It’s not quite the last supper yet, but this meal was full of the same poignancy and heavy anticipation. Jesus had chosen to go to Jerusalem and to its resident religious leaders, prowling and pockets weighed down with a payoff. Of course there was talk of the feast, of who was going with who and women busy with the planning. But what everybody really wanted to talk about was Jesus: half of them hoping he would show up so they could kill him and the other half hoping he had the sense to stay away. The disciples had tried everything they could think of to keep Jesus from the feast, but here he was just a couple miles away enjoying dinner with friends.
In the middle of a scene full of anxiety, fear, anticipation, joy and wonder, Mary quietly walks in and offers the worship that Jesus has been waiting for, but no one else has quite figured out. She takes a bottle of perfume worth a small fortune (an average years’ wages) and shatters its long slender neck on the edge of the table. She tips the jar and pours the oil over Jesus as he reclines at the table. The attention of all in the room is centered on her and the smell permeates the room. Their shock is deepened when she lets down her hair to wipe the perfume from Jesus’ feet, something a respectable woman would not do in public. The disapproval of all is voiced by none other than one of Jesus’ disciples, Judas. “What she is doing is a foolish waste – we certainly can think of wiser ways to use that for the Lord.” John doesn’t sugar-coat Judas’ true motives, though – he was no frugal charity worker, but a plain thief. As Mary kneels at Jesus’ feet generously pouring out her worship, here is a disciple jealously eyeing the perfume dripping off Jesus’ body. The disciples are so far removed from understanding Christ’s purposes that they are thinking of money only a few days away from his death.
Nobody else gets it, but Jesus certainly does. Jesus treasures Mary’s show of love and rebukes Judas. Mary is contrasted here to both the unbelief of the Jewish leaders and to the weak faith of the disciples. Judas sees the ministry of Christ as something which can benefit Him while Mary sees it as something which demands everything she can give. Mary seizes the opportunity to worship Him while He is still present, but Judas is only concerned with the “greater cause” of himself and with what Jesus can provide Him in His short time left. Mary realizes exactly who Jesus is and (in the same way that she understood the priority Christ had to have over anything else in her life) is willing to express faith in Him no matter the cost or what others think.
As Mary watched Jesus raise her brother from the dead, unwrapped the graveclothes from his body and, in the days following, thought of what she had learned at Jesus’ feet, she somehow realized the truth of what lay ahead. As the news of Lazarus’ resurrection spread through Judea, the excitement surrounding this man Jesus grew, as did the religious leaders’ fury. Those who had seen Lazarus raised went to Jerusalem and testified to all the people gathered for the Passover – John tells us that many of the people who greeted him at the triumphal entry came because they had heard of Lazarus. In Jerusalem, everyone wanted to know whether Jesus was coming, most of all the leaders who waited for the perfect moment to seize him. At the center of this storm, sat Mary with the clear recognition that what Jesus had done for her brother might very well be the impetus to his own death. She was also now strengthened by the faith that the miracle was designed to instill—she realized, perhaps more than anyone at this point, the fullness of who Christ was. What she does is full of sorrowing love but also unwavering faith. Mary’s response is actually uncannily like Jesus’ later in the chapter—fully aware of the sorrow and pain ahead but ruled by a faith that desires the glory of God more than anything else. She worships his death not because she takes it lightly or looks forward to it, but because she has learned that, with Jesus, death can be the way to life.
The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves me, he must follow me…
Mary is certainly sure of His impending death and she chooses not to be afraid, to try and keep Christ from Jerusalem or even ask questions of Him about all of this. It’s quite possible that Mary is already imagining the possibility of the resurrection based on her experience with Lazarus. Even if she doesn’t, though, she is determined to trust Christ as the one sent from God no matter what happens. She doesn’t worship Christ in spite of difficulty, but uses the difficulty they face as a cause for worship. She poured burial oil on the feet of the Resurrection and the Life and prepared him for his death, something which only brings joy if one believes in life even in and through death. Mary clings to Jesus as the Resurrection and Life, God Himself, even in the face of death.
Jesus is the Resurrection and Life in us right now, He changes us and gives us hope right now—not when things get better, not when we understand everything or feel like we’ve seen Him work. Faith sees the glory of God no matter what the circumstances are. Because of our life in Jesus, the power and force of sin, pain and death is gone. Even as we stare death in the eye, we ask, with Paul “where is your victory? Where is your sting?” In light of the resurrection, even death is an occasion for worship. It is in the midst of death and suffering that we worship Christ as the One who overcomes them. Death was overcome by going through it – we do not always understand the divine purposes in the midst of our suffering, but it is for the glory of God. Mary makes the mental leap no one else does and chooses to worship Christ in the midst of uncertainty and impending death because she knows He is God and whatever He does is right and worthy of her worship. Lazarus was the trial run and she and Martha dealt with the uncertainty and pain of that time in the best way they knew how. But that experience taught them to believe not only that Jesus can do great things, but that He is great. It moved Mary’s faith from trusting Christ to do things for her to trusting Him (no matter that cost or outcome). It was easy to see Christ as the resurrection and life on Easter Sunday, but faith saw it even as the shadow of the cross loomed on the horizon.
We have to quit waiting for the perfect moment to worship Christ: for the moment when we understand it all or when it all makes sense or when things are better or we can see His blessing. We miss opportunities to worship Christ because we’re caught up in our own causes, desires and plans. Just like the disciples worried about staying alive, keeping their ministry intact and stealing money, we worry about how God isn’t giving us what we want, doing what makes sense to us or working according to our plans. If Judas had grasped the worth of the person sitting at his table, he certainly wouldn’t have been worried about money. And if we could recognize the inherent goodness of Christ, we wouldn’t be worried about much else in our lives either.
Faith that recognizes the true identity and value of Christ can’t help but worship lavishly. This is like Paul saying that compared to the value of Christ, everything else in life is trash. We’re not living for ourselves anymore, so fear and self-preservation should be out of the picture. If we’re still caring about what others think or considering whether obeying Christ is worth the cost, our view of Christ is skewed and our faith weak. When was the last time worshipping Christ really cost you?