You’re at your friend’s house, hanging out. There are several people there. You’ve just finished dinner, but are still sitting at the table finishing the wine and having a lively discussion about the marriage equality issue before the Supreme Court. Your hostess cleared the table and when she returns, she kneels before you, pours Clive Christian No. 1 on your feet, and begins massaging your feet with the most expensive perfume in the world!
Let’s be realistic. This is weird!
This is exactly what happened to Jesus (well, maybe not the part about marriage equality and the Supreme Court, but Jesus didn’t shy away from controversy) while at Martha, Mary, and Lazarus’ house in Bethany, trying to stay off the radar of the religious leaders. Here’s what insider John had to say:
Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. 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 the fragrance of the 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?’ (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.)
Jesus said, ‘Leave her alone. She bought it* so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me’ (John 12:1-8).
Did you catch John’s little aside about Judas Iscariot? John wrote this account decades after the event and he’s still miffed with Judas!
Because we live in the 21st century and this happened in 1st century Palestine, we may not know exactly how awkward this really was for Jesus and those around him. We also might miss Mary’s act of love.
A couple of things stand out. Women never appeared in public with their hair unbound. It was a sign of an immoral woman. So for Mary to have her hair down and to touch Jesus at all, much less with her hair, was an enormous risk! Mary loved Jesus and knew there were limits to what her relationship with him could be. That didn’t stop her, however, from sharing with him something of immense value to her with no thought to what others might think. And Jesus honors her publicly by allowing her act of love for him, framing it in a context that shows the purity of her heart and a larger purpose of which we are not yet aware.
We know how John feels about Judas, but we also get a glimpse at how miserable Judas really was. Judas had the position of the tribe’s treasurer because he had an aptitude for money and budgeting. Jesus suspected early on that Judas had the potential to go one way or the other (‘Did I not choose you, the twelve? Yet one of you is a devil’ John 6:70), and yet he still allowed Judas a position of responsibility. Judas’ ungracious and insincere comment about Mary and the poor indicates how bitter he had become. Whether it was his bitterness or temptation, money was his downfall. The law of temptation held true for Judas. Temptation often comes through that which we are naturally suited.
An interesting dinner party: Jesus, the outlaw. Mary, the woman who cast aside propriety to show her love for a man who would never be her husband. Judas, whose borderline life is about to get much worse. As my Dad used to always say when we asked him what he did at work: A day like all days; filled with the events that make history.
By the way, Clive Christian No. 1 retails for $865.00/1.6 oz. Demand is so high at Saks Fifth Avenue that customers are limited to no more than 6 units of this items every 30 days!