So if you have your service booklets open, I would love us to look at that little Gospel passage from John 12 and I find it a beautiful and moving story. It’s one of the features of John’s Gospel that John presents Jesus from the point of view of Jesus meeting normal people. He interacts with human beings and here we have Jesus interacting with Mary of Bethany. This is a special passage. It’s six days, maybe six or seven days from Good Friday. At the very beginning of the passage, in verse one, John tells us that it’s close to the Passover. Six days before the Passover that feast where the children of Israel would remember that great escape from captivity in Egypt, that great escape entering into freedom and to moving towards the promised land. And it was six days before the Passover would be celebrated that evening when Jesus would gather his disciples together, break bread, drink wine.
And that very night he would be arrested and the next day crucified. And so it’s against that background. It’s against the background of Good Friday and Easter Sunday that John tells us this story. And what happens? Well, a supper, a dinner has been thrown, in honour of Jesus, probably marking the incredible event of Lazarus being raised from the dead. We’re in John 12. If we went back to John 11, there’s the story of Lazarus being raised from the dead. Martha, Lazarus’s sister, she’s serving and Lazarus is reclining and who can blame him? But then Mary appears and she begins to pour a lotion an expensive perfume, about 500 mills, over the feet of Jesus. I need to make a confession tonight. I love aftershave. That is one of my weaknesses. And whenever I’m passing through airports, I do tend to walk over to the section of the aftershave you knew the bottles that are open I’ll take anything that’s free.
But I am always surprised just how expensive aftershave is. Nothing compared to perfume, I would imagine. But we’re told here that Mary has taken pure Narda. It’s like a lotion, a perfume lotion. And she takes 500 mills. Now what’s 500 mills? It’s about three quarters of a bottle of wine isn’t it? Isn’t that 500 mils? And again, whenever I put a bit of aftershave on its a drop or two, I know nothing about perfume but that’s a drop or two when it comes to aftershave. But here is 500 mills. Now ladies, can you imagine going home tonight and taking your most expensive perfume? Usually it’s about a hundred mils – 50 to a hundred mils. And imagine pouring that over someone’s feet. Now a couple of things maybe you would think to yourself, this is my most expensive perfume. What on Earth am I doing? But I would imagine your house probably for the next two weeks, would smell of nothing other than that expensive perfume.
So Mary ticks the most expensive perfume that she has and Jesus is reclining, he’s probably has his feet to the outside and his, his arms and head facing the table where the food is and she pours the lotion over his feet. And if that isn’t the crowd stopper what happens next? Probably silences the room because what she will do as a, as a Middle Eastern woman, her hair will have been tied up because a Middle Eastern women traditionally will have tied up her hair, and she will have had some sort of way, probably a bow or something that ties it up and she will, she will untie the bow and her hair will fall.
If you knew anything about Middle Eastern culture in Jesus’s Day, the only time that you ever a woman ever untied her hair was in the presence of her husband. She unties her hair in the presence of Jesus, the one that she is most devoted to the one that she loves the most.
And she begins to wipe the additional lotion from Jesus’s feet with her hair. It’s a very powerful image.
It’s a very beautiful image. At All Saint’s, like here at Saint Peter’s, we have stained glass windows and one of the stained glass windows we have is of Mary wiping Jesus’s feet with her hair. And sometimes we have school kids who come in and they want to know about the age of the building and the shape of the building. And we always show them this stained glass window. And the girls particularly, I say to them, what’s happening in that window? And they look at and say, that’s weird! There’s a woman drying that man’s feet with her hair. That’s odd! What’s going on there. And it’s this story. John Chapter 12. And I wonder what you make of it. What do you make of that? Jesus is going to tell us later why Mary did what she did, that he’s going to tell her that, that Mary has grasped something, that Mary has understood something, something to do with Jesus and something to do with the Passover. And her action is an action of preparation. We’ll come back to that in a minute.
