The Nard Perfume

March 2, 2008
日本キリスト教団 頌栄教会牧師 清弘剛生 Pastor Takao Kiyohiro, Shoei Church, Church of Christ, Japan
Translator M.A.F., Indiana, USA
John 12:1-8

1. With today's gospel reading the story of "Six Days Before The Passover" was read. The time of the Passover is when Jesus was crucified, so the story's setting is when Jesus' last hour is approaching moment by moment. It is the final week for Jesus. It is the last week, during which he will love the people, love the disciples, give himself totally, offer himself totally to God, and bring to completion the work of salvation entrusted to him by God the Father. According To The Gospel Of John, the next day Jesus will enter into Jerusalem where he will meet his fate.

Mary Did The Anointing

2. Thus, with the hour of his death fast approaching, there were people wanting so much to meet with Jesus, which [include] the sisters Mary and Martha and their brother Lazarus, found in chapter eleven. In chapter eleven and verse five the text says of them that "Jesus loved Martha, her sister and Lazarus."

3. Jesus was already being searched for as a named suspect by the Jewish authorities. In the previous chapter that we read for today it is written, (11:57), "The chief priests and the Pharisees issued an order that [people] report the whereabouts of Jesus if known [to them] so that they might arrest Jesus." In fact, till just before this, he had kept himself concealed in the towns of Ephraim far away from Jerusalem. At last, Jesus began to walk more and more towards Jerusalem. When one comes to Bethany, Jerusalem is just about right in front of your eyes and nose. As they were in a tense and crisis situation, the disciples must have called to mind the words that the Lord had once spoken [to them], "The good shepherd gives up his life for the sheep." When we look at another gospel account, the Lord was speaking about his [forthcoming] passion quite openly. Yes, he did; everybody must have truly sensed that "that hour" about which Jesus was speaking was probably fast approaching.

4. Yet, nobody spoke of it at the dinner table. Nobody touched upon it. They were probably afraid to. They probably didn't want to face it. They probably didn't want to admit it. They probably did not want to hear it twice, for instance, the messages Jesus spoke openly about his death. As usual, preparations for the meal went on, but still nobody would speak anything about going into Jerusalem the next day. Martha waited on them [as hostess] as usual. Lazarus also was seated at the table as usual. It was an evening supper with Jesus which had been done so many times before this. It was going on normally like it was nothing. -- It was unnatural. For it to be a normal typical meal was truly unnatural. But, though it was so unnatural as that, everybody wore only an empty face as if nothing.

5. But yet there was one person alone among them there, one person who could not endure the unnaturalness. It was Mary. Each time Jesus came over, it was Mary who sat at his feet and listened to his words with all her heart. What was Jesus thinking about? What did Jesus desire? It was Mary who listened the hardest to know. Thus, she understands. In accordance with the will of the Father, this One has come willingly to Jerusalem. In obedience to the will of the father he was ready to offer up his life completely on our behalf. Mary was understanding this. So, she could not endure the unnatural quiet, the smoothed over silence.

6. She made a move. All of a sudden, Mary made a move that most any one would find shocking. Jesus was seated at the dinner table, and when she appeared to him with a very expensive perfumed oil of pure nard, she applied it to Jesus' feet and then wiped his feet with her hair. As long as [somebody] wasn't a prostitute, things like [a woman] unfastening [her] hair in the presence of company and wiping [some man's] feet with [her] hair just wasn't done. [But] there was Mary in disregard for her own appearance before others. What's more, Mary brought a jar with one Roman pound's worth in it, which is equivalent to about three hundred and thirty grams. That alone would come to three hundred denarii. This three hundred denarii would be equivalent to the income that an adult man would earn working an entire year. I think we can see how expensive it was.

7. And that's not all. When we see Judas going on about "Why didn't she donate [the money for it] to the poor?," obviously she did not apply just a little of it, nothing was left of it. She poured all of it completely out [on Jesus]. When we look at another gospel account, the text there says, she "poured it out on Jesus' head," not his feet, (Mark 14:3). It was both his head and feet. Did she end up pouring it out all over his body, I wonder? Either way, one did not usually use a pound of perfumed oil in one sitting because when it's for putting on a fragrance, a couple drops would be enough. But when you go all out to use it like that, -- then it is time for a burial. That's right; all of a sudden, Mary had initiated an act resembling the burial of a corpse.

8. The calm mood that everybody had built up so hard was completely demolished because Mary's actions clearly pointed to the one thing that everybody was looking away from. [It pointed to] Christ's passion and death. "Jesus, you are saying that you intend to give your life away for the sheep, right?" The wordless actions of Mary were saying that to Jesus.

