Lounging, Lunch and Lavishing
It is important in our understanding of the Gospel of John that we understand where we are, at any given time, in terms of chronology. As we approach chapter 12, we are actually entering the last week of Jesus’ life here on earth. It is a long roll-out. About half of John’s gospel drills down on this brief period of time. It begins with his return to Bethany (The house of affliction) and a sort of post-reanimation courtesy call with Lazarus: Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. ~John 12:1
Once more with Lazarus. I am curious as to how that conversation might have gone down between him and Jesus. You’ve been brought back from paradise to grind it out once more in the house of affliction. You’ve already gone through the crisis and pain of dying. Do you suppose Lazarus might have been just a little curious as to why he was chosen for the lead role in this miracle?
We’ll never know. But what we do know is that the boys were lounging at the table chatting about something when the paragon of hostesses decides to throw a party: Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. ~John 12:2
The sisters had to be relieved. In that day and time and in that culture, Lazarus was most likely the breadwinner. Not only had the girls been overwrought at the loss of their brother, the practical matter of just how they were going to get by had to be at the forefront of their thoughts. The resurrection of Lazarus fixed that. Martha showed her love with food. That was her love language. Mary? Well, Mary demonstrated her gratefulness with an act that is still celebrated in high church traditions to this day: Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. ~John 12:3
Mary would have fit right in with modern, holistic types. She was using an essential oil called nard, or spikenard which comes from a flowering plant of the Valerian family. It mostly grows in the high mountains of the Himalayas above 10,000 feet. Besides its lovely fragrance, it was used to treat a number of ailments and to sooth those experiencing anxiety. We might assume Jesus had a bit of that going on. And, as we’ll soon see – Mary has just spent a significant amount of her family’s retirement with this lavish undertaking. She did it for a number of reasons. She was grateful to have her brother back. And, she was performing a sacrificial act of worship. But mostly, she was engaging in a bit of prophetic enactment. Nard was often used to anoint the body of one being prepared for burial. With this trinity of motivations, Mary gave back to Jesus the unconditional love he had given her. She would be with him both in and after death.