But the house is silent. Mary is wiping Jesus’s feet with her hair. In Middle Eastern houses in Jesus’s Day, the the lowest servant, the servant who was on the lowest rank was the one who washed your feet whenever you walked into the house. So if Denato was a landlord in the middle east in Jesus’ Day, and you walked into Donato’s house, he would have a servant and that servant’s responsibility would be to wash your feet. To wash off the dust and the grime and the dirt because obviously in those days you wore sandals. You didn’t wear socks. And here’s Mary, not only in this amazing act of devotion, but she’s putting herself in the place of what? The lowest servant. At Jesus’s feet.
Sometimes acts of devotion look foolish to some. And here’s Judas in the second half of the story, Judas criticizes Mary and Jesus sees Mary pouring out this lotion on Jesus’s feet. And what does Judas think? Well, what a waste. And he offers a plausible objection. He says we could have taken that expensive perfume, we could have sold it and we could have given the money to the poor. Interesting contrast, isn’t it? The, the worship of Mary and the criticism of Judas. We’re meant to see that contrast. Mary kneels before Jesus’s. She gives him the most expensive things that she has in this act of devotion. And Judas interprets it as a waste. Couple of thoughts for you. And then we’re finished this evening. I want us to think just for a moment, about Mary’s costly devotion. And I want you to see that picture of Mary placing herself in the place of a servant, the lowest servant and expressing her devotion to Jesus through this incredible lavish act of generosity.
She gives him the most, most expensive thing that she has. And I want us to think for a moment, a bike. Just this word, devotion.
I wonder where you would think about that word in your own life. Maybe I could ask you, what are you devoted to? What is it that you’re devoted to? And I want to invite you to think that one of the things that we’re called to as Christians, is to be devoted to Jesus, is to be devoted to Jesus and the part of following him is this act of devotion, this expression of devotion, this expression of love. And I wonder what might that look like for me and what might that look like for you? It may not involve perfume and it may not involve hair and it may not be physically at Jesus’s feet. Clearly that’s challenging, 2000 years later. But I wonder what an act of devotion might look like for you to Jesus. I think about what my wife Yvonne. And and one of the ways in which Yvonne expresses her devotion to Jesus is through music. And so sometimes I’ll come into the house and I will hear a Yvonne singing, down in the bedroom or down in the basement. And I know what she’s doing. She’s actually singing worship songs to Jesus. And that’s her act of devotion. For you, it might be, writing poetry. It might be going for a walk and telling Jesus just how wonderful you believe he is, but I want us to think in terms of devotion. What does our devotion look like to Jesus? Mary’s devotion. The second thing I want you to think about is Judas’s reaction, John tells us, if you have a look in the Bible passage, the motivation behind Judases words. If you have a look at verse four. “But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected. Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages. He did not say this because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.”
So actually Judas’s motivation wasn’t look at the poor. We need to feed them. Judas’s motivation was that money I could have helped myself to it. And you have this contrast of Mary giving everything and Judas wanting to take. Often we ask ourselves this question and, and we’ll, we’ll face it again in the next two weeks, is why did Judas deny Jesus? Why did he betray Jesus? And some have of wondered whether he became politically disillusioned with Jesus, but actually the only reason that we’re given in scripture was the reason why he betrayed Jesus was because Judas was greedy. He loved money more than he loved Jesus. And John wants us to get this contrast. Love of Jesus, love of money.
And that question. What is Clive Atkinson devoted to? Am I Mary? Am Judas?.
And finally, Jesus’s intriguing defense of Mary. It’s very interesting. If we have a look at verse seven how Jesus reacts to Judas’ words. Do you see it there? Verse seven. “Leave her alone.” Now, I don’t know whether it was a “Judas leave her alone” or was it “leave her alone.” I suspect it’s actually the latter. He’s coming to the defense of Mary and that verse seven is actually quite a challenge to translate. It was, he says, leave her alone. It was intended that she should save this perfume, perfume for the day of my burial. What an interesting one. And that brings us back to why did Mary do what she did?
She clearly had glimpsed, something clearly had understood something about Jesus, that Jesus had come to die and she got it. And so she prepared him for his burial. She prepared him for his burial. So three Fs for you this evening. Follow Mary’s example. Be devoted to Jesus. Flee. That’s my second death. Flee Judas, his love of money. And thirdly, focus. Focus on Jesus’s death and why he died for me. And for you.