Mailed out for: Sunday, March 29th, 2020 at First Presbyterian Church at Unionville, NY (BPC)
[John 12:1-11 ESV] 1 Six days before the Passover, Jesus therefore came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. 2 So they gave a dinner for him there. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those reclining with him at table. 3 Mary therefore took a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. 4 But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was about to betray him), said, 5 “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” 6 He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it. 7 Jesus said, “Leave her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of my burial. 8 For the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me.” 9 When the large crowd of the Jews learned that Jesus was there, they came, not only on account of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 10 So the chief priests made plans to put Lazarus to death as well, 11 because on account of him many of the Jews were going away and believing in Jesus.
INTRODUCTION (vs. 1-2)
Continuing in our series on John’s Gospel, we come to the final week in Jesus’ life. It is six days before the Passover; the very Passover in which he would be crucified. And he has come to Bethany where Mary and Martha and the recently-resurrected Lazarus live. His disciples are with him, the evil Judas Iscariot among them. And they are standing on the brink of the greatest event in history, the death of Jesus Christ for the sins of His people.
I. JUDAS’ VALUE SCALE (vs. 4-6)
I was looking for an appropriate word with which to describe Judas Iscariot in this episode. It is one of those cases like what I’m sure each of us experience in life when someone does something good but another person criticizes it. It is far easier to criticize than to build up others or to do good yourself. So Mary had used a pound of expensive ointment for a good things – anointing the feet of Jesus, but Judas argues that something better could have been done with the ointment! It could have been used to benefit the poor. The text explains, of course, that Judas did not actually care for the poor, but was a thief.
So we see this in our own times. The critics revel in pointing out flaws, but do they do good themselves? Surely it is better to seek to do good deeds than to do nothing but criticize.
So what would be a good descriptive word for Judas in this episode? Downer? Misanthrope? Braggart? Boaster? One who is cheerless? I’m not sure there is a perfect English word for this concept; a critic of good deeds who believes they could have been better deeds, but puts no effort in himself. That, in my book, is just “the worst.”
A classic movie my family would watch when I was younger is Chevy Chase’s Christmas Vacation. And there is a scene there where Clark, the father, is working tirelessly to accommodate all of the relatives who are over for Christmas. And Uncle Lewis, oblivious to this and sitting in a lounge chair says to him “If you’re not doing anything constructive, run into the living room and get my cigar.”
There is no appreciation. And that is the same for Judas here. No appreciation for what Mary has done. And has she not done a great thing? She gave—donated—a pound of expensive ointment for the feet of Jesus. And while perhaps unbeknownst to her Jesus had only six days remaining before his crucifixion, she loved him because he is the Lord. We saw her say so in the previous chapter.
Jesus’ answer points to the great thing that Mary has done, and the great value that it has. “For the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me.” The time remaining for Jesus is short and should be highly valued by his followers.
II. MARY’S VALUE SCALE (vs. 3)
While Judas values money that he may steal it, Mary highly values Jesus and the time she has with him. Mary so loved the Lord that she gave the best that she had. The BEST. Not the rest. Not the leftovers. The BEST that she had. Mary doesn’t hold back either. She doesn’t like Ananias and Sapphira keep anything from the Lord. She gives all.
And it is known that this oil was very expensive. Spikenard is an aromatic plant that grows in the Himalayan mountains, not easy to attain. It had to be harvested in that remote region and then transported by camel and then processed. All told, this oil that Mary used on Jesus was the equivalent to about a year’s salary!
Now, as an interesting aside, while the text mentions only the pouring of oiling upon Jesus’ feet, it is thought by some that the oil would have been poured on the whole body, including the feet. Certainly there was enough oil to do that. And we see in the text as well the reference to it being kept to prepare his body for burial. You wouldn’t just prepare the feet for burial!
For Mary, the oil was her property to do with as she wished. She committed no sin in her actions. She positively did a good thing. And her gift was more than oil. It was admiration, love for her Lord.
When Jesus responds, in verses 7-8, we see how he sides with Mary over Judas. Jesus said, “Leave her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of my burial. For the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me.”
Whenever some dispute or dialogue occurs in the Gospels, Jesus has a response—like this one—that displays profound wisdom. He answers, positively, that the oil is not being wasted but has a purpose to anoint him for burial. Mary was keeping it for his burial. Little did she know that in the course of events she was NOW preparing him for burial. Then also Jesus answers in refutation of Judas that “the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me.”
The plight of the poor IS something that needs our attention. But Jesus points to something that should be valued above all else in that time and indeed in this time—the presence of the Lord.
III. OUR VALUE SCALE
So I ask, Do you highly value your time with Jesus? What value do you put on the Lord?
Value is hard to measure. Some argue that it can’t be measured, but that it can be arranged in an order. There is the thing you value most, then the thing you value second most, third most, fourth most etc. So we should consider, what order does Christ take on our scale of value? And we should say “First.” He is of utmost value. No one, no thing is of higher value.
We say that, as we should. But HOW DO OUR ACTIONS REFLECT OUR BELIEFS? Does your life reflect that Christ is of the highest value to you? Is prayer, Bible reading, church attendance, reading about the Lord, meditating on the word of the Lord … are these the first things you do each day? Do they take the highest of priority? Or are they afterthoughts? Is church merely a habit? Or is it a joy?
And if Christ is tops, then, as a recent article said “Church should be our excuse for everything else.” We should seek to come to all church functions, as is our vow to the Lord that we swear in church membership: “Do you promise to support the Church in its worship and work to the best of your ability?”
So many movies portray these evil “busybody” type neighbors. Those who seem to take joy in troubling others. I recently watched a movie called “The Bookshop” where a lady had purchased an old house and put her life into making a bookshop out of it. But another lady— a busybody socialite—wanted it to be used as an art gallery instead and set out to destroy the work (and livelihood) of the bookshop owner. Would it have been better as an art gallery? Personally, I think not. But that is not the point. The point is, as Calvin explains of our passage: “they act improperly and unjustly who disturb their neighbors without a good reason, and raise a disturbance about nothing.”
Let us certainly never do that. You should pray for your neighbors, and even your enemies.
But let us always value the Lord above all else, for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. Value the Lord above all else, thanking Him and praising Him who was, who is, and who is to come, Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.