Let’s read through John 12: 1- 11. We want to look into 4 characters in this story and see if we can answer this question.
Before reading the passage I have to mention that 2 other gospels possibly refer to a similar story Mark 14: 3- 9 and Mathew 26: 6- 13.
Passover was celebrated every year in Jerusalem to commemorate the freedom of the Jews from captivity in Egypt. It is not clear whose house they were at. Some think it might have been Simon leper’s (ex-leper) house as it refers to his house in a similar account in the other gospels. It Seems some people had gone to that house to meet up with Jesus and to see Lazarus too. Jesus was going to be crucified few days after that.
The first character is Lazarus. Lazarus was one of the attendants at the table. He was an ex-dead man at the table whom Jesus had resurrected from the dead. He was a strong witness and a kind of evangelist. In the verses 10- 11 it says that the chief priests made plans to kill Lazarus for on account of him many of the Jews were going over to Jesus and putting their faith in him. he is an example of someone who testified about the great work of God and many Jews had come to know the Lord.
It is very important to share what God has done in our lives with others. Being a witness of what Jesus has done in our lives is something we are all encouraged to do.
The second character in the story is Martha. Martha was showing hospitality to the guests. In this passage, Jesus does not criticize her. But in a different story about Martha in Luke 10: 38-42, When Jesus was in their house in Bethany, Martha was showing hospitality to the guests including Jesus, and was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She complained to Jesus about Mary sitting at his feet whilst she had to do all the work. She seemed to have a rather nervous and perfectionist personality who wanted to do her best to serve perfection.
Why did Jesus not approve of her service? The Bible constantly encourages us to serve others. As we read the new testament we realize that even at the first century early church the 4 main pillars of the faith of the early church were the teachings of the apostles, fellowship with believers, and serving them – breaking of bread and prayer.
So fellowship with others and helping them were important and emphasized. In Acts 6 we see that deacons were chosen to serve those in need. Paul dedicated himself to the service of God. Jesus Christ himself said that he had come to serve, not to be served. We are all called to serve others according to the gifts the Holy Spirit has given to us. So why Martha was criticized by Jesus when she was serving?
Martha was doing all her best to serve others. Her problem was that she had misplaced her priority. Serving others had taken the first place in her life. As a result, when she was serving, she was nervous, and she was competing with Mary and criticizing her for not helping her.
That is why Jesus tells her: Martha, Martha you are worried and upset about many things but only one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen what is better and it will not be taken from her.
Jesus wanted to make Martha realize That ministries will come to an end but fellowship with him won’t’ be taken away from her.
Is serving God a higher priority in our lives than spending time with him?
The third character in the story is Mary.
I want to spend more time on Mary’s act in this story. Mary performed an act that many commentators consider as a form of worship. I would like to mention 3 points about Marys’ act of worship and devotion to the Lord.
- Mary brought this expensive perfume that was made of pure nard. It was a very rare herb grown in the high pasturelands of China, Tibet, and India. It must have been carried from India or China on camels, far far away. Because it came from so far and so pure, it was very valuable. The price of which was about 300 dinars which were equivalent to the labor of a worker for a year. It was a very expensive perfume. Maybe it was all the savings she had. Or it might have been passed on to her as an inheritance. According to the custom of the time, Jesus’ feet were probably washed as soon as they entered the house, and his head was anointed with oil as a special guest. This woman offered her most precious thing to Jesus to express her deepest love to him. She was also humble because she was under the feet of Jesus and probably broke the alabaster jar of perfume. Mary gave so lavishly and sacrificially to Jesus. it was coming from her worshipful heart. Are we willing to offer Him the most precious thing we have in worship? Romans 12:1 says in the light of God’s mercy we need to offer our bodies as living sacrifices, Holy and pleasing to God as an act of worship. We are encouraged to offer all our being to him in worship and humbly surrender ourselves to him. This begins from the times we spend time in his presence and worship him. Is spending time in his presence in priority in our daily walk with him.
- Mary wiped Jesus’ feet with her hair. It is not known whether Mary shed tears here or not. She may have shed some tears, that is, she may have expressed her feelings about Jesus. She wiped his feet with her hair, not with a towel or anything else. She most probably wanted to give something completely personal. At that time a woman’s hair was very important to her. Her hair could somehow give her some type of identity and dignity. She possibly wanted to wipe his feet with her hair to place her identity at the feet of Jesus and receive her true identity from him. On the other hand, a woman wiping Jesus’ feet at that culture did not look good as it could resemble a prostitute. But she did not worry about what people in that society thought of her as a woman. She was so focused on Jesus that others did not matter. She offered a lavish love and extravagant and humble worship to Jesus.
- The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. If the perfume container was not broken, the smell would not reach Jesus and others. The effect of her worship filled the house with a sweet aroma. In Mark 14: 9, Jesus says whenever the gospel is preached in the world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her. What an effect her act had!! Mary’s love was overflowing, sacrificial and extravagant that would be rewarded. When we spend time with Jesus and let go of our pride (like breaking the alabaster jar) his presence can change us and people can see the light of Jesus in us because we can spread the fragrance of God’s presence around us. Mathew 5:16 let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.
The last character we see in the story is Judah Iscariot. He is the one who betrayed Jesus. He was thinking very materially. He said why was not the perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It says it was not because he cared for the poor, but he was a thief and the keeper of the money bag and he used to help himself to what was put into it.
Maybe Judah’s motive was wrong. In similar stories to this in the other Gospels like in Mathew 26. We realize that even disciples were complaining about why the perfume was not sold. Even the disciples did not realize the importance of Marys’ act. So is it wrong to help the poor? Again the Bible emphasizes helping the poor. The early church helped the poor and would share everything they had with those in need. Paul encourages some churches like Corinthians to help the needs of the Jerusalem church financially. Jesus says in Mathew 25 that whatever you do for others in terms of feeding them and serving them you have done it for me. So giving others financially is emphasized in the bible. But the problem is that when we do it to gain self-glory and when it becomes our priority in our Christian walk, that is when it is problematic. That is why Jesus said in verse 8 in response to Judah and the disciples too: you will always have the poor among you but you will not always have me.
In the light of our true relationship with God, our motives for giving will be right and God will bless that.
We looked at the 4 characters in the story:
- Lazarus who was a great witness to what Jesus had done,
- Martha who was a faithful servant,
- Judas, and the disciples who were focused on giving to the poor weather with the right or wrong motive?
- And Mary who lavishly offered her love to Jesus in worship.
Which one of these characters do we identify ourselves with the most?
It is important to witness, serve, and give financially but spending time with Jesus should take the highest priority in our lives.
In Mark 12: 30- 31 it says:
Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your should and mind and strength. And then Love your neighbour as yourself. We should first have a loving relationship with Jesus before we can love and serve our neighbour
I would like to refer to the church in Ephesus in Revelation chapter 2…..
“To the angel of the church in Ephesus write:These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands. I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked people, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary. Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first. Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place. But you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.” Revelation 2:1-7