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Love is Always Remembered

John 12:1-11


Something within the human psyche longs to be remembered by future generations. Maybe it is our way of avoiding the finality of death. Maybe is our way of inflating our sense of self-importance. Throughout history, people have built great structures in hopes of being remembered. The Egyptians built pyramids. Other civilizations built cities. Today we name our buildings after people who have accomplished great things. Presidents build libraries. The goal is to erect something of permanence out of brick and mortar, so that after the temporal, the flesh and bones, decay people of another era will remember.

Contrast this to the lasting memory of that one deed by a woman. No building bears her name. No book of the Bible is named after her. Yet, we remember this woman because of her act of love.

The event takes place six days before Passover. Six days before Jesus allowed the Romans soldiers to nail him to a piece of wood. Although no one could have predicted the future, the Twelve disciples and the people who were with Jesus knew that something was about to happen. John tells us just before this story (11:52) that Jesus could no longer travel in public. There was a plot to kill him.

Rumors may have been spreading throughout Jerusalem about him coming to the Passover celebration. This would not be unusual. Every Jew was expected to make a pilgrimage to the holy city for one of the major festivals. Jesus had not attended the Passover feast for two years. All the merchants remembered that visit. That was the first time he drove out the moneychangers. Anticipation may have been building. The people may have been asking themselves: would he show up again? What would he do this time? Could he be the Anointed One?

Let me ask you a parenthetical question. Where are your thoughts? As we approach the Passion Week during which we remember the suffering and death of our Lord, do you anticipate God doing anything in your life? Unfortunately, we become so accustom to the ordinary, the routine that our senses become dulled. Feelings of expectation, mystery, or anticipation evaporate. Unlike our celebration of Christmas, we do very little to kindle a sense of wonder in our preparation for Easter. What a shame? How ironic? We devote so little attention to an event we are told to remember every time we gather together and so much attention toward an event to which our Lord made no mention. As we begin to prepare for our celebration of Easter I would encourage you to dedicate extra time to reading the book of John about the events that led up to and including the Passion Week. Allow the narratives stir within you a sense of wonder? Allow the tension to build inside!

In the midst of all this tension Jesus visits Bethany. The city is located a few miles north of Jerusalem. This visit is strategic. It foils the plan of the Pharisees. They want to arrest him in private. They are afraid of the reaction of the crowds to a public arrest. I am struck by the difference in opinions between John and Luke toward the Pharisees. You may recall that I have previous said that Luke never associated them with the plot to kill Jesus. Here John directly accuses them. For me this shows the humanness of the accounts. Luke may have been friends with many Pharisees in the early church who had come to faith in Christ. He may not have wanted them to feel condemned for the actions of others.

Notice who else is attending the dinner- Lazarus. This is the same man who Jesus raised from the dead. He is also on the Pharisees hit list. Martha, Lazarus sister was also there but being true to her personality she was in and out of the kitchen serving everyone. The two sisters, Martha and Mary, should remind you of another story. Luke tells us that Martha became a little resentful when her sister Mary did not help with the kitchen duties. Mary just sat at the fee of Jesus and listened to him. Martha must have learned because this time she does not say anything to Jesus about her sister not helping.

There must have been a lot of motion in the house. People were going in and out of the room bringing food, others wanting to talk with Jesus may have been pushing their way through the crowd. In the midst of all this confusion Mary takes a jar of perfume and pours it on the feet of Jesus. Not just a few drops, but the whole bottle. Then she wipes his feet with her hair. The fragrance of the perfumed filled the room. Immediately everyone's attention was turned toward Jesus and Mary. Every recognizes that this is not cheap perfume. This fragrance was worth a year's wages. Judas objects, for the wrong reasons but others must have agreed with him. The act was excessive, it violated custom, it was undignified. What was she thinking? Why was she doing this?


Mary's foot washing should first be understood in light of everything else that was going on in Jerusalem. Remember it was six days before Passover. People from all across Israel were making their pilgrimage to Jerusalem to celebrate the most important feast of Judaism. Why? Because it was their custom. It was their habit. It was their duty. They came to offer a sacrifice because of their obligation to obey the law. God had become their impersonal taskmaster who was feared and obeyed. There was not love relationship. There was no gratitude.

Mary's act of gratitude is strikingly similar to another story. In Luke 7 Jesus is dining in the house of a Pharisee and a woman enters with a jar of perfume. Scholars speculate that this woman may have been Mary of Magdala. She begins to cry and her tears drip down on his feet. Using her hair she wipes them and then pours the perfume over them. This woman had a very questionable reputation. The host is stunned. How could a man of God allow such a woman to touch him? Jesus defends her because he recognizes that her tears flow from the sorrow of a repentant heart. The perfume is her gratitude of love.

