Women Jesus Commended
Mary and Martha at Simon the Leper's Feast John 12:1-11
It’s the last story that pulls this all together. Jesus had been keeping a low profile in Ephraim, some distance away from Jerusalem, for about a month or so after Lazarus’ resurrection. Now, as the Feast of Passover was approaching, Jesus came back to Bethany to stay until Passover, just six days away.
The way John writes it, it sounds like this dinner was given in honor of Jesus by all the locals, maybe all those who had been there when Lazarus was raised from the dead. We know that Simon the Leper, probably someone Jesus had healed, was the host. Martha was serving the meal, and besides Jesus and His disciples, there were other guests including Lazarus - it sounds like a big party, actually. Everyone was taking a risk, being there, since there was an arrest warrant out on Jesus.
I get the sense Martha was deeply satisfied and at peace serving at this banquet. She was worshiping in her gift set and skill set, giving to the Lord the very best of herself. She also was setting the scene for Mary to give the very best of herself to Jesus.
Because, at some point during the evening, Mary brought out an alabaster jar containing a pound of pure nard, which would have been worth about $30,000 today. Nard was an aromatic oil that came from the resin of a plant that, at that time, grew only in India. It was something she had apparently been saving for a while.
The other gospels note that Mary first poured the perfume on Jesus’ head, then poured the rest on His feet. As the oil poured out, she loosened her hair and wiped up the excess, so that all the perfume would be on Jesus, and none would drop to the floor. Months earlier another woman had done the same thing for Jesus at another function in a Pharisee’s house. She had cried as she wiped her beloved Lord's feet.
A woman’s hair was considered her glory and was to be enjoyed by no other man than her husband. It was unthinkable for a woman to loosen her hair in an open setting. Yet Mary openly expressed her affection and adoration for Jesus in a way that would have made everyone uncomfortable in that room.
Symbolically, Mary linked herself with Jesus, having given to Him her worldly treasure, her womanly glory, and her prospects for the future. She joined her life with His, before all those witnesses in the room. How bold is your love and worship of Jesus? How much of yourself are you willing to give Him?
Everyone in the house was affected by Mary’s gift, as they breathed in the rich scent of this expensive perfume. In the same way, since Mary had the perfume now in her hair, wherever she went she would be reminded of the Lord Jesus. Years later, the apostle Paul would say, in one of his letters to the believers in Corinth, "Thanks be to God, who always leads us as captives in Christ’s triumphal procession and uses us to spread the aroma of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are an aroma that brings death; to the other, an aroma that brings life. And who is equal to such a task?"
In contrast to Mary’s giving spirit was the action of Judas, a man driven by greed. Judas was not impressed with this scene, or the aroma filling the room. All he could think of was the enormous amount of money that had been lost, money he could have skimmed off of, a handsome sum for himself. A loving heart gives, while a darkened heart keeps for itself. Judas’ growing resentment, disrespect for Jesus, and greed, all came bubbling up, “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages”
And it sounded so pious, didn’t it? It’s amazing how you and I can think up such good reasons to cover what are often selfish, self-centered motives. Why had Mary wasted this expensive item? Think of the poor families who could have benefitted, especially now, during Passover. The other disciples also criticized her. What was she thinking? How could God possibly approve of such thoughtlessness.
How do you treat fellow servants, even the ones you disagree with, or don’t like their methods? When are you tempted to criticize, or complain? What affect does your opinion have on others’ service?
You might thing that evil is easy to recognize. The bad guy always looks bad, right? He’s sleazy and wears a black hat. Pictures of the devil show him in horns with a pitchfork and a tail. But the truth is, evil much more often comes in disguise, pretending to be oh so good, oh so high minded. The other disciples admired Judas. They had no idea he stole from them, or that he had been preparing to stab Jesus in the back. Until the very end, they thought Judas was a devoted follower of the Lord.
But Jesus did know Judas’ heart. He knew Judas didn’t respect Him, and was stealing regularly from the disciples' common purse. Yet, the Lord also loved Judas to the end, a love Judas never responded to. Ironically, this display of Mary's ardent devotion, and spiritual wisdom and discernment, was the trigger that sent Judas to the high priest Caiaphas to betray Jesus.
Jesus gently rebuked the disciples. He loved Mary’s gift, it wasn’t too much, it was beautiful. He noted what she had done was prophetic, that God intended it for Jesus. “You’ll always have the poor to take care of,” Jesus told His disciples, “But you won’t always have Me.” He had been telling them He was going to die soon, and apparently she had been the only one who was listening. She got it. She got Him. And she did what she could to honor Jesus, and show Him she understood.
In what ways have you honored the Lord with your generosity? Love expresses itself in a giving heart. Mary gave something precious to her Lord out of her fervent appreciation for Him, and in the process served Him by anointing Him for burial.
How giving is your love for the Lord? What have you given Him lately that was done to show your appreciation? Some opportunities come only once in a life time. Mary’s example of loving Jesus with all her strength and soul shows us that Costly devotion is precious to Jesus
Mary actually illustrates the beautiful concept of sacrificing all and gaining even more. She, in a sense, gave up herself, her love, to Jesus, by letting down her hair for Him, and pouring what might very well have been her marriage dowry on His head. What she unexpectedly gained was to be wrapped up in the gospel for all eternity, her story entwined with Jesus' story.
Once again these sisters were ministering to the Lord in both the ways He needed, to His physical needs of food, a place to stay, a gathering of friends, safety. And also to His emotional needs of being understood, of being known. By anointing Him in front of His disciples, Mary was entering into Jesus’ anguish but also teaching His disciples the meaning of what was about to happen. It is one of the most intimate scenes in Jesus’ whole life. Jesus received from Martha that night, and He received from Mary. Both worshiped in their ways, giving the Lord a rare blessing. They worked together, supporting each other. In this way their love and honor to Jesus was multiplied.
A believer glorifies God by expressing God’s self-giving love. What costly sacrifice am I willing to anoint Jesus with?
All passages taken from the New International Version (NIV) Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.