John 12:1-8
Judas And Mary

Authored By Rev. Takao Kiyohiro, Tokyo, Japan

1. It says in the text, "Six days before the Passover."  When Jesus was crucified, it was [during the week of] the Passover festival.  This short phrase shows us that Jesus' death was getting closer by the hour.  The command had already gone out from the authorities to "report on the whereabouts of Jesus if you know where he is."  Jesus appeared in the village of Bethany under such tense conditions.  It was barely three kilometers from Jerusalem.  When it comes to recklessness, this act was it.  But, knowing that his death was right around the corner, Jesus went on to Bethany any way and wanted to sup with the believers there.

2.  When Jesus arrived in Bethany, he went to Lazarus' house like he always did.  The evening meal was prepared and Martha was serving it.  So far the scene was the same as usual.  But, then something unexpected happened.  All at once, Mary the younger sister of Martha, so simple and pure as she was, appeared with some very expensive perfumed oil of nard and applied the oil to Jesus' feet, then she began wiping his feet with her hair.  The oil of nard, as the text says later, was a high priced item amounting to three hundred denarii for about one liter or three hundred and thirty grams.  The three hundred denarii corresponded to about a whole year's wages.  Mary didn't just apply a little bit of this expensive oil to Jesus' feet, she probably poured out every last bit of it onto his feet.  We know that from Judas' statement afterwards.

3.  The whole house was filled with the aroma of the perfume.  It was really a strange sight to see.  Everyone must have felt that what Mary did was clearly absurd.  Judas criticized her by saying, "Why didn't you sell this oil for three hundred denarii and donate it to the poor?"  His opinion was very much in accordance with the expectations of society.  But, Jesus quietly put off Judas' statement and spoke as follows: "Let her keep doing it.  Because she took it and put it on me for the day of my burial."  Of course, Mary did not consciously take and put the oil of nard on Jesus for his burial.  But, at the least, Mary had seemed to understand that Jesus was on his way to his death.  I think Jesus was acknowledging that.  Then he went on to say, "The poor will always be with you, but I won't always be with you."

4.  This is today's story.  So, what are these figures that we see here of Judas, Mary, and Christ saying to us?

Judas Iscariot

5.  First, let's listen to the statement from Judas.  He said, "Why didn't you sell this oil for three hundred denarii and donate it to the poor?"  Of course, all the disciples who were there surely felt the same way.  A parallel account of this but in a quite different form is given in The Gospel According To Matthew, there the text says that "The disciples saw this, became angry and said...," (Matthew 26:6-13).

6.  The words, "[Give it] to the poor!," are full of good will.  Nobody objects to that.  But, when we ask the question do words laden with good will always come from sincere motives, the answer is not necessarily always so.  Sadly enough, often times there is hypocrisy lying in the shadows of the good will among us sinful humans and there are impure motives hidden within the shadows of our zeal.  Although they said, "for the poor" but in all reality Judas [wouldn't have done any such thing] and neither would have the disciples, especially as you ask them, Hey, are you making less than that kind of sacrifice for the poor yourself?  Jesus said, "The poor will always be with you."  For those who know their scripture, they should have sensed immediately that this comes straight out of the OT book of Deuteronomy.  In Deuteronomy chapter fifteen and verse eleven it reads, "There will never be a time when there are no poor in this country.  Therefore, I command you this.  Open your hands wide to your fellow countrymen who dwell in this land and to the poor who suffer in their day to day living."  This was written as the proper thing for Jews to do.  That's how it was for them.  The opportunity to always express their good will in their works was made for them.  It wasn't a one time thing either.  But, if you ask did they always do things that way, the answer is not necessarily.  The phrase of "The reason he said this was not because he cared for the poor" sticks us in our own hearts.  Actually, when we drop words filled with good will like "[Give it] to somebody else!," most of the time we could care less about the other person.