I wonder if Mary is seeking to identify with this other Mary. I wonder if Mary of Bethany understands perhaps for the first time that she is no different than Mary of Magdala. In the eyes of God her reputation is just as marred. Whatever her reason she certainty displayed a gratitude of love.


Judas objects. They perfume could have been sold and used for other purposes. John tells us that Judas had ulterior motives for his objections but even so their are always people who try to disqualify another person's worship. In my study of human personality I have learned that people have preferences. Some are practical. They have a sixth sense towards being cost effective in everything they do. Whether it is shopping for food, clothes or a car, they are able to find a balance between the price and the quality and quantity. They always get their money's worth. They carry this over in their style of worship. They do not sing too loud or too soft. They object to songs played too fast or too slow. They prefer worship that is done in the true Presbyterian style of decently and in order.

In contrast their are the expressives. The value the exaggerated, the grand, the impractical. These types are often very artistic. They enjoy upbeat, lively excerbarant singing. They raise their hands in worship and pray out loud.

Both groups tend to criticize the other. They tend to discredit anything that does not fit their own style.

Jesus often affirmed the extravagant. He called Peter, James and John to leave their business, abandon their livelihood, put aside their entire way of life and follow him. He told the rich young rule to sell all that he had and to give everything to the poor. There was no loopholes. There was no itemized deductions. Jesus was not referring to his net income or adjusted income. He was talking about his gross income. He did not want 10% or 20% he wanted 100%.

Jesus could never accept a qualified response to discipleship. He never allowed for a conditional reply. He expected an unqualified, unconditional, extravagant act of love.

Recently there was a TV special discussing the contribution made by the rich and powerful to society. During one segment a Wall Street executive was comparing Mother Teresa to Michael Miliken. You may recall the Miliken was the junk bond king of the 80's who made money by not only financing multimillion dollar takeovers but also by illegally trading on inside information about those companies. Anyway, the report asked who has had a greater impact on humanity, Mother Teresa or Michael Miliken? When the Wall Street executive said Miliken I turned the TV off. I did not want to hear his rationalization. Miliken may have enhanced the fortunes of some but his manipulative behavior defraud thousands of other investors from profiting. Miliken also represents for me the greed of the 80s where profit rained supreme and the value of human life was sacrificed for bottom line economics.

When Mother Teresa would hold the head of a dying leper she did not think about the cost effectiveness of the deed. She only saw a human being who was alone and about to take his last breath. When Mother Teresa would feed the beggars of Calcutta she did not worry about the bottom line or maximizing profits, she worried about people who were starving. When Mary poured out the perfume she did not even think about how much it cost. It was impractical, maybe even irresponsible but that is what extravagant love is all about. Its never appreciated by the Wall Street types, its never understood by the sensible types. It never seems to have that great of an impact on all of humanity, it just touches one life at a time.


I also believe that Jesus appreciated the decisiveness of Mary's love. Jesus affirmed decisiveness. Hesitation, second guessing, renegotiate simple are absent from Jesus vocabulary. Jesus complimented people who considered the option, then made their choice and did not look back. There was no time to facilitate or reconsider. Don't look back, take a step of faith.

This attitude is dramatically illustrated in a parable entitled the Shrewd Manager. The story is about a man who has mismanaged his bosses accounts. Either through poor judgment or to receive bribes, he invested in business ventures that lost money. The owner calls the manage to his office. Knowing that he is about to get fired, the manager calls us of the owners accounts and reduces their debt. His hope is that someone will appreciate what he did and offer him another job. Jesus shocks everyone by seemingly praising the manage for his swindling behavior. However, our Lord's praise is not for his unscrupulous activity but for his decisiveness. The man could see what was going to happen to him. He had to act. He could not delay.

Jesus saw this in Mary. She acted on impulse. She did not hesitate. She did not ask for permission, she opened the bottle of perfume and poured.

How often do you respond with a decisive love. The thought may come to send a card to a friend who is lonely over the death of a relative. You may be thinking about inviting someone over for dinner, to tutor a child in school or care for the child of an unwed mother. Tragically we too often hesitate, or procrastinate. Imagine the impact we could make if we all wore bracelets that had the initials WWMD- what would Mary do.

Mary's love flowed from a heart of gratitude. It was extravagant in its express and decisive in its response. Her acts of love challenge are lethargic, meandering, half hearted commitment.

What would you what to be remember for? A great building or an act of love?

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