Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. 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.
But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.” He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.
“Leave her alone,” Jesus replied. “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.”
Meanwhile a large crowd of Jews found out that Jesus was there and came, not only because of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. So the chief priests made plans to kill Lazarus as well, for on account of him many of the Jews were going over to Jesus and believing in him.
When I was a boy I used to get very excited about the cup final and I would often try to imagine what it was like in the team hotel on the night before the match. Were they nervous or excited? Quiet or rowdy? Confident or pessimistic? And the most important question of all, were they looking forward to the biggest match of their lives or were they fearful and frightened by it?
In our Jesus story, we are with Jesus and his disciples the night before it all kicks off. Tomorrow he will march into Jerusalem, this will be the great climax, the big battle, the final countdown and this final peaceful Saturday night with friends is the night before his cup final. So is he looking forward to it or is he dreading it?
Jesus is staying in a ‘safe house’, the home of the odd little triplet of Lazarus and his two sisters Mary and Martha. Odd because it seems that none of them were married, very unusual in Jewish culture. Here we see Lazarus as the host, Martha as the hospitality provider and Mary as the worshipper. This is the scene of a previous great event when Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead. The memories of that, the anticipation of the great feast of the Passover and Jesus’s own feelings about what lay ahead were all floating heavily in the atmosphere as they sat around the table.
It is one of the most beautiful pictures of an individual offering a personal act of worship that we read about in Jesus’s story. Mary comes before Jesus, anoints his feet with costly perfume and then dries them with her hair. The room is silent in awe and wonderment, the air is filled with fragrance. Only the grumblings of Judas’s disturbed spirit breaks the mood.
There is a threefold act of devoted worship here. One, she kneels before Jesus; two, she offers an expensive gift and three, she dries his feet with her hair. This is devotion, worship and generosity. Together they form a three chord promise of love. I think it is this moment or this spirit of the devoted Mary which Andrew Lloyd Webber captures in his great ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ song:
I don’t know how to love him,
What to do, how to move him.
I’ve been changed, yes really changed,
In these past few days, when I’ve seen myself,
I seem like someone else.
There is a time to stride out and follow Jesus, to be an activist, a committed disciple. To walk in his footsteps along his road with courage and commitment in our heart. There is another time to sink onto our knees, to worship him, dry his feet and look deeply into his eyes. Activists like me often squeeze out these silent acts of worship, adoration and contemplation with our constant ‘doing’. ‘Busyness’ fills the space that is reserved for ‘beingness’.
When was the last time you fell on your knees in silence and in space before Jesus?
Help me to slow down.
To breathe deep,
And to fall on my knees.
To worship you in silence and stillness.
To be at your feet.