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Jesus annointed at Bethany

John 12:1-11

Apart from Jesus, there are three characters in this well known story that are worth thinking about this morning. Let’s start by putting the story in context.

We’re approaching the feast of Passover, one of three compulsory festivals for the Jews and Jerusalem was starting to fill up wit people – they’d be coming from everywhere, because it was the ambition of any Jew wherever they lived in the world to make at least one Passover in Jerusalem. On one occasion a census was taken of the number of lambs slaughtered at the Passover feast, and it was given as 256,000 which if correct would mean that there were around 2.7 million people at that Passover feast. Even allowing for some exaggeration, there’s no doubt that Jerusalem was buzzing with people and it was almost certainly very difficult to find accommodation in the city.

Jesus was making his way there despite knowing that the authorities were planning to arrest him as an outlaw, so this was a very courageous thing to do. Bethany was close enough to Jerusalem for it to be designated as an appropriate place to stay if you were going to the Passover feast, and we can imagine that it was to the house of Mary and Martha that Jesus and his disciples went to find a bed for their stay, even though it doesn’t tell us so – otherwise why would Martha be cooking and serving food there? They obviously know each other because this is the same Mary, Martha and Lazarus that we read about when Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead, and we know from that story just how much Jesus meant to the two women.

So a meal is given in Jesus’ honour. We know that Martha was a very practical person, and the way that she showed her love was through the food that she cooked and the care with which it was presented to her guests – she gave what she could and that was her service to Jesus, and an essential service I would guess as no doubt they had been travelling a distance by foot to get to Bethany and would have been tired and hungry.

The church needs Marthas, and the world outside church needs Marthas, who are prepared to give of their best in order to attend to the needs of friend and stranger.

Then there’s Mary, impetuous in her emotions and actions. And in Mary’s actions we can see three important aspects of the way love can be expressed

1) Firstly there’s love’s extravagance! True love does not count the cost, and Mary took the most valuable thing she had and spent it all on Jesus. We’re used to giving tokens of our affection and love as presents, and there’s nothing wrong with that as it shows that the person to whom we’re giving means something to us. But it is different when love (with a small "l") becomes true Love (with a capital!) because then the scale of giving increases!

2) Then there’s love’s humility! We see quite often in the Old Testament that a future king was anointed on the head with oil as a sign of honour, and this was often done by one of God’s prophets. Psalm 23:5 says "You anoint my head with oil" but Mary couldn’t bring herself to perform this act on Jesus – she did not consider herself worthy of anointing his head, so she anointed his feet.

3) Lastly there’s love’s unselfconsciousness! We read that Mary wiped Jesus’ feet with her hair. Now we might thing that was an odd thing to do, wouldn’t it have been better to have wiped his feet with her hands or a cloth? But it was more than an odd thing to do, because in Palestine no respectable girl would appear in public with her hair unbound – loose hair meant a loose woman! But Mary didn’t think about that, she was in a world of her own with Jesus sat beside her, and couldn’t care what people thought!

As an aside there’s something else in this story which we need to note and that is the comment from John that "… the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume"

There’s a image here which is so descriptive of the actions of love, because there is a sense in which an act of selfless love is not contained within space and time – it radiates out and affects other people, is sensed in the same way as a sweet fragrance.

2 Corinthians 2:14: But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him.

We can’t leave the story without thinking about Judas, of course. And you can’t look at Judas without looking at the relationship that Jesus had with this man who he knew early on was going to betray him. Why did Jesus give Judas the job of looking after the monetary needs of his little band – effectively an early church treasurer! Surely if Jesus knew that he was going to prove to be a traitor it would have been better to have sidelined Judas and given such a position of authority to someone else who was more trustworthy?

Well, who are we to judge Jesus?! Maybe Jesus was saying to this man: "Look, Judas, here’s a job that I would like you to do for me, I’m putting my trust in you – You’re ideally qualified to be treasurer, I want you as part of this fellowship, and here’s the proof." Judas had faults, big ones, but Jesus chose to expect the best from him rather than the worst!

Judas’ skills were in handling money, and it was in handling money that temptation got the better of him – John is very sure on this point, that Judas was lining his own pocket. How relevant a story at this current time! It’s often the misuse of gifts that are the downfall of people – those in positions of power exploit others, those investing other people’s money get reckless in pursuit of their own bonuses.

Judas also had a different view when it came to acts of love and generosity.

Mary’s use of the oil was a terrible waste according to Judas. Here was someone getting disillusioned with Jesus, beginning think that this man was not the person that he thought he was going to be, and this was starting to affect the way Judas looked at everything that went on around Jesus. He was getting overly critical, misinterpreting what was happening in front of his eyes, developing a warped view of things.

You see Mary’s action was spontaneous. If she had stopped to think about it for half an hour she may well have not poured all that perfume aver Jesus’ feet. That would have been a more sensible action to Judas, no doubt. But life’s not always like that, sometimes it is good to be spontaneous! Because otherwise an act of reckless love such as this would never happen. As one commentator says "Life is an uncertain thing. We think to utter some word of thanks or praise or love but we put it off; and often the word is never spoken."

Acts of reckless or spontaneous love may seem wrong or be criticised by some, but that doesn’t mean that we should put them off until another day. Jesus did not stop to count the cost, wherever he was and however tired he was, Jesus touched lives, brought healing and compassion, made broken lives whole.

How effective the church at large could be if it were populated with more Marys and less Judases – where fear of criticism never stopped anyone from showing love where love was needed at the moment it was needed, and not put off and discussed by a sub-committee first. Deuteronomy 15:11 tells us "Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, 'Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbour in your land'’


 

 

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