Updated: Apr 3
By Kim Delp
Lectionary reading for 4/3/2023: Isaiah 42:1-9; Psalm 36:5-11; Hebrews 9:11-15; John 12:1-11
Selected passage: John 12: 1-11
John 12: 1-11 New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition
Mary Anoints Jesus
Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 2 There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those reclining with him. 3 Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’s feet, and wiped them[a] with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. 4 But 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.) 7 Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She bought it[b] so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. 8 You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”
9 When the great crowd of the Jews learned that he was there, they came not only because of Jesus but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 10 So the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death as well, 11 since it was on account of him that many of the Jews were deserting and were believing in Jesus.
Every time I read this passage, especially in the shadow of the Cross and Lent, I am always overcome with emotion at this amazing act of anointing that takes place. It took me back to my first experience of washing feet. I was a teenager in high school youth group and had an issue with one of the girls in the youth group with me. I had hurt her and broken the trust she had in me and did not want any part of reconciling the situation, especially like this. I just thought to myself, “I hope I don’t have to wash HER feet”. About that moment, she walked up to me and started washing my feet. In that moment, I understood in a much clearer way the significance of this moment. When I was stubborn and wanted to avoid the situation, the girl who I had wronged, humbled herself and gave me grace when I didn’t deserve it. It was a beautiful display and example to me in a small way of what our passage discusses.
Most people would likely come to the feet of Jesus like Mary, in pure reverence, but Mary engaged in a radical, significant, counter-cultural representation of extravagant worship. Mary came unashamed, almost brazen in her radical need and urgency to worship Jesus. She came in the middle of the meal, which was an unusual time to come. Usually washing feet was done before the meal, a chore usually reserved for slaves. As we have seen her in other passages, she sat at the feet of Jesus to learn and fell at his feet in surrender, and so here she once again comes to his feet to anoint and honor him. Even in the face of Judas and his scolding and disapproval, she continues to lean-in to her devotion and wipes his feet, not with a towel, but with her hair which is counter-cultural as a Jewish woman who would rarely let her hair down in public.
The embarrassing silence that could-have been as Judas chastises her, Jesus fills that silence as a sacred space, a holy moment as all witnessed this anointing. Jesus raises Mary up and empowers her in her radical humility and in her foresight in view of his imminent burial that would come soon. She realized that no amount of extravagance could be less wasteful than offering Jesus her whole self as He would be doing for her and for us all.
As the gospel shows us over and over, the lowly, oppressed, maltreated, and forgotten are the ones Jesus raises up. As Mary shows us from her positional devotion, she realizes, more than the twelve disciples do, the significance of WHO Jesus is and she is bold enough to not only honor and worship Him, but to anoint Him as the King in the shadow of the cross and in view of His death. In anointing her King, she is anticipating His death.
We can all, as Judas does, minimize the acts of worship, the holy moments, the sacred spaces. We realize how pitiful it was what Judas was saying as he was worried about keeping up appearances, wanting to look holy and appear to care for the poor, even though Jesus already knew what was going to happen and his true heart. Jesus did not minimize the humility and devotion Mary showed, but celebrated and raised her up to show all of those present as well as us that true worshippers are not focused on appearance, cultural norms, what we will receive or what rules we may be breaking. Mary shows us that radical extravagance in our worship is welcome, celebrated and a precious space created in the presence of our anointed King.
As the aroma of perfume permeated the house where Jesus, Lazarus, Mary, Martha and the disciples were, may the sacred space created by Mary permeate you this day. As we step into this Holy week, may you realize in a new way the gift of Jesus that He gives you and may you not miss the opportunity to truly engage in worship at His feet.
As you take time to focus on the picture depicting our passage from today, take some time to take this in. Really imagine being a part of this photo, taking space and time to take in everything around you.
What do you see, smell, feel, sense around you? What draws you in? What stands out? What speaks to you? Take some time to journal, maybe sit in silence or with quiet music to listen to what God is trying to tell you today. As we journey together to the cross and enter Holy week, this is the day in the calendar after Palm Sunday and before Judas betrays Jesus. Imagine what Jesus might be feeling holding both the sacred and the betrayal, “Hosanna” and “Crucify”. In the midst of the chaos around him and inside him, there is the beautiful, sacred, holy moment. Stay in the space as long as you need to and write down, draw and debrief with someone what you heard.
Some suggestions for music to listen to during this exercise would be Speak to Me by Kari Jobe, Remember by Steffany Gretzinger, Hold me Now by Jennifer Knapp, You’ve Already Won, Shane and Shane, This is Our God, Phil Wickham
King Jesus, anointed one, as Mary showed extravagance in her worship and devotion, may we realize afresh today your gift to us. As we journey through your journey to the cross, may we pause to worship in extravagance at your feet. In your holy name,
About the Author
Kim Delp has been serving in Ecuador for almost 13 years. She is a family nurse practitioner and consecrated missionary with Serve Globally. She and her husband partner with the Evangelical Covenant Church of Ecuador in starting medical clinics, foster homes, community outreach, health and develop programs and most recently trying to make all the project in Ecuador self-sustainable through a rose plantation. You can learn more here: https://www.santiagopartnership.org/
She has 3 children that keep her humble and awed. Sharing a cup of coffee or preparing a meal together with friends brings her joy and life as well as travel and encouraging others. Empowering women to see their value and worth and to live into their identity brings her pure joy! Living among the mountains and volcanos of Ecuador has shown her beauty beyond what she ever expected.