10 April 2017

John 12:1-11

“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 perfume. But Judas 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?’” (vv. 3-5)

Psalm: Psalm 36


This is the second day of Holy Week, the last week of the season of Lent. During this week we have stories from the last days of Jesus' ministry, as churches all over the world prepare to commemorate his execution on the day the Church calls Good Friday. Lent is a time for us to look at ourselves and be truthful about the ways in which we fall short, undertake what changes we can, and make good where we have harmed someone.

In today's passage there is political intrigue, gender politics, and simple disagreement: not for the first time, Martha served the household while Mary spent her attention on Jesus (Luke 10:38-42): that day Mary had bought expensive perfume. Judas argued that the cost could have been used to help the poor, and this was reasonable enough an argument that the narrator needed to tell readers that Judas had an ulterior motive: he had been stealing from the common purse (verse 6). Meanwhile, outsiders schemed to put Lazarus the brother of the two women to death, because his life had become evidence of Jesus' power.

Without the narrator's explanation, Judas' argument sounded reasonable. How could the community justify a short-term luxury when there were people with great and real need? How can anyone who says they follow Jesus justify the use of money for what seem like non-essentials when people are still hungry?

Jesus' point was that celebration and honouring of the present moment was also a compelling need; what Mary did also prefigured his death. Jesus did not change or soften the obligation to help the poor. Rather he noted that there was also a value in honouring friends in any given moment, as that moment would not come again.

To Ponder

  • What would you say to Judas in response to his criticism of Mary?
  • Assuming you did not know Judas was corrupt, would you agree or disagree with him, and why?
  • What good do you think it did for Jesus to call Lazarus out of the tomb when he had been dead three days, if he would only die again in the future?

Bible notes author

The Revd Dr Jennifer Smith

Revd Dr Jennifer Smith is a Methodist minister, and superintendent of the Ealing Trinity Circuit in the London District. Though resident in the UK since 1993, she is a US citizen and continues to observe US political and religious culture with interest.