king... but a sacrificial lamb too!... Mark 16:1 tells us the procedure for anointing a dead body. First the Jews would prepare the body with anointment then wash it with water. Criminals sometimes were refused to receive such common treatment. In verse 3 of our text, this word “odor” (ὀσμή- “a, smell, odor") is used only in the New Testament to describes a fragrant, sweet smell that only accompanies an acceptable sacrifice.
Hold onto that thought.
Here is a story...
Tom, an established artist, learned about a genocide in Darfur of East Africa. He decided to memorialize, or to make aware of, the lost lives in genocide by creating sculpture and paintings. His heartfelt involvement in remembering such lives gave him night sweats and nightmares of Darfurus children calling out for help. In abandonment and passion, he concluded that God was calling him to the mission field to serve the people he had a heart for. He rounded up support, as he wrote his will, said goodbye to his family, and brought a one way ticket to East Africa.
Reflecting Mary's and Tom's stories, here is the thought so far: Heartfelt worship is the “abandonment” of human logic and culture to honor Christ as live. However, as you can assume, this type of worship will meet confrontation... not only from the world but more often from the very people who should be are cheerleaders..."Christians". How do we react when our worship is objected too?
Back to our passage...
Not too often would be side with Judas... but this time we just might. We might question Mary’s integrity, at this point, especially as Judas confronts her actions as illogical and inconsiderate. Why? Well...
1. Loose hair meant lose morals. Unmarried women were expected to cover their hair always as showing one’s hair showed bad character. Mary’s husband is not mentioned, but if she did have a husband this act would still look just as bad, especially in front of a pure rabbi.
2. Feet washing during a meal was held as improper for Jews. In the case for Mary, letting her hair down was an act of humiliation, a worshipful “abandonment.”
At this time, I want to tell us that we should pat attention to who Judas was, especially after Christ's supper in the upper room.... he is a covert pharisee. Well, he is was a tax-collector... but he, in his heart, is a pharisee. As Brennan Manning writes in his book Abba's Child, "The pharisee's forte in any age is blaming, accusing, and guilt-tripping others... Whenever we place blame, we are looking for a scapegoat for a real dislocation in which we ourselves are implicated" (page 64).
See, Judas accuses Mary’s worship with his fake intention to worship in serving the poor.
How do we know this to be so? Take a look...
Remember Tom?... In the mist of abandonment, Tom’s passion was met with gloming fear, doubt and guilt... But it wasn’t self-inflected. A church that once laid aside funds for airfare, withdrew their commitment - and even worse...their encouragement. The church pastor told Tom not to go, as the East Africa was to dangerous and if he were to be killed his family would be his church’s liability. Tom’s worshipful - joyful service could have been seriously damaged and extinguished on that day... as people told Tom his heartfelt commitment to Christ’s mission was wrong.
Here is what we learn from Tom and Mary: Heartfelt worship is the “abandonment” of human logic and culture to honor Christ as King.
In our selflessness, we attract those who are selfish - haters of Christ, and too often ones who wear a familiar face. How do we respond to such hateful opposition, how do we respond in order to continue glorifying Christ and not ourselves?
Mary was in full awe and worship of Jesus, being totally “sold out,” within being self un-conscience. Like a child presenting her glitter laden picture, with boundless, non-constrained emotion. And like a parent of such a child, Jesus, in the verses we are about to read, smiles in approval of Mary's constrained worship. Let's see how and why it matters to the story...
With John’s account of Judas being called out Jesus’ rebuke, the jury is in...
Notice how Mary didn't defend herself. Her intentions were not stated by her. Jesus was her advocate... and Jesus is the best advocate you can have. But you can only have Jesus defend you if you down bow down to the idol of self-preservation!
There are two significant things here.
1. Did you catch the new phrase that is recorded here... "You will always have the poor among you" ? Does Jesus' phrase sound familiar to you? Don't feel bad, I didn't recognize it either. The statement “There will always be poor...” is a quotation from Deuteronomy 15:11. In context, this segment of scripture is pointing to His death, and how these people need to be devotion to Jesus. Obviously, Mary got the message before anyone else did in the dining room.
2. The Greek word structure of Jesus' statement, “so that she may keep it for the day of my burial”... is better translated as “against the day of my buying has she kept this.” This tells us that Jesus is not telling Mary to hold onto the rest of the perfume. Nope. Jesus says that Mary used this perfume for the day of His burial.
The weight of Mary's worship and Jesus' proclamation is clarified by Matthew's record: