Truly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.
We are a funny race. Our way of thinking combines observations, logic, and emotion mixed with inner motivations, often very dark thoughts, until we decide to take action. Good people are motivated by good and kind thoughts, yet each of us knows the darkness that resides within us is quite capable of reacting out of jealousy, envy, hurt, anger, a sense of being slighted, or all of these plus an unforgiving spirit. The tipping point inevitably comes and most often it will come due to the hidden thoughts of our heart – anger and bitterness as opposed to love and kindness. Whichever we dwell on more will eventually spill out into words and actions.
These words above were spoken by Christ as Mary, the sister of Lazarus whom He had raised from the dead, poured an expensive perfume over His head. The disciples were at first indignant at the waste, and John mentioned specifically that Judas said, “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor?” Then John added the commentary that his concern was not for 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” (John 12:6). The words of Christ, however, seemed to be the final straw for Judas and then it was that he determined to betray Jesus, then it was that he went to the chief priests and asked for some payment from them for handing him over.
What a contrast! Mary in gratitude and love worshipped Christ lavishly. Earlier she had accused Jesus of a lack of love for her and her family, as He had lingered elsewhere while her brother was sick and dying. When Christ had come, too late it appeared, her words stung, “If you had been here my brother would not have died” (John 11:32). She had suffered the agony that the entire human race has felt at one time or another: Why must my loved one suffer? Why did God not heal my hurt or prevent my pain or calm the storm of my heart? Her human response was quite in keeping with our own experience. We know so little of God’s perspective and His timing, let alone the needs of those others around us, that we tend to only see God through our narrow and limited view of things. A child prays for sunshine that he may play while a farmer prays for rain that his crops might not fail. We are more often like the child than like the farmer.
Mary could not have known what God knew, when God’s timing was for Christ to come to Judea for one final time in His ministry. She only knew her brother lay dying. Her prayer was for her brother, but also for herself to some degree. She also had a limited view of what Christ could do, for when Lazarus had died and was placed in the tomb, her heart was defeated and she was devastated. No question that Mary was the more emotional of the two sisters. Martha was always seen serving and though she also accused Jesus of neglect with regard to her brother, she added the words of faith, “But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask” (John 11:22). From Mary’s lips, however, no such words had come. These two sisters with their differences represent extremes of human personalities: doers and feelers. They represent us all, and some of us at different times are either one or the other. The only thing these sisters could do, and the only thing we can do in our hurt, is to trust in three unchanging truths: (1) Christ shall ultimately triumph over all that opposes Him; (2) Christ shall use unpleasant experiences in the lives of His people to transform us; and (3) He will be with us always.
Judas believed none of these three. His initial enthusiasm for Christ and His mission had dissipated over time. The surprising insights that had sprung spontaneously from Christ’s mouth over those three years that had revealed His different way of perceiving life had not been believed and thereby understood by Judas. His own self interest had overruled his heart’s need for God. Truth became a casualty to his desire for money and power; stealing from the moneybag became more attractive than listening to the truth. We are not given a guided tour of Judas’ heart by the gospel writers, but had we had time to examine it we would probably have found a cacophony of selfish motives, imagined slights by Jesus, resentments over His rebukes, desires for self-glory and control – all of these raising their voices in his heart until the pure praise of others was just simply annoying.
Upon the resurrection of Lazarus, Mary’s love for Christ grew: as deeply as her sorrow had gone, so high had her joy leaped in her heart. Perhaps there was a bit of remorse for the hard words mixed in with her gratitude as she poured the perfume over Christ – rarely are our motives completely pure – but love was the predominating thought. Our responses of gratitude and love to Christ differ as much as our personalities differ from one another. Some sing a song, some write a song, some give money, some sacrifice time, some do a good turn to others, and a variety of responses remain. Martha served and Mary anointed with perfume. Gratitude’s response is not the same as duty, for we all are to serve, to witness, to give, to praise, and to follow. Neither is it the same as a call to service, for God by His own choice sets some apart for vocational service.
Unending love was rubbing up against fallen humanity and some believed and let this Light called Jesus search their hearts. Others stiffened their necks, closed their hearts, and rejected Him for petty reasons. Christ was betrayed for silly reasons such as petty jealousies, a few coins stolen from the treasury, not enough recognition, and whatever other sour thought could find no exit from the closed up soul of Judas. Once the cup of bitterness is full, it spills out into action.
What a warning for us all. We distance ourselves from Judas too quickly. We are not like him, we protest, but let’s stop and honestly ask ourselves how we might be similar. I have known people leave the church for such reasons as they could not stand another person to be recognized, especially a person they did not like, or they saw a position of service go to another person, or their idea was not considered seriously enough, or How dare the pastor tell me I was wrong! Limitless love that is intended to flow within us and through us to touch others is stopped too often at the door of self-interest.
Lord of eternal love, forgive us for having no vision beyond our own short-sighted interests. Bring us into Your much larger universe of knowledge, of love, and of purpose. Show us when we react in envy to others instead of praying in love and support of them. Amen.