Throughout Holy Week I have the goal of reflecting on one of the lectionary scriptures from the Revised Common Lectionary each day. For today’s gospel reading we see Jesus at the house of Lazarus in Bethany. It is revealed in the text that Lazarus is being plotted against by the chief priests in Jerusalem as Lazarus’ resurrection was causing a stir in conjunction with the ministry of Jesus, but that isn’t what immediately catches my eye when I consider this story. Consider verses 1-8 of chapter 12 of John’s gospel.
“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 Judea 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?’ (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.) 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.’”
I find this story to be interesting for several reasons. As a person who studies the nature of the scriptures and how they were transmitted through time, I often wonder if the comments for the reader were written by the author or by one of the helpful folks copying the words throughout the centuries. Judas is at least acknowledged as a disciple by this account although his discipleship is clearly cast into question by not only his betrayal but his apparent greed in the eyes of the author.
I also find it interesting because this is the story of a family that still seems to be coming to grips with a majorly traumatic event. The previous chapter (11) recounts not only the story of Lazarus’ resurrection but tells us that Jesus was forced to go to Ephraim as a result of plots to take his life. As far as we know, this is the first real opportunity after some time had passed for Mary, Martha, and Lazarus to see Jesus. One of the reasons the chief priests seem frustrated with Lazarus is that Lazarus’ proximity to Jesus raises issues that now require his removal from the equation. This could be a sign that Lazarus hadn’t been near Jesus and raised these issues until this moment.
If this is the case and this is one of the first opportunities for response after the events of Lazarus’ resurrection, then this story becomes powerful. Martha is serving, Lazarus is sitting, and then Mary enters with the perfume. She anoints and uses something as precious and personal as her hair to wipe Jesus’ feet. This kind of act is not something that one does for just anybody. It is deeply intimate, deeply personal, and deeply emotional.
Into this moment we find Judas Iscariot stepping in and scolding. He is concerned about the waste of money. He sees the price of the perfume as the issue, but he’s missed the point. We all know that Judas has missed the point. How? Mary and Martha had lost their brother Lazarus. He was gone and he was restored. History is filled with people who would give anything for a few more moments with the person they have loved and lost. I am a pastor who believes in the resurrection and even I have people in my life I would give almost anything to see again for just a few more minutes. Mary and Martha are given the opportunity to do something incredible.
In the face of such a blessing, who wouldn’t care about money to say thank you? Perfume can cost a lot, but think about the gift that they have just received. Who cares about the money? Who cares about the cost?
I think we can all take a couple of things away from this story.
- Some things are important most of the time, but are utterly worthless when seen in the big picture. An old phrase states “You can’t take it with you.” In the long run, would you rather have more money in your bank account or more time with people you love? If you knew tomorrow was your last moment, what would you do with your time?
- There’s a time and place for stewardship and there is also a time and place for gratitude. I cannot say enough that sometimes we place stewardship on such a high pedestal that we forget to be grateful for the non-monetary blessings we have in life. I’m not advocating for wastefulness, but Judas clearly missed the point about what was most important. Sometimes we do the same thing (but hopefully without betraying people to their deaths).
- We don’t need to be aloof with our emotions. Mary is clearly someone who was in touch with how she felt about Jesus. There is nothing wrong with Mary for feeling deeply about Jesus’ place in her life. Sometimes we need permission to feel and Mary gives us an example of how we can fee deeply, passionately, and still clearly have the love of God in and around our lives.
As Holy Week continues, I hope you find a place of blessing in these scriptures. May you feel deeply and thoroughly connected to Jesus.