John 12:1-8 (NRSV)
Mary Anoints Jesus
12. Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 2 There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him.
3 Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.
4 But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said,
5 “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?” 6 (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) 7 Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. 8 You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”
A few thoughts
FOR THE YEAR after I finished college, I worked in a florist. One of my jobs there was to take orders over the phone. Mostly I talked to men one or two days before (or
on the morning of ) birthdays, anniversaries, Valentine’s Day. My favourite part was when I got to ask them what they wanted to write on the card. A moment of real vulnerability occurred each time, where they suddenly realised that they should have ordered online, where they could have typed away to their heart’s content. Some of them stuttered, but for some of them it flowed out easily. It only had to be short and sweet; the cards were only small.
There was one closing line that got me every time;
Dear Bernie, Happy birthday, all my love, Frank.
Dear Linda, I am so, so sorry. All my love, John.
All my love. All my love was a more frequent a sign-off than I expected, three big words rolled off tongues of big men who weren’t afraid. And it would
hit me straight under the ribcage every time. All their love, held safe in a bunch of flowers, that would live for a week and then die. The love alive before it, and maybe more so after it.
All her love.
Mary, in this passage, pours out, in courageous extravagance, all her love. Mary knew Jesus. She sat at his feet and learned. (Luke 10:39)
She fell at his feet and surrendered. (John 11:32)
Now she anoints his feet and honours him.
All of her love because of all of his.
People who sign off “all my love” easily, and pour out great perfume, to the last drop, have been caught in something like loving and being loved, and have found enough safety within it to be this vulnerable. They have found enough fuel there to risk being wholehearted.
All of our love is the best kind of paradox, because like good flower-buying men in Scotland, people who come with all of their love, tend to mysteriously have plenty of love left, for kids, grandkids, neighbours, friends, strangers rich and poor. Jesus is clear throughout the gospels on how we are to treat others, especially those who are more vulnerable or marginalized. Judas’ words here rather represent a heart still afraid to listen, to surrender, and to honour. I might not have been as cutting, might have suggested a compromise, like pour out half the perfume, sell half for the poor, but repentance never really looked like that either.
All of her love because of all of his.
It is the ultimate statement of trust and vulnerability to hold nothing back, and this is what repentance is. It acknowledges past pain and future pain; that which is inflicted on us and that which we cause to others. It acknowledges love; the love we have been given, and the love that we can give. Mary knew Jesus would die. This was not ordinary perfume, but the kind used to anoint the dead. Men called the shop to buy funeral flowers, apology flowers too. Was it easier or harder on those days to say “all of my love”? Pain and love mingle in space and time.
Richard Rohr wrote that all spirituality is what we do with our pain. I would add it is also what we do with our love. In repentance, we pour them out – both our love and our pain – at the feet of Jesus.
All of our pain because of all of his. All of our love because of all of his.
Which person do you most identify with in the story? Why is this?
Is there an aspect of your life that God is asking you to be more wholehearted in? Does this feel scary?
Is there a gift that God is asking you to give to someone?
Is there pain in your life, that you have caused or have had inflicted on you
that you need to pour out?
Spend some time asking God what it would mean for you to give him both your love and your pain.
If you feel comfortable with it, share with and pray for each other about anything that comes up.
Conclude by saying this prayer together:
Lord, thank you for all your love.
Thank you that we can trust you,
and that trust is the foundation for vulnerability,
for worship and for love.
Lord show us where there is love we need to pour out,
the direction our whole hearts need to be turned towards. Lord show us where there is pain we have not dealt with, that we have caused or that we are hurting from. Amen.
Emily is currently working part-time as a youth worker in Kilkenny, having just completed her Masters in Community and Youth Work. She is passionate about tag rugby, proper conversations, dancing, poetry, public transport as a lifestyle choice and seeing people and ideas come together.