It was a sinking feeling in my stomach.
I was in Junior High and played football, so I would dress out for football once I was in school when we had morning practices. My wallet was fat with the money I’d saved and was looking forward to spending it after school. My back pocket bulged with my wallet and I thought nothing of putting my jeans in the locker in the gym when I put on my practice uniform.
When practice was over and I was all showered up and back to my presentable self, I opened my locker to a strange sight. It caused a sinking feeling in my stomach. One of my teammates decided they needed my money more than I did and what I had valued so much was gone.
I cut many lawns to get that money and now, it felt, many lawns would stand between me and getting that much again. It was a horrible feeling.
When we value something, we tend to hold on to it tightly—with our minds if not literally with our hands. With white-knuckled efficiency, we’ll defend what’s ours. But what happens if something comes along you consider more valuable? Is a “bird in the hand” really “worth more than two in the bush” if you can reach the bush and get the birds?
Would you be willing to give away what you like in favor of what you love?
If your answer is “yes,” then you understand where Mary is coming from in our passage today: John 12:1-11.
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.John 12:1-11
New International Version
Here at Bethany, Jesus is attending a social event. The celebration was muted—somber even—as the dark clouds of the impending march into Jerusalem move closer. It was Saturday evening and the next day would be the triumphal entry we now call Palm Sunday.
Martha is serving while Lazarus is one of the guests. The celebration was to honor Jesus. Although we will look at this in much greater detail when we get to the Last Supper beginning in John 13, in Biblical times, Jewish people did not sit at our European-style dining room tables with tall chairs. They were lying on pillows propped up on their left elbows, eating with their right hands, with their feet facing away from the table.
Into this panorama walks Mary, the doubtful sister of Lazarus who now believes in the Son of God. Without fanfare or drawing extra attention to herself—without saying a word—Mary takes a pint of pure nard and pours it on Jesus’ feet. Then, she wipes the Savior’s feet with her own hair.
When Judas complains, he informs us this expensive perfume was worth a year’s wages. As of 2022, the average income in the U.S. is $51,168. This was the value of the perfume poured on the feet of Jesus by Mary.
Mary didn’t say, “I’ll give you this expensive perfume if you ask me to, Jesus.” Nor did she say, “I’ll give you this expensive perfume if you do this for me, Jesus.” No. She poured it out as a great act of worshipful devotion and humility. Then she wiped His feet with her own hair.
We wouldn’t do that today and our feet are covered most of the day and cleaned daily. The feet of a man in the time of Jesus would have been sandaled, filthy, calloused, and cracked from years in the harsh conditions of the Near East. The lowest of slaves touched someone’s feet with a towel, but Mary touched it with her most extravagant perfume and her own hair.
Judas’ criticism of Mary wasn’t just because he didn’t understand what she was doing. He didn’t care what she was doing, quite frankly, but he would rather ridicule and rebuke her than see the beauty of her heart and life poured out to the Master.
It’s easy to measure our sacrifice, but Mary was simply emptying herself out to Him.
When Mary poured out this sacrifice to the King of kings, the religious people would say, “It was too much” because the cost was too great for them.
If you’re counting the cost, you don’t understand His worth.
The crowd was busy watching the created instead of the Creator while the Chief Priests were planning a lynching. But Mary…Mary understood His value and calculated His worth as immeasurable and worthy of everything she had and more.
How valuable is Jesus to you?
Will you give up what you like for the One you love?
If we’re honest, there’s bound to be something for which we say, “No…I won’t give that up Lord.” But you know what? That’s the very offering He wants.
Pour it out on Him. Pour out your life—without measure—because He is worthy.