9. But, there was a man there who absolutely did not want to admit or even think about that. He was Judas Iscariot. That's right. He had followed this character named Jesus at risk to his life and giving up his home. This [Jesus] was the very messiah. He was the one who was supposed to be the king. He was supposed to become the ruler. [Judas] had followed him believing these things. All the other disciples must have been the same way. Therefore, the topic of "Who is the greatest?" among the disciples never died out. For, it, as it was, lead to permutations of the hour when Jesus would become king. Thus, since Jesus is the one who is supposed to become the king, that Jesus is going to die is a bunch of nonsense! This thing about Jesus' burial is nonsense! They all must have thought that way.

10. So, Judas takes her to task over it; yet, completely leaving out the reasoning related to the death of Jesus. Judas said, "Why didn't you sell this perfume for three hundred denarii and donate it to the poor?" However, Jesus rebukes Judas for saying that and said, "Leave the one who did this be because she has kept it in reserve for the day of my burial. The poor will always be with you, but I will not always be with you," (verse seven).

11. Jesus had understood it. Mary had not said one word in this scene. She did not offer up one word of explanation of why she had done this. Yet, Jesus had understood Mary's intentions. Indeed it might be more accurate to say that Jesus and Mary had understood each other. It was Mary who had come face to face in an honest way with Christ's passion and had understood Jesus being willing to offer up his own life completely because he loved God the Father and he loved people. Also, Jesus understood Mary being like that.

Judas And Mary

12. Well, The Gospel According To John deliberately brings up the names, Judas and Mary. From the contrastive figures of these two we are given something to re-think about in our day-to-day faith lives.

13. Judas said, "Why didn't you sell this perfume for three hundred denarii and donate it to the poor?" It was indeed just as Judas had said it. Had [we] the three hundred denarii, how much [we] could have helped the poor! This statement was filled with good intentions. Nobody could argue against it. However, The Gospel According To John continues with the following words. "He had said this not because he had cared for the poor," (verse six). [I'm] pierced in the heart by that statement. Don't you feel it for sure the way it is said? We mouth words of good intentions. "On his behalf." "On her behalf." "For society." "For the people suffering." "For you." But is it really that way? The scripture is saying that when Judas said, "For the poor," he didn't care anything about the poor.

14. So, for whom did he care? Was it for Christ? No, that's not the answer. The Bible goes on to speak as follows. "For, he was a robber, and while he was taking charge of the purse, he was falsifying its contents." What he cared about was not the poor. Nor was it the Christ. It says it was himself. [It says he cared for] the moneybag of the group of the disciples of Christ. In saying that "he was falsifying its contents," it is saying, namely that, he was using the group of the disciples of Christ for his own profit. It is saying that he had used [his] being with Christ as one of the disciples of Christ for his personal advantage.

15. I think the guy did something nonsensical, ridiculous. But still then, what about us? We'll make money by using the church. We'll use it for money-making. Nobody may think out loud like that. But, [we do somehow think:] "What use is the Christian faith to me?" "What good does coming to church bring me?" "Will what I get balance out after laying out the train fare and coming to church?" "What good do I get from having to deal with other church members?" In a manner like that, haven't you been in that mode where you calculate how something in your church life will effect advantages and disadvantages to you? And haven't you ever thought if I belong to Christ's fold, then if I don't get any kind of benefit from it, then it is a liability? The figure of Judas overlaps with us in parts like that.

16. But, Mary was different. If we're thinking various things about "What will we gain from it?", then if Mary, she would probably have the following to say to us: -- We've already received enough. Haven't we received more than enough from Jesus? We are loved and loved by Jesus, and loved to the extent that he has even shared his life with us. Have we not received more than enough from Jesus, who even gave his life unsparingly?

17. Yes, indeed, and it was Mary as found in this text who had truly seen this fact [about Jesus]. Mary must not have ever thought at all about the personal gains and the losses from following Jesus. She just rejoiced in the fact that she was loved by Jesus. What she was thinking about was looking directly face to face with the Christ who had loved her so much that he gave even his own life, and unsparingly at that, and how to respond with all her might with her love to Christ's love. With Judas nearby thinking about how to extract money from the purse belonging to the group of disciples, Mary had given a response with all her might to Jesus' heart and mind, and as she pointed to the passion of Jesus, she poured out the perfume's three hundred denarii in its entirety.

18. The Lord's Supper table which is placed before us, with the bread and the cup on it, is pointing out to us today this love from Christ, in which he unsparingly gave his life, which Mary at that time had stared at, not averting her gaze from it. We must not avert our gaze from it either. We are loved by Christ. We are fully loved [by him]. With the love revealed on the cross, Christ has also touched us today as well. From that point our own church lives will begin anew and afresh. Church life comes into form as a life practice in which we respond with love from us to Christ's love for us.