John 12:1 Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. 2 Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honour. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. 3 Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.
4 But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, 5 “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.” 6 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.
7 “Leave her alone,” Jesus replied. “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. 8 You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.”
9 Meanwhile a large crowd of Jews found out that Jesus was there and came, not only because of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 10 So the chief priests made plans to kill Lazarus as well, 11 for on account of him many of the Jews were going over to Jesus and believing in him.
It is now the week before Passover– that great feast celebrating God’s dramatic salvation of his people from Egypt. Passover and salvation are synonymous, with much of the biblical language of salvation embedded in that dramatic deliverance. Redemption from slavery, sacrifice, deliverance from death, and judgment upon those who oppose the purposes of God– all these ‘salvation terms’ have their source in the Exodus. And it is this salvation that Jews gather to celebrate every year at Passover.
Jesus returns to the home of Lazarus, Martha and Mary, in Bethany (on the hill across the Kidron Valley from Jerusalem). A meal is prepared in Jesus’ honour, but Martha complains that Mary is not helping out in the kitchen as was the custom (see Luke 10:38-42). Instead, sitting at Jesus’ feet to learn from his teaching, Mary washes his feet in expensive perfume, using her hair as a towel. It is an extravagant act of devotion and adoration, which Jesus accepts as preparation for his burial– already he is focussing on Passover as the time of his death (v7). Judas also takes issue with Mary’s extravagance but Jesus rebukes him. He is free to help the poor anytime he wants.
Judas’ mean spirit and Mary’s devotion form a stark contrast.
News of Lazarus being raised from the dead has already spread to Jerusalem. He has become a bit of a celebrity in his own right (v9). The chief priest’s only answer to this popularity is add Lazarus’ name to their ‘hit list’, probably on the line directly below Jesus’ name (v10, cf Jn 11:53). As a humorous aside, imagine for a moment that the chief priests did have Lazarus killed, but Jesus brought him back to life once again…! Then what?
And so, in the week of preparation for the Passover Feast, as families gather and sacrificial lambs are prepared, the focus of John’s gospel narrows. Jesus’ hour is rapidly approaching.
Lord Jesus, following Mary’s example, grant that I might learn such unreserved devotion to you that I willingly give my all to you. Amen.