15 April 2019John 12:1-11
‘You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.’ (v. 8)
Psalm: Psalm 36:5-11
There are parallel versions of this passage in Matthew 26:6-13 and Mark 14:3-9, although the details differ. Only in John’s version are Mary and Judas named. There is also an episode earlier in Jesus’ ministry in Luke 7:36-50 which has some similarities. The relationship between these passages continues to puzzle commentators, but for our purposes we need only to focus on the main features of John’s account.
Mary’s act is generous in the extreme. Nard was an expensive perfume. As the footnote to the NRSV indicates, three hundred denarii is the equivalent of 300 days’ pay for a labourer (in today’s terms approaching £22,000). It is an act of overwhelming gratitude and devotion to Jesus for bringing her brother back from the dead (see chapter 11). Verse 7 is puzzling: if Mary intended to use the ointment for Jesus’ burial why did she use it now? It is best to see this as Jesus’ comment rather than her intention. He is already looking ahead to his impending death.
Judas’ comment, by contrast, points to the needs of the poor, although we are told there was an ulterior motive. As the group’s treasurer, he had his fingers in the till and 300 denarii would have offered rich pickings. Only John’s Gospel suggests this, although in the other Gospels, as a traitor, he sold Jesus for thirty pieces of silver.
Although there is no evidence that the authorities carried out their intention of putting Lazarus to death, verse 10 is a reminder that discipleship, though liberating, may also be extremely costly.
- How would you balance the claims of expenditure on worship (beautiful buildings, works of art, etc) against the needs of the poor?
- Call to mind situations where believers risk suffering and death for their faith. How do you think you would cope in such a situation?
- Can you think of a good word to say for Judas?