14 April 2014

John 12:1-11

“You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.” (v. 8)


Mark's Gospel (Mark 14:3-9) and Matthew's Gospel (Matthew 26:6-13) also have a story about a woman anointing Jesus. And Luke's Gospel (Luke 7:36-50) has yet another. Those stories have similarities and differences both to each other and to the story in John's Gospel. In John's Gospel, Jesus is sharing a meal with people at the home of Lazarus and his sisters, Martha and Mary, in Bethany. (Interestingly, Jesus shares a meal with Martha and Mary, but without mention of Lazarus, in Luke 10:38-42.) In John's Gospel (John 11:1-44), Lazarus has previously died and eventually been raised to life again by Jesus. His sisters have been distraught at his death, but Martha in particular has come to see and trust that Jesus could raise people to new life not just at a general resurrection at the end of time, but in the here and now, whether they are physically dead or alive (John 11:21-27).

Where Martha shows faith, Mary shows grace and gratitude. In an extremely extravagant and highly unconventional gesture, she takes expensive ointment, anoints Jesus' feet with it, and then wipes his feet with her hair (verse 3). It was a risky thing for a respectable woman to do. Is she remembering Isaiah 52:7 and treating Jesus' feet as beautiful because he has been the herald who has brought the good news of life to her brother? If Martha had anticipated Jesus bringing new life even before his own resurrection never mind the general resurrection, has Mary anticipated that the cost of his doing so will be his own death, and so anointed his body for burial in advance? The Greek of verse 7 is very hard to translate, but it seems to be trying to suggest something like that.

What of the poor? They are indeed always with us. Who is most likely to care for them? The person concerned about propriety, or their own self interest? Or the person who responds gratefully, spontaneously, extravagantly and even riskily to the grace they have received from Jesus?

To Ponder

  • What would it mean for us today to be like (a) Judas; and (b) Mary?


Bible notes author

Ken Howcroft

Ken Howcroft was designated by the Conference in 2013 to be the President of the 2014 Conference. He is currently a minister of the British Conference of the Methodist Church seconded to the Methodist Church in Italy to look after the English-language Methodist Church in Rome.