Read John 12
Let’s start off by saying there might be a chronology issue here. Chapter 11 references Jesus being anointed in Bethany as if it already occurred. Chapter 12 mentions the anointing taking place after Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead. So, is there confusion here?
No, there is the telling of the story of Jesus by John. This is not a newspaper story that piecemeals information day by day, but a complete account. I could look back at my history, ok ancient history, and say that I attended and graduated Mangum High School. I got a bloody nose playing baseball on my birthday. The school sits right across from where I preached a revival, which just happened to be on the Gospel of John.
All the statements are accurate but not referenced for chronology. I got a bloody nose in a pick-up game at recess while I was in the second grade. I graduated when bell-bottom trousers were the fad and The Streak by Ray Stevens was the number 1 song. I preached in the church across the street from the school—a Cumberland Presbyterian Church—the same year we did Good News 2012 here, whatever year that was. There were a few intervening decades.
Now back to John’s gospel.
In telling the story in hindsight, the chronology might not be as important as the identification of the location and cast. We see the same thing in the gospel accounts where Judas Iscariot is labeled as the one who betrayed Jesus throughout the accounts. John notes that this would occur later, but it defines him through gospel accounts.
The story doesn’t get told until John has the whole story and then he adds references that help the reader identify with what’s happening sometimes when and sometimes where.
In land navigation, there is a tool known as resection. This helps you locate where you are by taking back azimuths from at least two known points and then drawing them on a map. Where the lines intersect is where you are.
Most people will never use this and now with GPS, most people don’t’ know how to do this, but when you spent a lot of time in the middle of nowhere’s located throughout the world, it’s a good skill to carry around with you.
It’s also what we see in this first part of John 12. John is pinpointing location and characters, not exact chronology.
That established, Jesus was at the home of his three friends, or at another location in Bethany depending upon how you try to reconcile Mark’s and Matthew’s accounts. Jesus was the guest of honor. Ya think!
Son of God, the Christ, Messiah, and yes, the very One who raised Lazarus from the dead was the guest of honor. Of course, Jesus is the guest of honor is a home where people know him to be the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
Most of Jerusalem and Israel were looking for a different sort of Messiah. Those gathered on this special evening knew the Messiah that God had sent. Perhaps the hosts knew better than his disciples.
Then Mary took a pint of perfume called Nard and poured it on the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair. I’m sure that stopped the casual conversation at the dinner table.
A pint isn’t a lot, unless it’s a pint of perfume. In this case, it was expensive perfume. It’s the kind that you just dab here and there, unless you are anointing the body of Jesus.
And it was Nard. OK, that doesn’t mean anything to us today. Nard came from a flower in the Valerian family. It was the roots, not the flower that was ground and distilled and used for aromatic and health purposes. So, Mary was into essential oils and must have used her points to get some really expensive perfume.
Judas noted that it was worth a year’s wages. He seemed indignant that it was lavished upon Jesus. Do you know how much food we could have given to the poor?
There is a rabbit trail about Judas here and how he helped himself to the general fund that we won’t venture down very far at this time, but in the example of things not being necessarily chronological in the telling, ask why was he not relieved of his duties as treasurer. It’s more likely that this detail was added in the telling at some later point.
But Judas is making a point of this nonetheless. It was a valid statement. Many poor people could have been fed.
Think to the man born blind. Jesus used that exact time and place to show God’s glory.
Think to Lazarus in the tomb 4 days. Jesus could have come earlier but he didn’t. He took that exact time and place to show God’s glory.
Mary took this exact time and place to anoint the body of Jesus for his burial.
But he wasn’t dead yet!
Jump ahead a few chapters. Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea brought 75 pounds worth of cloth and spices to wrap the body of Jesus before leaving him in the tomb. Why was what Mary did necessary?
This anointing prepared Jesus for burial. He told his followers that the poor would always be among them but they wouldn’t have him for much longer. His time had come.
His time had come.
Where were the disciples when the body of Jesus was prepared and placed in the tomb? They were scattered and afraid, gathering only in fear of being found. This was the only time that the disciples would have to see their Master prepared for burial. They would be hiding in fear in only a few days.
Jesus told his disciples to leave her alone. She is doing the exact thing that has been appointed to her. There was timing with the woman at the well. There was timing with the man blind since birth. There was timing with Lazarus.
There was timing in Mary pouring very expensive perfume on the feet of Jesus and wiping it with her hair. Mary surely had the best smelling hair in Bethany for all of Passover week.
What was the timing? The time for the Unblemished Lamb to be sacrificed for the sins of the world was at hand.
His time was at hand. Here are a couple more things from this pericope. Let’s deal with the statement that you will always have the poor among you.
Is Jesus directing that there will always be poor people? It this a predestined condition?
On the contrary, God wanted no poor among these Chosen People. All they need do was abide in his law and directives. The poor are one symptom of these people’s disobedience.
They tell us that we still live in a broken world. We are charged to help the least of these among us, but so long as the world lives by sin, we will have no shortage of people who need help.
The next item is about destroying evidence. Lazarus was getting more than 15 minutes of fame. He was the star attraction in Bethany. Many had seen him in the tomb. Many had seen him resurrected by Jesus. Many more came to see him and subsequently believed in Jesus because of this miracle.
If you walk on water, there is no evidence. Nothing got posted to Facebook or YouTube. But when you raise a man from the dead, that evidence is before you every day.
The man blind from birth that Jesus healed was also evidence, but evidently it didn’t meet the threshold that required his death. The religious leaders would just try to discredit this miracle, but a dead man who now lives was another story.
The religious leaders had already decided to kill Jesus and were trying to figure out how to do this and make it look legitimate. Now they decided they needed to destroy the evidence of his most recent miracle—Lazarus.
We don’t know if this happened. Non-biblical sources indicate that Lazarus and his sisters might have moved to Europe. But at this point in the gospel, Lazarus was a liability to those who would kill Jesus. The religious leaders needed to tie up some loose ends.
To wrap up:
Jesus has been prepared for burial.
The poor are an ongoing sign of the world’s brokenness.
The plot to kill Jesus now included a plan to tie up a loose end named Lazarus.
There is much more to come.