Gospel John 12:1-8
1Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 2There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. 3Mary 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. 4But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, 5"Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?" 6(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.) 7Jesus said, "Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. 8You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me."
After a long day yesterday, I realized that we should have an extra blog this week, since we had to cancel church yesterday. Since it was Russ' turn to preach and he only uses bullet points, I didn't publishing them would do much help, so I am putting this together.
The one thing I have always seen as an interesting paradigm in this passage is the contrast of scents. At the beginning we have Lazarus who was raised from the dead. And we get the vivid image of death and for me that always comes with smells, perhaps too much time spent working in a hospital. The hygiene was poor at best during these days and people used flowers and perfumes to cover over the odors. And we all know that usually trying to cover up an odor only brings on a bad odor of its own. So in the beginning we have the scent of death which moves to the vivid image of Mary taking out the perfume and anointing Christ. We can imagine the scent - the overwhelming scent - engulfing the house and overpowering everything. We can smell it overpowering the death that is represented by Lazarus - what a powerful thought. Here Mary is offering the best perfume to Jesus and further she is honoring him with an anointing. And then the moment is broken up by the smell of deceit coming from Judas' corner. We don't need what is in the parentheses to know that Judas is going to betray, we know the ending of the story and it is because we know the end that this passage has such meaning.
Jesus will overcome death, a death that will be clouded in deceit and betrayal. A death that although expected (and here predicted, since Mary didn't wait till Jesus was dead before she anointed him with his own burial perfume) was not what everyone hoped for. For Jesus was the king that not everyone knew they needed. Through Jesus’ death a new understanding of Grace came – one in which Mary already understood and Jesus’ disciples still needed reminding; for this is the same Mary who already taught us a lesson when her and her sister hosted Jesus earlier.
As we continue this week on our Lenten journey – thinking of identity we should ask ourselves who are we? And where will we be on Psalm Sunday? In the stench of the crowds who are waiting to turn their backs on Christ? Or is our faith lingering in the perfume that was used to anoint Jesus proving his defeat on death?