12Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 2There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. 3Mary 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. 4But 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.) 7Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. 8You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.” 9When 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. 10So the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death as well, 11since it was on account of him that many of the Jews were deserting and were believing in Jesus.
Oremus online text: http://bible.oremus.org/?passage=John+12:1-11&vnum=yes&version=nrsv
Textweek general resources for this Sunday: http://www.textweek.com/yearc/lentc5.htm
Textweek resources for John’s Gospel this week: http://www.textweek.com/mkjnacts/jn12a.htm
Chris Haslam’s commentary: http://montreal.anglican.org/comments/archive/clnt5l.shtml
Infinite is your compassion, O God, and gracious the pardon that Jesus, the Teacher, offers to every sinner who stands before him. Gladden our hearts at the word that sends us on our way in peace; and grant that we, who have been forgiven so much, may embrace as brothers and sisters every sinner who joins us at this feast of forgiveness. We ask this through Christ, our peace and our reconciliation the Lord who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.
From Prayers for Sunday and Seasons, Year C, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.
A Few Thoughts
Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 2There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him.
We are taking a break from the Lukan journey to the cross this week in Lent as we pause for special material out of the Johanine chronicle of Jesus’ last days. Here we have a meal; probably Saturday evening after the Sabbath has ended (as in John’s Gospel that is from Friday to Saturday). It could in fact be the traditional meal to end Sabbath – the Habdalah. Furthermore, we are told the meal is taking place in the town of Bethany identified with the raising of Lazarus.
3Mary 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.
The perfume used for the anointment is myron which is a generic form made from nard rather than from myrrh. Nard is mixed with oil from the storax shrub to create an ointment. All this is to say in the accounts by both Mark and John we should be careful of going too far with the idea of the gifts of the magi being gifts of this type of oil.
4But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him)
Judas is identified in scripture as the son of Simon. A little family tree from the New Testament scholar J. N. Sanders places Jesus in the house of Simon the leper. Simon the leper is father to his eldest son Judas Iscarot, Lazarus whom Jesus raised, and then Mary and Martha. Sanders describes Judas as a “masculine Martha gone wrong!” (As quoted in Raymond Browne, Anchor Bible, v 29, p 448)
4But Judas 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.)
If we remember that one denarri was a day’s wage. We then can do a little biblical math to understand that 300 silver pieces or denarri is indeed a great sum. This means that we have a lot of money being spent on the anointing. As Browne puts it, “this was a pound of expensive perfume indeed.” (448) It is fascinating to think about the amount of bread this could really have purchased. Interesting comparisons on the amount can be found here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Denarius Today in U. S. Dollars a worker earning minimum wage would earn about $58 and when we multiply that as equal to 1 Denarri we have: $17,400.
7Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial.
There is some debate about this piece of scripture as Mary has no role in the embalming of Jesus.
8You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.” 9When 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. 10So the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death as well, 11since it was on account of him that many of the Jews were deserting and were believing in Jesus.
This is of course a quote from scripture, a paraphrase of Deuteronomy 15:11: “Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, ‘Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land”
So what do we make of the passage? Certainly John is leaning on a synoptic tradition that many scholars believe he had some access to, specifically Mark’s Gospel. While there is much debate about whether John and the synoptics are describing the same scene, this seems somewhat to miss John’s unique message in the scene along the way to Jerusalem with Jesus’ face set as a flint towards his prophetic death and resurrection.
Furthermore we can get caught up in the issues that arise from overly criticizing the texts and trying to figure out why Mary isn’t at the burial of Jesus for the anointing, and if she was to save some, why doesn’t she? These questions lead us in a different direction.
It is my belief that we have here THE anointing for his burial. That the tender moment described, and completely missed by Judas and so many of us on our first reading, is that this is in fact Jesus’ anointing and preparation for death. That is it happening in this moment at Simon’s house where his children, raised from the dead, the doers, the prayers, and the rebels all gather together for a meal. All nature of follower of Jesus is here and they are all witnessing a most powerful and incredibly intimate moment. This is as Raymond Browne writes, “the culminating expression of loving faith.”
I am always moved by this story when we reach this moment in our Lenten journey. In part because I find my senses have been tuned to a great devotion of our Lord, and so I am truly touched and begin to look myself to our Holy Week time and veneration of the glorious cross; not out of a sense of rehearsing the past but out of a truly contrite heart’s desire to give thanks for the grace and love Jesus expresses for us.
The moment of anointing stands in stark contrast to the backdrop of a Gospel very rarely focused on Jesus. In John’s Gospel we are constantly being reminded that all of this is for us and for the Glory of God. His goal is the restoration of creation. His work is to reorient our eyes upon God and to direct our prayers to his father who is in heaven. So here in this moment is John and the synoptics give us a glimpse into what our glorious and venerable worship of Jesus might indeed be like were we to observe it with the faith of Mary.
Let us not forget Judas though; it is as he points out an extravagant moment when tremendous amounts of wealth are being literally poured upon a man’s feet. But let us take a few steps back theologically and look at the whole testimony of scripture. We must remember Jesus’ connection of himself with the poor from the Gospel of Matthew, 25.31ff:
34Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ 37Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 40And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’
We should mix the two passages and be reminded that Jesus is with us always in the poor. And that we have an opportunity to anoint the poor with service in such an extravagant manner, not unlike Mary in the anointing of Jesus. How would our towns and cities be changed if we through our great devotion to Jesus Christ, anointed the poor with fine oil?
The Lambeth Bible Study Method
This Bible study method was introduced by the African Delegation to the Lambeth Conference of the Anglican Church. It is known by both names: "Lambeth" and "African." This method is derived from the practice of Lectio Divina. The entire process should take about 30 minutes.
Question #5: "Briefly identify where this passage touches their life today," can change based upon the lesson. Find lesson oriented questions at this website: http://www.dcdiocese.org/word-working-second-question
Opening Prayer: O Blessed Lord, who caused all Holy Scripture to be written for our learning. Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them that we may embrace and hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
1. One person reads passage. This person then invites a member of the group to begin the process.
2. Each person briefly identifies the word or phrase that catches their attention then invites another person to share.
3. Each shares the word or phrase until all have shared or passed using the same invitation method.
4. The passage is read a second time, preferably from a different translation. The reader then invites a person in the group to begin the process.
5. Each person briefly identifies where this passage touches their life today, and then invites someone who has not shared yet.
6. The passage is read a third time, also from another translation, and the reader invites a person to start the process.
7. Each person responds to the questions, "What does God want me to do, to be or to change?"
8. The group stands up in a circle and holds hands. One person initiates the prayer “I thank God today for …” and “I ask God today for…” The prayer goes around the circle by squeezing the hand to your right.
9. When the circle is fulfilled, the person who initiated the prayer starts the Lord’s Prayer, “Our father…”