We’re all familiar with the story of Mary kneeling at the feet of Jesus, breaking open an expensive bottle of nard, and anointing his head and feet. We can imagine her kissing his feet and wiping them with her hair. And it’s easy to imagine the indignation of Judas, muttering behind his hand that this valuable ointment has been wasted; that it should have been sold and distributed to the poor!
Reading hurriedly, we can completely overlook the grace and the humanity behind the biblical story. John’s Gospel explains the event occurs in the home of Simon the Leper. Apparently, this is a man who has been healed by Christ, otherwise, he would still be living in exile at the city gate with all the other leprosy victims. So the dinner is hosted as a measure of thanks from a leper whose life has been restored by Christ. Nearby at the very same table sits Lazarus. Only weeks before, Lazarus had dead for more than three days. This was no near death experience: more seriously, it was a near decay experience until Jesus came and restored life to a corpse.
What an magical and emotional moment! It’s the week of Passover, an ancient ritual with profound meaning to the Jews. Christ is in the room, in spite of the fact that everyone in town knows the long knives are out for this man! There’s an ex-leper in the room, not to mention an ex-corpse. What’s shocking here is not that Mary falls down in awe and worship! What’s astonishing is that she’s the only one who does: the only person in the room who sees the loving hand of God in all of this drama!
How can it be that people who have heard the same teachings, have seen the same miracles, and have experienced the same character can respond to Jesus in such radically different ways? Mary listens and falls down to worship. Judas objects indignantly and skulks away to betray the Son of God. How can you explain this?
Simply put, some people are ruled by their faith while others are ruled by their fears. Mary was looking for truth when she met Jesus; Judas followed only because he was afraid he was missing out on something. Mary had dared to leave the kitchen and sit with the men during an earlier visit by Christ, because she was hungry for God. Judas betrayed the man friend who loved him most because he was eager for some money, afraid of missing his chance. Anger is generally rooted in fear, not compassion.
Proverb 4:23 instructs us, “Above all, guard your heart for it is the wellspring of life.” Your life flows directly from your heart. People of faith are constantly compared to children in the Bible because faith softens the heart, makes it tender, and allows for childlike joy and wonder. Unbelief makes us fearful, hardens our hearts, and imprisons the little child who lives inside each of us.
Mary’s heart was still tender and teachable. She could not miss the glory of God that seemed to hang in the air as she watched Jesus conversing with men he’d made whole. For Judas, his fears were misplaced. While he worried about what his future might hold, the sins of the present blocked his ears, blinded his eyes, and poisoned his heart. He was looking God in the eye, but all he could see was his own reflection. Be careful how you hear, indeed.
Guard your heart. And lift up the Cross!
To hear the surprising message that inspired this blog, click here. For the details of Mary’s act of worship, read John 12.