25 March 2013

John 12:1-11

"Mary took a pound of costly perfume, made of pure nard, anointed Jesus' feet, and wiped them with her hair." (v. 3)


This passage describes perhaps the most extravagantly beautiful moment in Jesus' life. He had called round for a relaxing dinner with his good friends Mary, Martha and Lazarus. But during dinner Mary did a very surprising thing: she washed Jesus' feet with some very expensive perfume.

This was an extraordinary act of love and intimacy. Mary, a vulnerable woman, touched the feet of an incredibly powerful man. The touch was both intimate and public. In the middle of dinner Mary was acting out the ritual of preparing a body for burial. She knew Jesus was going to die, a truth even his closest male followers were determined to deny.

This was an act of extreme extravagance. The perfume was worth a year's wages. According to Judas, that money could have been given to the poor (verse 5). Judas paints a picture of a world where resources are scarce and if we were better at sharing the problem of poverty will be solved. For him, washing a man's feet with expensive perfume is wasteful.

Jesus does not share that point of view. He does not live in a world of scarcity, but one where God's love is freely available to everyone and in vast quantities. For Jesus, Mary's extravagance is like God's extravagant gesture of sending Jesus into the world to live as a human being.

The world's problem is not scarcity, it is sin. And scarcity is created by sin. Because of sin, no matter how abundant the world's resources are some will still not have shelter and enough food. Mary demonstrated that giving to the poor was not enough. She understands that what was needed was transformation of self and of the world and this transformation will happen through Jesus' death.

There is a huge contrast between Mary and Judas in this story. Judas saw only waste in what Mary did. Mary saw the opportunity to anoint Jesus' body extravagantly in anticipation of his terrible suffering and death. What she did was truly beautiful.

To Ponder

  • In what ways can you bring beauty into the life of a person who is suffering?

Bible notes author

The Revd Diane Clutterbuck

Diane is an ordained presbyter in the Methodist Church. She works as as a coach, supervisor and trainer mainly in the public and voluntary sectors with people and organisations who are committed to growth and development.