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John 12: 1-19

12 Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honour. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. Then Mary took about half a litre 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.

But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, ‘Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.’ 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.

‘Leave her alone,’ Jesus replied. ‘It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.’

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.

Jesus comes to Jerusalem as king

12 The next day the great crowd that had come for the festival heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. 13 They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting,


‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’

‘Blessed is the king of Israel!’

14 Jesus found a young donkey and sat upon it, as it is written:

15 ‘Do not be afraid, Daughter Zion;
    see, your king is coming,
    seated on a donkey’s colt.’

16 At first his disciples did not understand all this. Only after Jesus was glorified did they realise that these things had been written about him and that these things had been done to him.

17 Now the crowd that was with him when he called Lazarus from the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to spread the word. 18 Many people, because they had heard that he had performed this sign, went out to meet him. 19 So the Pharisees said to one another, ‘See, this is getting us nowhere. Look how the whole world has gone after him!’


The story of Mary pouring perfume over Jesus’ feet and wiping them with her hair has surprised, shocked and inspired down the centuries. In the Middle Ages it was frowned upon as an inappropriate, rather embarrassing act of a loose woman. But that was not how the Early Church saw Mary's extravagant expression of love for Jesus; they found it both remarkable and inspiring.

 Mary had experienced Jesus’ power and compassion when he raised her brother from the dead. Support for Jesus was growing but his enemies were closing in. She must have felt the increasing tension, with danger in the air. Previously she had sat at his feet listening to his teaching, which for a woman was breaking social boundaries. But now it was not enough just to listen: she wanted to express her worship and wonder. So she took the most precious thing she owned, a very valuable box of perfume – maybe her dowry – and in an extravagant act she poured it out over his feet.

 This was an act of humility and self-giving – feet being unpleasant, dirty parts of the body in those days. It was a prophetic act too, responding to God’s prompting. This perfume was one used for embalming dead bodies, so she symbolically prepared Jesus for his death and burial. It was also an act of great intimacy, as she used her hair to wipe his feet. No respectable woman would let her hair loose other than when alone with her husband. But Mary felt such comfort and intimacy in Jesus’ presence that she unselfconsciously worshipped him in this way, in spite of what others might think.

 Do you admire such intimate uninhibited worship, or do you feel a little uncomfortable as you imagine the scene? And what about uninhibited expressions of worship today?

 Judas objected – not so much to how she did it, but to the waste of money which would have been better given to the poor. You might well think he had a point. Our English culture doesn’t encourage impulsive behaviour and we are brought up to place great store by reason and logic. God gave us rational minds to be used well, but we also know that love goes beyond the bounds of rationality. How many books and films tell that story!  

 Judas was making a logical point, and much in the New Testament encourages generosity and care for the poor. But Jesus had spoken previously about priorities, contrasting inherently good things like family relationships for example, with the greater good of being with him. Using one’s money generously was important, but the greater priority for Mary that day was to pour out her all for Jesus. 

 Mary’s loving heart had the right priority of being with Jesus, expressing her love for him. Judas had misplaced priorities and a wrong heart. Rational objections to God often hide deeper motives that have little to do with rationality.

 Have you ever felt moved by God to do something that seemed irrational or illogical? It could be big or small: deciding to leave a job or moving house, speaking to a stranger or walking down a certain street. It can be all too easy to explain away such impulses, but Mary’s story challenges us not to do that. So much better to explore them further and dare to move out of our comfort zone. Do you have a story to tell, where God prompted you to step out in some way?

 People might think you’re crazy, if they saw you not just singing loudly but with uninhibited gestures. And even crazier if they heard of sacrifices (financial, job, way of life) that you made at God’s prompting. But that’s the nature of love – to be beyond the rational. Mary’s crazy beautiful gesture of love continues to inspire Christians to want to give everything to the one who died for them: Jesus our Saviour.


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