7.  But you know it wasn't just a simple little problem of hypocrisy.  The Bible goes on to tell us something dreadful.  [The reason Judas said this] "was because as he was a thief and had charge of the purse he falsified its contents," (verse six).  Judas did not only not pay a sacrifice himself; he used his association with Jesus and the disciples for his own personal gain.  And though it has been exposed to us in Judas in such a clear way, I would have to say it was the same way with each and every other disciple, whose names are not given here in the text.  Furthermore, it was the same way with the audience that surrounded them.  And when all is said and done, all they thought about was their own good, the fulfillment of their own desires and the satisfaction of their own requests.  They had only been trying to use Jesus for that.  And I'd have to say that this is a universal problem among humanity that transcends all times.

8.  Nowadays we frequently hear debates about "Is religion necessary for humans?"  We are likely to hear a statement like, "Religion in its true definition is supposed to be beneficial to a person and the kind of religion that only brings harm to people is wrong."  But, is it right for us to discuss religion with such an anthropocentric focus as this?  Yet, we do talk like this in the church after all.  We don't even realize it, do we? -- when we are only thinking about whether Christianity is useful for me, whether the church is profitable for me, whether believing in God will bring me happiness, or whether there will be something good for me by attending Sunday services.  If that's what we think, then even though we might not actually be taking from the church's purse, then for us the way Judas is hits home.  What we see in Judas is but our own sin.  Even if we tidy up the surface with [a little] piety and good deeds, when we don't think of others or God, but only think of ourselves, the figure of our sinful selves, the way we really are so deeply sinful, is right there.

Mary Of Bethany

9.  Jesus kept going steadfastly right to the cross just for us though we are the way we are with our ugly human expectations and sin.  The Lord intended to present himself to the Father God and to present his life for the redemption of all of our human sins.  Christ was about to surrender his own life so that sinners such as us would be forgiven and that we who were spiritually dead would live a new life.  Along this such a road there was this scene.  The Lord once said this, "I am the good shepherd.  The good shepherd surrenders his life for his sheep," (John 10:11), and then he proceeded down that road just as he said.  When you think about it, those disciples and we, too, are sheep not worth giving up one's life for.  When seen from human eyes alone the actions of Jesus could be considered quite foolish at that.  But, not so for Jesus, for him it meant "love in action."  Jesus gave it all up just for God and humanity.  As foolish as it truly [seemed], his act of love was to pay a self sacrifice.

10.  There was a woman who had been touched by this love Jesus had.  It was Mary.  It wasn't clear how specifically Mary had understood Jesus' plans or if she did at all.  But, at the least, it looks for sure that she wasn't only thinking about "how being with Jesus might serve her own purposes."  Mary had been staring at Jesus.  Then she saw the love of Jesus, who was ready to sacrifice his all.  She was touched by this love of Christ so ready to give even his life.  Therefore, Mary sacrificed all she could.  Compelled by no one, without expecting anything in return, only in response to Christ's love, she hoped to give a sacrifice of her all.  Was that foolish of her?  The act itself may certainly have been foolish.  However, it was, unmistakably, Mary's whole hearted response to the Lord's love and sincerity, which she was doing out of her own love and sincerity.

11.  The one who could see the truth the most [and who seemed the most sincere] was not Judas with his pedantic air, nor the other disciples either, but none other than Mary.  The ones who seemed to be able to see but didn't were Judas and the disciples.  Why couldn't they see the Lord's love and sincerity?  It was because Jesus was not the focus of their perspectives, but self was; [their focus] was only anthropocentric.  A human centered way of seeing and a self centered way of seeing will unfortunately not be able to see the truth of God or the truth of Christ so near though he may be to us.

12.  What in the end will have become of Judas, who could only regard the existence of the church for his own benefit?  He would soon end up selling Christ.  The money [Judas received] was thirty silver coins, which was by far less than the worth of the perfumed oil that Mary poured out.  If we keep being like Judas was, even though we are by Jesus' side for a while, we will soon come to the point of giving up Jesus in exchange for only a little.  On the other hand, if we regularly keep our eyes on Jesus and turn to the word of the Lord and the figure of the Lord, then just like Mary we will know the Lord's love and sincerity, love Jesus, and be transformed into his followers.

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