As we read our lesson for today I was reminded of a verse from earlier in John, John 3:30 when John the Baptist said, in relation to Jesus, “He must become greater; I must become less.”
Mary lived out these words as a disciple of Lord Jesus. She assumed the role of servant to this man whom she loved and who had brought her brother back from 4 days in the grave with a single command. She recognized Jesus greatness and honored it, she didn’t envy it. She took probably the most valuable thing she had, a bottle of perfume that came from the root of a plant that only grows in the foothills of the Himalayan mountains, and poured out the full contents of it on Jesus’ feet and cleaned them with her hair. Pause for a moment and let’s think about this. The full bottle of perfume was not required for this task. A very little bit of perfume goes a very long way. She easily could have honored the man Jesus with a gesture and a gift and still had months or years supply of perfume left. But she poured out all that she had on Lord Jesus. She wiped his feet with her hair, not because she wanted to coat her hair in the perfume, but because that was what happened when she prostrated herself at His feet, getting into as low of a position as possible to honor His greatness.
Judas, on the other hand, shows the exact opposite. Instead of lowering himself in Jesus’ greatness, his view is on how to ride the Jesus train up to Judas’ own greatness. He sees the act of Mary as a waste. Not only does he monetize the gift, but he sees what it could have bought. Good deeds for the poor done with sufficient self-promotion bring the honor and recognition of other, powerful people. It buys goodwill in the community and it is totally in line with the teaching of the Pharisees. His after the fact rebuke tears down Mary and sends a message to others. It is not delivered as a brother or peer or co-disciple, it is delivered as from one in authority to a servant.
But, Jesus settles the dispute not by sending them to their corners or making them shake hands. Instead, He rebukes Judas, as He would rebuke the devil (no coincidence there since it was likely the influence of Satan’s presence in Judas heart that caused him to suddenly speak so boldly). He praises Mary, not for what she did, but for what had long ago been set into motion and ordained for her to do and then He elevates the conversation from the pettiness of Judas’ words to the announcement that Jesus would soon die.
Can you imagine the hush that must have fallen on the room at this point? Mary still at Jesus’ feet. Judas commanded into quiet. The rest of the guests looking on with wide eyed expressions. Jesus’ has spoken about death before, but this group that is still rejoicing about the resurrection of Lazarus would have been very alert to the words of death for the one who brought him back to life.
caring, generous, honoring of God, self-sacrificing. She wasn’t prompted, she didn’t wait, she was bold and giving and gave from her heart. I want to be generous without concern, not for others.
Jesus rebuked Judas. Jesus also pointed out that this had be reserved for the day of His death to prepare Him for His burial. It also revealed Judas heart – He was concerned about money, not honoring Jesus. He saw it as waste and that the poor were more valuable than Jesus and that other people were more deserving of the perfume.
He rebuked and chastised Judas and recognized and honored Mary’s actions. He explained that this had been ordained by God and saved for the time of His death. It made it clear that it was time for Jesus to die and that He knew He would die.