This week we continue our meditations on Jesus’s Passion predictions in the Gospel of John. Please read John 12:1-11 which tells of Mary’s anointing of Jesus’s feet and his explanation that this anointing was for his burial. This is one of the few times between Jesus’s baptism and his passion that John gives us a story that is also found in the other Gospels. (See, Mark 14:1-9, Matt. 26:1-13, and Luke 7:36-50 (maybe)).
The story tonight takes place immediately prior to Palm Sunday. (In Mark and Matthew, it takes place right before the Last Supper.) After raising Lazarus from the dead in the town of Bethany (John 11), Jesus goes into hiding in the town of Ephraim because the Jewish leaders were looking for him. The village is located about fifteen miles from Jerusalem at the edge of the wilderness. Jesus is staying in the village waiting on the Passover festival to begin. Jesus leaves Ephraim six days before the Passover and begins making his way to Jerusalem. Bethany is on the road between Ephraim and Jerusalem, about two miles from the city. Immediately after our story is Palm Sunday. John 12:12-19. Therefore, we are looking at the very beginning of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem which will culminate in the Crucifixion.
THE PLACE AND THE PEOPLE:
Bethany is the hometown of Mary and Martha. Mary and Martha are two female followers of Jesus that we first meet in Luke’s gospel. Luke 10:38-42. Martha is the do-er who is always busy serving and Mary is the be-er who is more contemplative. The women have these same characteristics in John where Martha is described as serving the dinner. Both women had been present when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. John 11:1.
Bethany is Lazarus’ hometown as well. We can picture the conversations between Mary, Martha, and Lazarus about the day that he was raised from the dead. While Jesus was hiding in Ephraim waiting on the Passover, we can see that these three spent that time discussing and contemplating exactly who Jesus really is and what would occur on the Passover.
The occasion for the passion prediction is a dinner where Lazarus was present. Picture the scene. Jesus, Lazarus, the disciples, and other men are reclining at the table. Martha is serving them dinner. They are having conversation. Into this affair, Mary, the contemplative be-er who generally sits quietly, acts decisively. She takes a bottle of spikenard and anoints Jesus’s feet. This aromatic ointment is from India and costs 300 denarii – about a year’s wage for a laborer. It was used primarily as a means of washing a dead body for burial. Imagine the commotion that ensued. An entire bottle of perfume is poured out during dinner. All conversation would immediately stop, and all attention would be brought to bear on Mary, the quiet one. John tells us that Judas immediately objected to the waste of such a costly item. We can see his look of scorn directed at this woman.
Into this commotion and into Judas’s objection, Jesus says “Leave her alone, let her keep it for the day of my burial.” Maybe for the first time in the gospels, a person gets it. Until now, no one seems to grasp the fact that Jesus’ Messiahship is one that necessarily ends in his death. Peter even goes so far as to rebuke Jesus himself for saying that he must die. Matt. 16:22. Mary is the first person to fully understand that Jesus must die. She has sat at his feet absorbing his teachings in quiet contemplation. She has seen Lazarus being raised from the dead. And with Jesus in her presence on his way to Jerusalem for the Passover, she knows what must occur. This may be the only time anywhere in any of the gospels that a person other than Jesus makes a passion prediction. Mary is the first to truly understand who Jesus is.
Mary not only understands that Jesus’ Messiahship is the way of the Cross, but it is also the way of humility. Throughout his ministry, Jesus also emphasized that, unlike the kings (messiahs) of this world who lord their power of their subjects, his kingship was founded in humility and service. Matt. 20:25-28. The male disciples never seem to understand this, but Mary does. She anoints his feet and washes them with her hair. Within her predictive act, she foreshadows the humility that Jesus will suffer in his Passion.
If you want to dive deeper into this story and have twenty minutes to spare, here is a good commentary on this story from Coptic Orthodox Answers.
This Wednesday, Messiah is holding an evening prayer service in the chapel. The Lenten saint this week is St. Patrick.
As is our tradition for Eastertide, we will be reading through a more contemplative work. The book this year is Fr. Stephen Freeman’s book Everywhere Present – Christianity in a One-storey Universe. The theme of the book is to make us more aware of God’s living and active presence in our lives in the here and now.
Praise the Lord, you that fear him; *Psalm 22:22-24
stand in awe of him, O offspring of Israel;
all you of Jacob’s line, give glory.
For he does not despise nor abhor the poor in their poverty;
neither does he hide his face from them; *
but when they cry to him he hears them.
My praise is of him in the great assembly; *
I will perform my vows in the presence of those who