“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?’ 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.) 7 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.’” (John 12:1-8 NRSV)
Death hangs in the air.
Lazarus reclines near his friend, Jesus. Does he know about the plot to kill both him and Jesus?
Death hangs in the air. Yet, Mary and Martha and Lazarus throw a dinner party. And, what a time for a dinner party! Tomorrow Jesus will make his triumphal entry up to Jerusalem – what we call Palm Sunday. But today they celebrate Jesus raising Lazarus from the grave.
Death hangs in the air. Mary brings out the expensive perfume. She anoints the feet of the Anointed One. She lets down her hair and
wipes his feet with it.
Death hangs in the air. As palpable as the aroma of the perfume worth a year’s wages.
Death hangs in the air. In the person of Judas: Hoarder of money. Thief. Liar. Betrayer. And now he’s trying to sideline Mary.
Mary is the one who studied at Jesus’ feet. The one who chided him for being late to save Lazarus from death. The one who loved enough to use expensive and valuable perfume for his feet.
Judas may be a betrayer and a liar and a thief, but don’t you also question Mary’s use of the expensive perfume? I can’t help but wonder what she was thinking?
After all, a year’s worth of wages could buy a lot of important stuff: food, shelter, clothing. The poor could be served; the disenfranchised brought into Jesus’ circle. What would you do with a year’s wages? For many of us, perfume that expensive wouldn’t even make it on the list.
Perhaps what Mary was doing was giving us a glimpse of the Kingdom. A place where no one is poor: everyone has enough and more.
A place where all are equal; wealth and power doesn’t dominate; and death no longer hangs in the air.
Mary is telling us today about the lavishness of God’s kingdom. Might she be pointing out to us that saving the fine perfume for a special occasion (that may never be special enough) can look more like hoarding?
I know someone who doesn’t save money, she hoards it and worships it like an idol. Some call her a money-grubber. Everyone has to know about her great wealth. She’s one of the unhappiest women I’ve ever met.
Many of us hoard something: possessions; grudges; anger. We hang onto those things that we most need to let go of. And every once in a while, we become lavish like Mary. We give of ourselves fully and completely. We use our hard-earned money to help others. We donate possessions, give blood, and shed tears with those who grieve.
Mary reminds us that those moments of lavish giving and loving show us at our best.
Mary reminds us that her costly and extravagant act is faithful witness to Jesus’ costly and extravagant act that is about to occur. (George W. Stroup, “Feasting on the Word” Year C Volume 2 [Louisville, Westminster John Knox Press, 2009] page 142)
Death hangs in the air today: war, terrorist activities, soul-crushing poverty and injustice, to name a few.
In the midst of all this we are challenged to live in the tension between providing for those who live on the edges and offering the life-giving aroma to all with whom we meet.
All glory and honor be to God.