Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 2 There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. 3 Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them[a] with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. 4 But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, 5 “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii[b] 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[c] so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. 8 (John 12:1-8 NRSV)
It’s a loud, raucous party.
Lazarus sits with his friends, including Jesus, celebrating his return to life. It wasn’t so long ago that he had died. Jesus brought him back and now Lazarus spends his days with a fresh sense of life and joy. His priorities have shifted. His corner of the world is in need of repair and he does what he can to make it a better place.
Martha joyfully scurries from kitchen to table with baskets and bowls laden with food. She calls out orders to the servants while laughing with her guests at the table. The wine and food are flowing. One would think it was the Messianic Banquet at the end of time!
Judas sits back eying everyone with suspicion. He thinks everyone around him is just as much a liar and a cheat as he is. The purse is getting low and Judas has expenses to pay. He needs to find a way to make more money. Maybe he can hit Lazarus up for another donation. He’s always good for a denarius or two .
Mary disappears for a moment and returns with a pound of expensive perfume. She kneels at Jesus’ feet. The party sounds subside as quickly as the cloying perfume odor fills the air. Within seconds the guests are quiet and watching with a mixture of awe and wonder as she anoints Jesus feet.
Part of the surprise is her hair. It shouldn’t be flowing like it is when men are present. Most surprising is that she uses it to wipe the dirt and sweat and fatigue from Jesus’ feet. You can tell from the expression on Jesus’ face that it feels very good.
He’s been tired of late. The disciples have noticed him retreating more than usual to be alone. He’s quieter than usual. Since raising Lazarus from the dead, the authorities have been out to get Jesus. He can no longer go out in public. His life is on the line and everyone knows it.
So when they see his expression of enjoyment and relaxation, they’re happy for him. They won’t disturb this strange scene.
Judas can’t take any more. Where did she get the money to buy that perfume? It should have been used for the poor — the usual talk of an embezzler. He grinds his teeth with anger. How dare she!
Who are you in this scene?
Perhaps Lazarus’ story resonates with you. You’ve experienced hard times in one way or another and you’ve come out the other end ready to reinvent your life. Ready to pour yourself out to make a difference in your corner of the world.
Many of us probably identify with Martha. The organizer and worker who loves serving. Sure, sometimes she overdoes it. Us Martha’s are like that. Still, she enjoys pouring herself out to feed others and provide a festive atmosphere.
And then there’s Mary. Not very good in the kitchen although she’s good in a pinch. She’s a bit introverted and quiet. Everyone knows her as the “spiritual” one in the family. She’s bright. She’s insightful. She knows scripture as well as any rabbi. There’s something about Mary that’s hard to explain. There’s something about Mary that draws people to her.
We don’t like Judas. Mainly because we’ve known liars and cheaters.
I worked with a non-profit organization, serving in a refreshment stand to make money for special projects. We knew we were losing money, but we couldn’t figure out who it was. The keeper of the treasury seemed to be careful and diligent. He even reported that he had been so busy working, he had put a $100 bill in his pocket for safe keeping and forgot to put it in the cash drawer before he left that evening.
One night someone else was asked to watch the cash drawer. Ray was furious. I stood next to him drawing pop into cups. He groused and growled. Suddenly, he pushed me out of his way and I nearly fell to the dirty floor. He was wrapped up in himself that he didn’t notice what he’d done to me. Soon after, he was asked to relieve the person at the cash drawer. Ray was suddenly happy and lighthearted.
He was the embezzler. He managed to steal over $1,000 from our treasury. He was a broken man who needed money to make him feel secure. He was a fake and a phony. He acted as if he was better than the rest of us. He really didn’t feel that way, though. He was too broken. He was our Judas.
Judas is furious. You can see that vein in his neck pulsing madly. His lip curls and he calls out, “Why wasn’t that perfume sold and used to support the poor?!?” All eyes turn to him. Even Mary stops what she’s doing in embarrassment.
“Don’t go there, Judas!” Jesus responds. “She’s honoring me as I head to the cross. Leave her alone.” Mary returns to wiping his feet.
“Look everyone. You know the poor will always be with you. And you’ve worked hard with me to alleviate their suffering. I want you to continue doing that. But, for this evening, in this extraordinary time, let Mary poor herself out for me.”
Jesus’ crucifixion is only a few days away. He knows what will happen. This is probably the last good day of his life on earth. In a few days he’ll pour himself out for Mary and Martha and Lazarus and, yes, even Judas. In his resurrection, he’ll invite you and me to pour ourselves out for him and his kingdom.
We resist. That expensive, lavish perfume. A year’s salary spent on perfume to wash someone’s dirty feet. We worry about that. We worry about wasting our time, so we get to work like Martha did. We worry about a lack of money and start cutting back on mission budgets in order to pay the utilities.
As Lent comes to a close and we enter into Holy Week, I wonder how your Lenten Journey is. I wonder if you’ve learned something new about yourself. I wonder if you’ve stumbled along the way. Did you give up? Or were able to stay at it? Whatever the case, it’s good that you put the time and energy into the process. You’re better off for the effort, no matter the outcome.
There’s a time to be frugal and wise stewards of God’s provision. There’s a time to hear Christ’s hope for each of us. Christ hopes for us a life of extravagance with each other; to poor ourselves out for repairing the earth from hunger and want and hurting to filled and loving and beloved.
Jesus was extravagant in healing and feeding and living. He calls us to be extravagant with our time and energy and resources to pour ourselves out for him.
When we pour ourselves out for him, we are repairing this broken earth. This pouring out is available to all of us. Even the broken Judas’ among us.
All glory and honor be to God.