By Rebekah Strobel
Lectionary reading for 4/11/2022: Psalm 36:5-11; Isaiah 42:1-9; Hebrews 9:11-15; John 12:1-11
Selected passage for reflection: John 12:1-8
John 12:1-8 (NLT)
Six days before the Passover celebration began, Jesus arrived in Bethany, the home of Lazarus—the man he had raised from the dead. A dinner was prepared in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, and Lazarus was among those who ate with him. Then Mary took a twelve-ounce jar of expensive perfume made from essence of nard, and she anointed Jesus’ feet with it, wiping his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance.
But Judas Iscariot, the disciple who would soon betray him, said, “That perfume was worth a year’s wages. It should have been sold and the money given to the poor.” Not that he cared for the poor—he was a thief, and since he was in charge of the disciples’ money, he often stole some for himself.
Jesus replied, “Leave her alone. She did this in preparation for my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.”
I love the story told above for many reasons…the reminder of Jesus’ miraculous healing of Lazarus, the dignity given to Mary as she serves the Lord, even the fear of the priests as they realize their earthly power is slipping away. But my favorite thing is the very human response of Judas… “What a waste!”. We all have our issues with Judas, but sometimes I think we need to see ourselves in him- our very self-centered foolishness that can easily lead us astray. Because the thing is, Judas was right. It was a waste. That jar COULD have been sold, the money COULD have been distributed to the poor. Like so many of us, Judas sees the facts but doesn’t see the truth…a lesson in missing the point.
Just because something is factually right doesn’t mean it is the most right- in this case, the most right thing was the beautiful sacrifice Mary made in pouring out a very expensive jar of perfume and lovingly wiping the feet of Emmanuel. The most right thing was for Jesus, the ultimate teacher, to elevate a woman and use her as an example of faithfulness for all to learn from. The most right thing was for the group gathered to stop and pause, and remember that God was truly with them.
In a similar telling of the story in Mark, Jesus also responds with “she has done what she could”. So often we (and I mean me) get caught up in all the stuff of life- the to-do lists, the keeping up with the Joneses, even the basics like making sure your kids are decent human beings and, you know, fed. All this stuff is or can be good, but so easily becomes our sole focus and tends to pull us away from the point of it all- doing what we can to love Jesus, love ourselves, and love the world around us well. Throughout his life on earth, Jesus pointed out a lot of people’s actions as faithful- the woman who gave two her two denarii was more faithful than the man who gave his many, the woman who dared to grab Jesus’ robe as he rushed to save the very Lazarus featured in this scripture, the woman who showed up to worship even though no one wanted to look at her disease ridden body…none of them did anything particularly big (though breaking social norms is certainly nothing small). What they all have in common is that they showed up with their whole selves and offered it up- their fear, their hurt, their meager savings. In doing so they offered up the one thing that has no currency - hope. And hope is never a waste.
Maybe when Mary poured out the perfume she hoped she would one day smell it’s sweet fragrance in the world around her- a world made right, a world where sin and death had no power. Maybe she knew that her Lord was dying soon and she would be denied the privilege of preparing his body for burial. Maybe she just loved him so much that she wanted to give the most precious item she owned. Whatever her motivation, Jesus lifts up this act as the right thing, even when other “right things” shout out to be heard.
Doing what we can with what we have, not more and not less…giving ourselves a break to sit at the feet of the Lord and just pour out our precious selves- our hopes and dreams, our hurts and fears…enjoying those kids that need to be fed or the job that has to be done not because we HAVE to but because we CAN… this is the point. When we spend our time and use our resources as a gift it’s never a waste. When we dare to hope that the Lord actually is with us, delights in us, and sees us in whatever it is we live in, that is a fragrant offering so sweet to the God who receives it.
This Holy Week, may you be blessed with the time to revel in the life you lead, to sit fully in whatever you are experiencing right now, and to be brave enough to offer up your whole precious self to you and to your God. That time will never be a waste.
What precious thing can you offer to God this week? Take the time and offer it- know that it is received and treasured. Maybe you’re in a season of life where the thought of offering one more thing is just too much. Breath. In four counts, hold it, out four counts. Offering your time and love to yourself alone is enough- the divine within you recognizes the holiness of your offering. You’ve done what you can.
God of Mary, Martha and Lazarus, God who is with us in our holiness and in our foolishness, be with us today. Grant us peace of heart and mind, and the reminder that time spent with you in any form is never a waste. Take our offering, whatever it is, and be blessed by it. Give us the gift of being present in and with our own selves this week, as we remember that you were never afraid to fully inhabit your own earthly body. Would we revel in the gift of these bodies, and use them to bless ourselves and the world around us. Amen.
About the Author
Rebekah Strobel is an ordained reverend who lives in Des Moines, WA with her husband Nate, and her stepson Jack. She received a Communications degree from Azusa Pacific University in 2008, and graduated from North Park Theological Seminary with her Master of Divinity in 2013. After years of Church ministry she has transitioned to non-profit leadership, overseeing a group of people who provide social and spiritual services for low-income and affordable housing communities. Officiating weddings regularly is one of her great joys, as is building up future leaders. She loves Jesus, people, laughing, crying and nature.