Mary anoints Jesus’ feet

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John 12:1-8
5th Sunday in Lent 10.30am Service
(17-3-13)

I don’t know whether you have ever been to one of these super-high energy churches where everyone is waving their arms in the air enthusiastically, dancing around in the aisles, and generally getting rather carried away.

I have been to some churches which have been a bit like this and, nowadays, I am OK with it: I like a lot of the modern worship songs and, occasionally, I sometimes enjoy expressing my feelings with the occasional hand in the air.

But it was not always like this. In fact, a few years ago, I would have felt very uncomfortable in this kind of situation. The waving of hands in the air would have seemed to me a bit unnecessary and, being terribly self-conscious, any kind of moving of the body in front of other people was just going to be embarrassing.

Thinking about this now, I believe that my experience of unease and irritation was not about the style of worship, it was actually about me. I am just very ‘British’! I am not an extrovert and, to be truthful, my discomfort about participating in such extravagant public displays of emotion was probably rooted in fear about what other people might think of me.

Now, before we look at this mornings Bible reading about Mary anointing the feet of Jesus, I want to say that I am not saying that we should all worship in the same way. We are all made differently and we have different tastes, different personalities and different backgrounds. All different styles of worshiping Jesus are valid and good.

But I do believe that every one of us can learn from the extravagant and daring act of worship which Mary gives way to when she anoints the feet of Jesus.

The reading begins: “Six days before passover, Jesus came to Bethany”.  A week later Jesus was dead....Before he came to Bethany, Jesus was lying low with his disciples in a region near the desert, in a village called Ephraim. He was lying low because the Chief Priests and the Pharisees were plotting to kill him.

Jesus had disturbed and challenged the religious leaders throughout his ministry and there had already been at least one attempt on his life. But the tipping point for the Chief Priests and the Pharisees was when Jesus very publicly went to the tomb of a man who had been dead for four days and commanded him to come out. The raising of Lazarus from the dead caused many people to believe that Jesus was no ordinary man. His authority threatened the position of the religious leaders and, they believed, the Jewish nation itself.

So Jesus was now a ‘wanted’ man and there was, effectively, a warrant out for his arrest. In spite of this, six days before the passover, Jesus and his disciples were on their way to Jerusalem. They stopped at Bethany, about 2 miles east of the city, and had a meal with the newly resurrected Lazarus and his sisters, Mary and Martha. Martha served the meal and Mary, perhaps sitting at Jesus’ feet listening to his every word, pours an expensive perfume on his feet and wipes them with her hair. All eyes are on Mary and on Jesus. Maybe you could here a pin drop in the stunned silence. Perhaps there were gasps, people muttering to each other. The whole house fills with the fragrance. Judas objects: this extravagance is a waste of money.

There are three things which come to my mind when I imagine what it must have been like to be at this meal. Firstly, the extravagance. Judas remarks that the perfume Mary uses was worth a year’s wages. Based on the minimum wage in this country, that works out at over £11,000! And Mary isn’t just dabbing this perfume on, she pours out a whole pint!

This puts high-energy worship and waving your hands in the air in its place! And I ask myself: “Would I be prepared to give up £11,000 for Jesus, expecting nothing in return?”

In Mary we see a deep, passionate devotion. This is a self-sacrificing love and there is no moderation. It is the same devotion that we see in Paul's letter to the church in Philippi, which was the other Bible reading we had this morning, when he says:

“But Christ has shown me that what I once thought was valuable was worthless. Nothing is as wonderful as knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. I have given up everything else and count it all as rubbish. All I want is Christ and to know that I belong to him.”

The second thing that strikes me is the way in which Mary was prepared to make herself completely vulnerable. Remember that in her culture it would have been scandalous for a woman to uncover her head and to have her hair loose in public. But unlike me, worrying about what other people might think if I raise my hands in worship, nothing stops Mary from doing what she feels to be a natural and perfect way to express her devotion to Jesus.

And thirdly, what about poor old Judas, whose dismissive attitude was not unlike my own a few years ago towards high-energy worship!? Was he simply verbalising what everybody else in the room was thinking, as they looked on - shocked!

I suppose it is possible that everyone else understood what Mary was doing. When Jesus said: “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial”, he was recognising that this was a prophetic act, as well as an act of devotion. Everybody knew that the authorities wanted Jesus dead and here he was on his way to Jerusalem. Perhaps it was obvious to most people how this was going to end and so they understood what Mary was doing.

Either way, there is a warning for us all here: we need to be very careful indeed before we criticise the different ways in which people express their love for Jesus. Remember, Jesus defended Mary and what she did for him and it was Judas that he rebuked.

So, these are the three things which came to my mind as I read this passage: that the extravagance of Mary’s actions reveals a passionate woman, devoted to Jesus. Secondly, Mary was not afraid to express her feelings to Jesus in front of others; she was OK with stepping out of her comfort zone for him. And finally, we need to be careful before we criticise others for the way they choose to worship God - there is no right or wrong way to worship him.

But, before I finish, there is a fourth thing that occurred to me: it would be easy to simply say that we should all be more like Mary and less like Judas. But why should we be like Mary, if we have no reason to be? Mary had just experienced the death of her brother, Lazarus. Jesus had raised him from the dead. She had a very good reason to be thankful to Jesus and her experience gave her a clear insight into who Jesus was. But what about us? Do we have a good reason to be thankful to God? Who is Jesus to us? Is he the founder of Christianity? Was he a good man, a wise teacher? Philosophically brilliant? Or do we know him as the son of the living God who is alive today and who has the power to save us from ourselves?

If you would like to start a journey of discovery with Jesus today or if you would like your love for Jesus to grow, then why not take the opportunity today to step out of your comfort zone and welcome him into your life?

Prayer...

Lord Jesus...I want to know you...I want to be more open to your Holy Spirit... I welcome you Lord Jesus into my life. Amen.

Amen!

Written and presented by Mark Osborne