Letters to the Prison - Week 135

Hello, everyone.  Last week, as we opened our study of John 12, we saw an “ordinary” family –Lazarus and his sisters—acting according to their beliefs by faithfully and openly serving Jesus…  hosting him and feeding him even though the authorities were looking to kill him.  And yet, we see that there are things about this family and what they do for Jesus that are not “ordinary.”  Lazarus, for example… alive and well after having been dead for four days…
Interestingly, Lazarus did not choose to die…  nor did he choose to be raised again by Jesus.  His sister Mary, on the other hand…  look what she chose to do:
•Mary therefore took a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.-John 12:3
No one asked her to do this…  certainly not Jesus.  And others around her were definitely perplexed… even outraged by what Mary chose to do.  We’ll get to their reaction soon enough.  But to begin to understand it properly, we need to consider what Mary’s act meant… for her and for Jesus.
First, there is the obvious and public act of sheer humility:  Mary washing Jesus’ feet with her hair.  This is not something people do every day… or ever… even back then in that culture.  Further, the significance of Mary even touching Jesus –let alone in such a way—Or Jesus allowing himself to be touched at all by a woman who isn’t his wife is massive given the social standards of etiquette and propriety of that culture in that day.  Prominent Jewish male religious leaders would simply never allow such a thing to occur.  Some of them might be hard pressed to even look at another woman… or speak to her if she wasn’t his wife… let alone allow her to touch them.  Why?  Because of what such an act might say about them.  People might talk… modern leaders of all kinds understand this risk very well… even today.  A person’s name…  their reputation is on the line… public image matters.  But not to Jesus… and not to Mary in this moment.
Second, there is the value of the “ointment” and its significance.  We’re told that this jar of perfume is worth at least “300 denarii” (John 12:5).  A denarius is a day’s wage for a laborer… enough to pay for their living expenses for a day… food, shelter, clothing, etc.  So, 300 of them is a year’s worth.  Imagine spending your entire income for a year on one item and then smashing it at Jesus’ feet.  Further, this item might have been a family heirloom… a one-of-a-kind piece with high sentimental value.  Some commentators have suggested that such an item might be given as a dowry when a daughter in the family (like Mary) is engaged to be married.  
The implications of that are huge.  Mary, then, is sacrificing all her “life savings” –any potential financial value as a possible future bride… all of her “worth” as a woman in that culture –literally at Jesus’ feet.  Her act suggests that she is completely and even recklessly “sold out” for Jesus… publicly and humbly so.  This is a one-way boundaryless sacrifice.  Mary holds nothing back and she can’t take it back once it’s done.  It is, in every regard, a life-altering act.
Jesus himself contributes to our understanding of the significance of Mary’s act.  We’ll examine his response next week.  Until then, what would such a sacrifice for Jesus look like for us?

Dean A.

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