Read John 12:1-11.
We’ll first look at what happened at the dinner party held in Jesus’ honor. Then we’ll take a look at three people in attendance and how each of these three expressed their love for Jesus in three different ways. Finally we’ll discuss the two personalities of the author.
The Dinner Party
It was the last week of Jesus’ life before he would be crucified during the Passover. Six days before the Passover ceremony began he went to Bethany, where Lazarus was, the man Jesus had raised from the dead. They gave a dinner for him there.
Lazarus reclined at the table with Jesus.
Mary took a pound of expensive ointment and anointed Jesus. Then she wiped the ointment off his feet with her hair. The whole house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.
But Judas Iscariot, the disciple who was about to betray Jesus, criticized Mary. He said: What a waste. Why wasn’t this ointment sold so we could use the money to help the poor?
In our passage we learn that Judas said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was embezzling money from the donations given to Jesus, donations he Judas was assigned to administer.
Jesus said: Leave her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of my burial. For the poor you always have with you, but you don’t always have me.
When people found out that Jesus was at this dinner in Bethany a large crowd gathered, not only to see Jesus but also to see Lazarus because word had spread about how he was dead in the grave, but then resurrected by Jesus.
Many of the Jews were believing on Jesus because of the witness of Lazarus. For this reason the chief priests made plans to put Lazarus to death as well as Jesus.
People Different Than You
At this dinner held in Jesus’ honor, presumably because he raised Lazarus from the dead, we see three different people expressing their love for Jesus three different ways.
Right away we see Martha. She’s serving. As we saw in a previous post, How Martha Gets A Raw Deal, Martha is built to serve. She’s a doer. And it’s natural for her to express her love for Christ by serving. That’s what we see her doing in today’s text from John 12. And that’s what we saw her doing in Luke chapter 10. In both passages we see her serving Jesus. But there’s a difference between the two instances. In Luke chapter 10 Martha was having a difficult time with the differences between herself and Mary. She was critical and resentful toward Mary who was sitting at Jesus’ feet, listening. In Luke 10 Martha says to Jesus: Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do all the work of serving alone? Tell her to help me.
But Jesus said: Martha, Martha, you’re anxious about many things but only one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which won’t be taken away from her. (Luke 10:25-42)
In today’s passage from John 12 we see Martha serving gladly. She’s not critical toward Lazarus, who’s reclining at the table, and she’s not critical toward Mary, who we find, once again, at Jesus’ feet. In today’s passage we see Martha simply expressing her love for Jesus in the way she was designed to express her love for Jesus: she’s serving. And she’s not just serving Jesus, but she’s serving Mary, Lazarus, and a variety of other personalities at this rather large dinner party.
And unlike the encounter in Luke 10, there’s no rebuke from Jesus. Because it’s not that Jesus has anything against doers, it’s that Jesus takes issue when we’re critical toward someone different than ourselves.
Loving those different than ourselves doesn’t come naturally. What comes naturally for all of us is to compare our own strengths to other people’s weaknesses. But loving people, even people different than yourself, even your enemies, is a command from Jesus. (see Matthew 5:44)
So if you’re a doer, you’re to love worshipers. If you’re organized, you’re to love people who are scattered. And . . .
If you’re a democrat, you’re to love republicans. If you’re monogamous, you’re to love those who are promiscuous. If you’re straight, you’re to love gay people. And if you’re humble, you’re to love proud people.
Something I’ve found helpful is to invert this propensity to compare my strengths with the weaknesses of others. When I look for the strengths of others, and compare them to my own weaknesses, it becomes easier to love people different than myself. I don’t know if Martha ever did that, but personally, I’ve found this beneficial toward counting others more significant than myself. I’ve found this to be a help in loving others as myself. (Philippians 2:3, Mark 12:31)
Who You Are Is A Witness
The second person we see in our text is Lazarus, and he’s expressing his love for Jesus simply by being there, at the table with Jesus, in the presence of Jesus. Who Lazarus is, is central to the dinner because he was dead, dead in the tomb for four days, but now he lives, because of Jesus.
Lazarus is expressing his love for Jesus simply by enjoying the presence of Jesus. But he’s also having a tremendous impact on the people in and around the dinner party. He’s having an impact because of who he is. He was dead but now he lives. He was resurrected.
You’re like that too, and so am I. You and I are people of the resurrection. I once was dead in my sins, but now I live, because of Jesus. I can share with people about how dead I was before Christ, how I encountered him, and what my life is like now, after he “resurrected” me from the dead. In this way, even as Lazarus had a tremendous impact on people because of who he was, you can have a tremendous impact on people because of who you are in Jesus.
Of course I’m talking about your story, how you came to follow Christ. One thing about your story is that you never have to be intimidated. Because when you share your story, no one is more of an expert on your experience with Jesus than you are.
The Fragrance Of Jesus
The third person we see in our text is Mary. And what she does is given more attention than what anyone else does at the dinner. Mary, the one who sat at Jesus’ feet listening, in Luke 10, now takes a pound of ointment, probably her dowry, and it was probably worth about one year’s wages, and she pours it out upon Jesus. Then she wipes the excess ointment off his feet with her hair.
The house is filled with the fragrance of the perfume.
So Jesus now smells like this perfumed ointment.
And one thing is for sure, no one in that room smells more like Jesus than Mary.
This is a big deal, for you and for me. You see, I can be two very different people. There’s the Kurt who gets up in the morning and immediately reads scripture, and then immediately after that goes out for a walk and communes with Jesus.
And there’s the Kurt who gets up and immediately attends to something I perceive to be pressing.
When the first Kurt comes back from his walk with Jesus, people might notice a fragrance of Jesus about him. When the second Kurt is around people, well, a lot of the time the second Kurt shouldn’t even be around people. There’s a smell, but it’s not the fragrance of Jesus. There’s a smell but it’s more like a stench. When I don’t abide in Jesus there’s no life in me. When I don’t abide in Jesus I smell like Lazarus before his resurrection, while he was dead and decomposing.
For me, I’ve found the words of Jesus from John 15:5 to be exactly true. Jesus said in that verse, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” For me, I’ve found that apart from him there’s no hope of loving God and loving people in the way Jesus prescribes. (Mark 12:30-31)
Without abiding in him the way Mary did I can do nothing.
I should warn you that worshiping and abiding in this way comes at a cost. In Luke 10 we see that Mary was criticized for wasting time sitting at Jesus’ feet and listening. In today’s passage from John 12 we see Mary criticized for wasting money she devoted to Jesus. In 2 Samuel 6 we see David criticized for his worship, by his wife Michal. If you choose to connect with Jesus in the way Mary did, you’ll be criticized too. I can almost guarantee it.
But whatever the cost, every morning I have this choice to make: to worship Jesus the way Mary did, or not. We all have that choice. You have that choice. We can find a way to abide in him and take on his fragrance. We can find a way to abide in Jesus and “fill up the room” with his fragrance, so to speak. Or we can choose to skip or discount abiding with Jesus–and walk through life with our own unique odor about us.
I hope and pray you’ll abide in Jesus.
You can too.
Image of two personalities via Morgan Wylie — Creative Commons