First let’s go through the story, and then I’ll talk about it with you. The Passover is approaching—it’s only 6 days away. Jesus comes to a small town called Bethany, and is invited into a home for a meal in his honor. Others are there, including Lazarus, whom Jesus raised from the dead, and his two sisters Martha and Mary. The disciples are also present.
Presumably during the meal, Mary gets up from the table, picks up her bottle of expensive perfume, pours it on Jesus’ feet, and wipes it with her hair. Everyone can smell the fragrant aroma.
Usually Peter is the disciple who is first to talk, but this time it is Judas, with a complaint: “This perfume could have been sold for a lot of money, which could have been given to the poor.” It’s a clear opinion that a terrible and callous waste has just occurred. But then we are privileged to hear the truth of the matter behind his objection: he wanted to steal some of the money for himself.
Jesus rebukes Judas, telling him that Mary has done a good thing, even though she didn’t understand the whole of it.
Meanwhile a crowd gathers outside. Not only was Jesus there, but the celebrity Lazarus was there also! The paparazzi gather for their glimpse of they guy who was dead but now isn’t. But there are still plenty of people who hate Jesus. We are also told that the chief priests made plans to kill Jesus and Lazarus, to put a stop to all this disruptive foolishness, all the while people are putting their faith in Jesus.
There’s so much to say about this story; I will just name a few.
First, there are many ways for people to show their devotion to Jesus. A man opens his home. Martha serves him in practice ways. Lazarus fellowships with him. The homeowner invites people to come see Jesus. Mary gives an expensive gift of worship and humility to him.
Secondly, we see a contrast between Mary and Judas. She is humble, fervent in faith, and generous, while he is critical and censuring. She is concerned with giving; he is concerned with getting. She thinks first about Jesus; Judas thinks first about Judas.
Thirdly, we learn some things about worship from Mary. She didn’t come to hear a sermon, to make a request, to meet her fellow believers, to be refreshed by God, to meet the host, to see someone famous, or to be socially acceptable. She did come to give her best to the Lord, freely and joyously—to fill the Lord with joy. She brought a costly gift, one that had been reserved for a special use, to the feet of Jesus. Her attitude was humble. The result was that the whole place was filled with the beautiful fragrance of her gift.
Fourth, while Mary was humble, Judas grumbled, “What a waste!” What we are being taught, though, is that it is impossible to pour out devotion to God and to have committed a waste by it. It’s a story, right here before the crucifixion, of the supreme worthiness of Jesus.
Fifth, I find it interesting what Jesus said:
- Don’t interfere with people’s devotion, worship, and service. Don’t be guilty of doing anything that keeps a person from connecting with God.
- Intentions matter.
- Do what you can. Be a good steward of what you have been given, no matter how much or little.
- There are realities that people don’t know about. The windows of the world are never open all the way.
- He has a word of praise for her worship and service. Jesus notices.
Sixth, and lastly, it’s always and ultimately an issue of belief. Some people flock to him in belief, and some people hate him all the more.