This week we’re studying John 11:46-12:11, but our focus in on chapter 12, verses 1-11. In the previous post, we studied John 11:46-12:2, which sets up the story. After hiding from the watchful eye of the Jewish leaders, Jesus travels to the town of Bethany, just two miles outside the city of Jerusalem. In Bethany he attends a dinner held in his honor. Also in attendance are his close friends, Mary, Martha and Lazarus, the same Lazarus whom Jesus had recently risen from the dead. So this dinner is a celebration. Then something unique happens at the dinner. Look at verse 3.
“Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.”
How many times have you heard this story over the years? If you have heard it before, you’re probably feeling familiar with it, and thus it seems normal. What we just read is NOT normal. How are we to understand Mary’s act of pouring out expensive perfume on Jesus’ feet and then wiping it with her hair? We should be asking, “What in the world is that all about?” As we keep reading the story, we hear some people in the story explain their views of Mary’s act.
First, we hear from the villain in the group of Jesus’ disciples, Judas Iscariot. Look at verses 4-6.
“But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, ‘Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.’ He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.”
Very interesting, right? I have to admit that Judas’ viewpoint on Mary’s act makes a LOT of sense to me. And I wouldn’t be surprised if Judas’ viewpoint makes sense to as well. Many people know the value of pinching pennies, getting deals, or to spiritualize it, being good stewards of God’s money.
So what is Judas’ viewpoint? What is Judas’ heart desire? As we seek to understand Mary’s act, we need to look at the heart motivation. Jesus is concerned about our hearts. Our desires, our motivations. Not outward adherence to ritual. The heart that produces the action is always most important to Jesus.
Judas says, “What a wasteful use the perfume!” I hear you, Judas. That was some expensive perfume. Worth a year’s wages. I searched online, “What is the median income for East Lampeter Township?” because that’s where I live. Here’s what it said,
“The median household income for East Lampeter township is US $70,882 (in 2021 dollars) as of 2017-2021.”
So basically, if that perfume was valued in our day, it would be worth about $70,000. And Mary poured it out on Jesus’ feet. 70 Grand, gone. Just like that. It made Jesus’ feet smell good for a few hours. Mary’s hair smelled good for a few hours. And the smell filled the house for a few hours. That’s it. $70,000 for a few hours of good smell? Is it worth it?
Years ago when my second son was in high school, we would always know it when one of my son’s friends was over or had already been over and was now gone. We could taste it in our mouth. Too much cologne! We’d say, “Someone needs to teach him how to put on cologne.” When people put on too much perfume or cologne, it’s usually so overpowering, that it has the opposite effect, right?
Anyone else know someone who lays on the cologne or perfume way too thick? Well Mary dumped out the whole contents on Jesus. That smell might have blown everyone away. It could not have been pleasant, so we might not even be able to say that Jesus’ feet, Mary’s hair and the house smelled good for a few hours. Instead the smell might have ruined dinner. People could be choking, spitting, putting a scarf over their nose. Complaining, “Geez, Mary, that’s awful. Why did you do that?”
That is the question, isn’t it? Why? Why would she do this? When Judas said it was a waste, he doesn’t really comment on why she did it. But he does say what many of us are thinking. I bet you didn’t think you’d have anything in common with one of the most sinister villians of all history, did you?
This helps us get a glimpse into Judas’ heart. He wasn’t concerned about Mary’s heart motivation. He wanted the $70 grand in the money bag, which he controlled, and which he would dip into for personal reasons, which is a fancy way of saying, “He stole from it.”
If we’re honest, though, I suspect many of us might partially agree with Judas. This act of Mary seems like a massive waste, as it could have been used for something so much more productive. In fact, I wonder how many of us would turn to Jesus thinking, “Jesus, confront her, condemn her. You know how that perfume could have been sold to help so many people.”
We might actually be upset at Jesus for not condemning Mary. But he doesn’t. What does he say? What he says gets to the heart of why Mary did this. We’ll study Jesus’ response in the next post.
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