April 3, 2022
Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. 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.
But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?” (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.) Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”
When the great crowd of the Jews learned that he was there, they came not only because of Jesus but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead.
So, the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death as well, since it was on account of him that many of the Jews were deserting and were believing in Jesus. ***
You are cordially invited to a dinner party!
Where: The home of Lazarus of Bethany
Hosts: Mary and Martha
When: After sunset, Saturday before Passover
Special Guests: Jesus and Lazarus
In Bethany, the small village on the eastern slopes of the Mount of Olives just outside Jerusalem, this was the invitation to have. The two hottest celebrities of the day would be there: Jesus the rabbi, and Lazarus the dead man walking. As word spread through the village, excitement grew. Everyone wanted to hear what Jesus had to say, and everyone wanted to shake the hand of Lazarus (and make sure it didn’t come off!)
Jesus always looked forward to being in the home of these friends. Lazarus and his sisters Martha and Mary were part of his inner circle. It was one of the few places he felt at home.
As the sun set on a busy Saturday and the Sabbath was ending, the dinner party began. The guests of honor were ready to relax and enjoy.
Martha brings the food out. It is beautiful and sumptuous. To increase the class of this event, Mary breaks out the family heirloom jar of perfume and anoints Jesus’ feet. The whole house begins to smell like bouquets of freesias.
It was unexpected that someone would use such a costly amount of perfume to clean someone’s feet. It was unexpected for Mary to offer this action, because usually it was men who anointed men.
But no matter, Mary lets down her hair — with all the cultural connotations of that expression — and anoints Jesus. He is so relaxed that he accepted the very expensive homage from Mary. He understood how grateful she and Martha felt for bringing their brother back to life. With good social order, he praised her act of love towards him. The fragrance of this act of gratitude now filled the house with beauty.
But the guests were finding other senses provoked. The anointing was a reminder of death — the action of burial preparation. Suddenly the fragrance in the room shifts. The other guests begin to look at each other with pensive expressions.
Then, the party turns dramatic when Judas, the contradictory character speaks up. “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?” He is one of Jesus’ disciples, and he is about to betray him. Judas’s motivation is revealed to all the guests.
His concern for the poor is merely a ruse to cover his own greed. He is a thief and betrayer. Jesus cannot let the party return to the earlier loveliness. Now he is compelled to counter the recalcitrant traitor:
“It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial.”
Jesus’ fame and popularity has never been wider, his stock market index is at an all-time high. The next day the crowds would be waving palm branches and hailing him as the Son of David. Why is he talking about dying this evening? There goes the party.
It is not the first time that he had said this, of course. Jesus had been quite explicit many times, but no-one had really understood. Or perhaps they, like us, were unwilling to receive disturbing news on the crumbling well-being of someone they loved.
It is hard to conceive that the people around Jesus could have misunderstood “…the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death; then they will hand him over to the Gentiles; they will mock him, and spit upon him, and flog him, and kill him; and after three days he will rise again.” (Mark 10:33–34)
But we should not think badly of the dinner guests and others for being slow to grasp it. It was a big concept. Even when it happened, they were still incredulous. The angel at the tomb on Easter morning had to remind them what Jesus had said, and the disciples on the road to Emmaus clearly had not gotten the hang of it properly.
But for Jesus, all comfy in the home of Lazarus, Martha and Mary, reclining at the table with his friends, his impending death was uppermost in his mind. It was as though he had been through a CT scan and the doctor had said, “I’m afraid it is terminal. You have six days to live. I’m sorry.”
Concentrates the mind somewhat.
So, Jesus is working on his bucket list. He has six days left in this body and still so much to do. It is touching that he made spending time with his friends such a priority.
In the week to come, Jesus would receive the adulation of a fickle crowd, overturn tables in the temple, teach his final lessons, eat supper with his disciples, pray in Gethsemane, be arrested, mocked, beaten and jeered at by that same fickle crowd, tried, found innocent and condemned anyway.
All this to accomplish the ultimate goal of his life — finding us. Dying as the reparation “the righteous for the unrighteous to bring you to God.” (1 Pet 3:18)
If you were told you had one week to live, what would be on your bucket list? Is there something for God that you would want to accomplish?
F. Rowland and R. Starling