One of the ways you can tell how important something is to someone is by the attention they give to it. The life of Jesus between his infancy to his young adult has only one short story (when his parents lost him at the temple). After that we have the “silent years” until his public ministry which he started around thirty years old. And of those three years, the lion’s share of space is given by the Gospel writers to the last week of his earthly life.
The reason I say this is because it’s especially true for John’s Gospel. Chapters 12 through 21—almost half the book--is devoted to this period, his last week on earth. Apparently he thought this was pretty important, so I think we should too.
We went into Jesus’ relationship with the family at Bethany before, so I won’t belabor the point. I'd like to point out that he wanted to spend some time with his good friends before all the events of the next week. They didn’t know it, but this was going to be the last time they saw him for a long time.
The family didn’t know this, but Mary acted out of an instinct which was more appropriate than she knew. Most of the time Jesus didn’t get anywhere close to the devotion he deserved. He walked among us, and because the veil of his humanity successfully hid his innate glory, very few people had any real understanding of who he was. But Jesus had given Mary her brother back, and she was going to show her devotion for him in the only way she knew.
By the way, did you notice what Martha was doing while this was going on? Serving everyone. Seems like a pattern. I know we (rightfully) give her some grief over what happened in Luke 10:38-42, but quite frankly we could stand some more people who were more like her. I know I could stand to imitate her more at times. I know that Mary’s the main hero here, but I think John mentioned Martha in passing to make sure she got her due.
If Mary’s the hero here, it’s not difficult to pick out the villain, right? Just on a side-note, this indicates to us just how egregious Judas was. The treasurer was a trusted place of responsibility, and he abused that trust. He wasn’t the first to cynically use “the poor” as a cloak to hide a bad agenda, and he certainly wasn’t the last. If someone invokes “the poor,” don’t take that at face value.
Does this story mean that Jesus didn’t care about the poor? Of course not. He was poor, or at least lower middle class. This is the same God who gave multiple warnings to not abuse the poor and to help them when we can. In fact, you’d be hard-pressed to find a section of Scripture (the Law, the Historical books, the prophets, the Gospels, the Epistles, etc.) that doesn’t exhibit God’s concern for those who can’t support or defend themselves.
But in this special instance, the priorities were right. Jesus would be dead within a week, and then in under two months would ascend back to his Father’s side. If they wanted to show personal devotion to him, it'd have to be now. They wouldn’t have time to bury him properly on the actual day of his death (with the Sabbath approaching), and then after that the point would be moot (what with the Resurrection and all).
But this was a special case, and we can’t use it as an excuse to ignore the physical needs around us. We need to approach these needs biblically--and no, that does not usually mean we just hand them money--but we can’t ignore them either.
I just love the last point that John makes in today’s passage, don’t you? Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead in front of hundreds of witnesses. As a result, lots of people were coming to faith in him. So what was the response of the religious leaders? Kill Lazarus as well as Jesus. Um, sure. That’ll work. Yeah.
There’s not one big application that I notice here, just a few small ones. I think they’re pretty clear, or at least I hope so.
Father God, I need to be more like your Son, specifically a servant’s heart. When I contemplate what he gave up and what he went through, I realize that I have no rights. None. Only a need for gratitude.