“Anointed Jesus for burial”
Today’s scripture, John 12:1-8, comes from the lectionary reading for today, and it is about Mary anointing Jesus’ feet with pure nard. Few Sundays later when I first came here, I preached about an unnamed woman, a sinner, who wet Jesus’ feet with her tears and anointed his feet with oil in the Pharisee’s house, who invited Jesus for a meal found in Luke 7. Some may think that Mary in today’s text from John’s gospel and the unnamed woman who was known as a sinner in her town in Luke were the same person since they both anointed Jesus’ feet, but they were different people. As a matter of fact, we find woman anointing Jesus’ feet story in all four gospels. Matthew 26, Mark 14, John 12, and Luke 7. Matthew, Mark, and John are about Mary who anointed Jesus for his burial, and Luke 7 is about the unnamed woman, simply known as “a sinner” who entered into a Pharisee’s house in order to anoint the feet of Jesus, the Savior of sinners, which happened during the earlier days of Jesus’ ministry. She displayed her love and gratitude with tears for the Lord who had forgiven her. We know this because Jesus said, her sins which are many are forgiven in verse 47 in Luke 7. Whereas in three other gospels, Matthew 26, Mark 14, and John 12, in which Jesus commended and recognized Mary anointing him with expensive pure nard as a memorial act done for his burial in advance, which happened in the final week of his ministry.
With that said, let’s go to our text, John 12:1-8. Verse 1 says that “six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany. We know that Jesus was arrested after he ate with his disciples the Passover meal. In other words, Jesus came to Bethany where Lazarus, Martha, and Mary lived, to spend his final days with them, about a week. The reason I say that Jesus had stayed his last days with Lazarus, Martha, and Mary is because, from John’s gospel, we know that Jesus came to Bethany where they lived “six days before the Passover”, and we know that from both Matthew and Mark the special dinner was given in honor of Jesus at Lazarus house when the Passover was “two days away”. Jesus stayed there in Bethany about a week lodging in Lazarus home. Jesus had chosen the Lazarus family, Martha and Mary to spend his last days on earth before the crucifixion.
They must have been very special people to Jesus. If we know that we will die within a week, where and with whom we would want to spend our last days?
In order to understand in what way Lazarus, Martha, and Mary were special people, what makes them different from the other people can be known from the name of the town they lived. “Bethany” means “house of poor or poverty”. They were people of poverty, not necessarily materialistically, but poor in heart or “poor in spirit”. In Matthew 5:3 and Luke 6:20, blessed are the poor in spirit and blessed are the poor, respectively, talk about poor being blessed for theirs is the kingdom of God. Lazarus, Martha, and Mary were the people who consciously aware of human weaknesses. They did not have the delusion that they were rich and increased with goods like the rich fool who thought that he had it all, to enjoy and be merry with his wealth on earth forever.
Lazarus, Martha, and Mary were the people who knew that they were nothing without God. They knew that they were poor; their jars were empty; they knew that they were without substance apart from God. They were people of poverty knowing that all humans can do, at best, is just to fill their jars with water when it comes to change water into wine. They knew that it is God, only God can change the water into wine, a symbol of the heavenly banquet. They knew that only God can provide and enables humans to enter into the kingdom of God. That was why Jesus came to their home and stayed with them, realizing the kingdom of God in their lives. Wherever God is, that is the kingdom of God. Jesus, the very God chose to stay with them who were poor in spirit longing for the kingdom of God. He said, “Blessed are you who are poor, for the kingdom of God is yours.” Likewise, Jesus comes and stays with those people who are poor and humble in spirit knowing their true and accurate state, –poor, lowly, and unworthy to stand before God.
Secondly, Bethany also means “house of dates”. Dates represent the desire for good on a deeper spiritual level being connected to the true Spirit and the love of serving others. Mary, who loved to sit at Jesus’ feet to learn about the kingdom of God, knew that Jesus was to die to save the world. She anointed Jesus’ feet in view of His impending death and burial! Mary who always desired to know more about God being in a deeper spiritual level, she knew that the Lord Jesus was on His way to the cross to die for her and for the world. That was why she seized the chance to anoint Jesus in anticipation of His burial, with all and everything she had. Verse 7 says, “Leave her alone,” Jesus replied. “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial.” Do you hear what Jesus was saying here? She saved this pure nard, very, very expensive ointment for Jesus’ burial. She intended to use the pure nard for Jesus’ burial, but now that Jesus was there at her home eating with them, she seized the chance to put the ointment on Jesus’s whole body. Mark’s gospel is saying that she poured oil on his head, –perhaps from feet to head or head to feet. When someone put the ointment for burial, they put it on the whole body. Literally, Mary poured the whole jar of pure nard on Jesus’ whole body. That explains why the fragrance of the pure nard filled the entire house in verse 3. Then, out of overwhelming gratitude, she prostrated and wiped Jesus’ feet with her hair. Not only she gave all she had, but also, she put herself at the lowest place of a servant, wiping his feet with the symbol of her human dignity, her head/hair. ‘I am dirt before your holy presence. Lord, Jesus, how can I say thank you enough? You would die for me, a person nothing but dirt?!’
Mary had understood what none of the disciples had fully taken in-that Jesus must die for our sins. Mary seemed to have been the only disciple that truly believed Jesus when he announced that He would be crucified, buried and then rise from the dead the third day. Jesus was so moved by her faith and declared Mark 14:9, “Assuredly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be told as a memorial to her.” None but Jesus Himself understood her action. The disciples did not understand her. Judas Iscariot, whose heart was after money, did not understand her. How about us? Do we know fully the meaning of Christ’s sacrifice, his suffering in our place?
Thirdly, if we know the full meaning of Christ’s sacrifice, where is our gratitude? Where is our pure nard this Mary spent on Jesus? Do we give all that we have and all that we are in gratitude for what Christ has done us? The alabaster jar Mary broke costs an average man’s yearly wage. In our time, that means at least $25,000.00. That could have been all Mary had, and seeing that she put her hair/head at the feet of Jesus, wiping his feet with her hair, symbolically saying, ‘I am like the dirt your feet walk on. Lord Jesus, you are most worthy of my praise. All that I have and all that I am is yours!!! Do we have this sort of attitude and gratitude toward God? Do we give all that we have and all that we are?
In contrast Mary, to Judas Iscariot, who did not know about Jesus despite the fact that he had been with Jesus for three and half years, living with and following after and learning about the kingdom of God from Jesus, the worth of Jesus was only 30 pieces of silver, about thousand dollars in today’s monetary value. He did not know the truth because he was after money, having his own agenda and plans apart from God’s plan in life even after he had been with Jesus intimately for three and a half years. He sold Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. That is the difference between the one who knows truly who and what Christ has done for us and the one who does not know who the Christ is. Like Mary, if we know who and what Christ has done for us, then, nothing comes before Jesus the Christ, even our own lives. If we do not know Christ, we can easily sell out Christ for 30 pieces of silver, for money, for fame, for the career, for family, for one’s own comfort and security. What is the worth of Jesus to us? 30 pieces of silver or all that we have and all that we are?? May God bless you to hear what God is saying to you in this season of Lent! Amen.