Why we set up four essential oil diffusers in our worship service – John 11:46-12:11, Part 3

What will Jesus say when Mary love bombs by dumping $70K of perfume on his feet, and his disciple Judas Iscariot is angry, saying that perfume could have been sold to help the poor? Will Jesus agree with Mary or Judas?

Here’s how Jesus responds to Judas in John 12, verses 7-8,

“’Leave her alone,’ Jesus replied. ‘It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me’.”

I love that Jesus immediately comes to Mary’s defense.  He knows her heart.  He knows that she was not being wasteful.  Think about the contrast between Mary and Judas.  Mary is giving sacrificially to Jesus because she loves him.  Judas sounds very concerned about the poor, but is actually being controlling.  Jesus knows the difference in their hearts, and he rightly defends Mary. 

But even if Judas has evil, selfish, controlling motivations, we still need to face the fact that he makes what appears to be a very good point.  How is Mary not being wasteful?  Jesus comments that the perfume is somehow connected to his burial.  What a strange statement.  How was this act connected to his burial?

Remember the story in John 11 about Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead?  Remember how Jesus showed up when Lazarus had already been dead four days? You can read about it starting here. Scan back to John chapter 11 verse 39, and you can read the conversation that Jesus and Martha have about this.  Lazarus’ body had been deteriorating for four days, so the smell would have been awful.  In Jewish culture of that day, they did not embalm.  Instead they used perfumes and spices to cover the bad smell.  Almost like an ancient Febreze.  So Jesus is saying that this expensive perfume is for Jesus’ burial.

That makes sense, except for the obvious fact that Jesus wasn’t dead.  And now the perfume is gone.  It is mindboggling, for me at least, to think about dumping 70 grand worth of perfume on a dead body.  But he wasn’t even dead!  How, then, does Jesus think that mentioning his burial helps explain Mary’s action?

Jesus is saying that Mary’s act is prophetic; it is speaking about a reality that will come to pass.  Whether or not she intended it, Mary’s act had great significance in laying an emotional foundation for what was soon to come.  Jesus’ death and burial was only about one week away. 

For her part, I suspect Mary was just worshiping Jesus, giving Jesus her all from a heart of love.  I suspect she was celebrating the glory of God that she had recently seen unleashed in the life of her brother Lazarus, when Jesus raised him from the dead.  I suspect Mary was simply saying, “Jesus is worth it.”  And he is.  Jesus is worth everything.  It is as though Mary understood Jesus’ teaching that his disciples are people who deny themselves, take up their cross and follow him.  Just as he gives up everything for us, we disciples are people who give up everything for him. 

Mary gives up what could have been a significant insurance policy in her life.  Even if she sold it and gave half of the proceeds to the poor, that would still have been a massive gift on her part.  But no, she dumps it all out on Jesus.  Mary’s act is extravagant, and yet let’s not write it off as unnecessary or wasteful or extravagant in the negative sense.  Instead, Jesus wants us to see that Mary’s act is correct.  Her heart and act represent a right response of worship.  Jesus is saying that we should normalize Mary’s act in our hearts and minds.  Mary worships sacrificially and extravagantly.  Her heart is all in.

Maybe you’re having a hard time with that.  If you’re thinking, “But, Joel, even if Judas’ heart was wrong, his point is well-taken.  Mary’s act of love just seems so wasteful.  Purposeless.  That $70,000 could have done so much good.”  My response is that we should examine our own lives. 

How often do we spend the money God has given us on luxury items that are unnecessary?  By the way, you don’t have to be wealthy to spend luxuriously.  It’s all a matter of perspective.  Luxury is any item, expensive or inexpensive that we do not need.  When we purchase a luxury item most often we are doing so for our benefit.

So let’s not point the finger at Mary, because Jesus didn’t.  Instead let’s be extravagant, not on ourselves and our comforts and our entertainment, but let’s be like Mary and be extravagantly generous to Jesus. 

What does that look like, extravagant generosity to Jesus?  Permit me to get hyper-literal for a moment.  We Christians could just do what Mary did.  Buy perfume and pour it out during worship services.  Maybe Jesus was saying that he wants his followers to observe the sacrament of perfume dumping.  I looked it up, and there are plenty of ultra expensive perfumes. 

  • First there’s Creed Les Royales Exclusives Jardin d’Amalfi Fragrance.  In fact, you can get it right now on sale, 23% off, for $871!  But that’s nothing compared to the cost of other options.
  • Baccarat Les Larmes Sacrees de Thebes is $6800.  But we’re not anywhere near $70,000.  Get ready.  The price is about to jump.
  • Clive Christian No 1 Imperial Majesty is $215,000. 
  • Then there is the ultimate.  The world’s most expensive scent, Shumukh, has a price tag of $1.29 million.

Based on my very limited research, Mary’s perfume is about the fifth most expensive in the world.  When I preached this sermon at Faith Church, I asked a woman from our congregation to help with a very literal demonstration. She placed four essential oil diffusers around our sanctuary, and they filled the air with the essential oil Spikenard, which is a version of the same thing Mary poured on Jesus.  But she did not spend $70,000 on it! 

In case you are wondering, Jesus does not intend for to be so literal. It’s nice to have fragrance in the air during worship, but we don’t have to. 

That brings us back to Mary’s heart.

Mary gave that perfume as an extravagant act of worship to Jesus.  What, then, does extravagant generosity to Jesus look like in our day?

We’ll attempt at least a beginning of an answer to that question in the next post.

Photo by Fulvio Ciccolo on Unsplash

Published by joelkime

I love my wife, Michelle, and our four kids and two daughters-in-law. I serve at Faith Church and love our church family. I teach a course online from time to time, and in my free time I love to read and exercise, especially running,

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