Lent V

  • 30 March 2022
  • Stuart Robinson

St. Michael’s 8.00am and 10.00am

John 12:1-11.

This morning we come to one of the most powerful sermons ever preached – without a word ever having been spoken.

In her response to Jesus, I believe Mary of Bethany teaches us three aspects of discipleship:




I’ll start with the remarkable backstory with which many of you are familiar.

Jesus’ dear friend Lazarus was gravely ill and was close to death. Lazarus had two sisters, Martha, and Mary, for whom Jesus had great love and affection (John 11:5).

Having heard the news of Lazarus’ illness and then his death, Jesus delayed his return to Bethany – and arrived four days after Lazarus’ burial.

He assured the grieving sisters that he had authority over the grave in this statement to Martha, ‘I am the resurrection and the life’ (John 11:25) – and then before an astonished group of onlookers, Jesus turned his gaze to that cold tomb and called into the darkness, ‘Lazarus, come out’ (John 11:43) …and clad only in his grave clothes, the reanimated Lazarus staggered into the light of day.

The impact in (and on) the community was immediate; electric really.

A great many onlookers became disciples of Jesus (11:45) and the religious leaders, there and then, conspired to kill Jesus (11:53) and to destroy all evidence of his ability to stare down death – so Lazarus was also on their hit list (12:10).

Undeterred, and just a week out from the Passover (the great celebration of God’s mercy and saving love when he rescued his people from exile and oppression – Exodus 11, 12), Jesus returned to Bethany (12:1) – in Jerusalem’s western suburbs, as guest of honour at a celebration dinner organised by Martha, Lazarus, and Mary.

And it seems that it was ‘open house’: the disciples were there (verse 4) as was a ‘large crowd’ (verse 9) who had come to see the miracle working Jesus and the once dead, now ‘partying’ Lazarus (verse 9).

First, generosity. As disciples of Jesus, the siblings – in gratitude to God for his mercy and kindness to them in restoring Lazarus to life, generously open their home in Bethany (12:2) to Jesus and his friends – and to the wider community (12:9)

That generosity and hospitality blasts into ‘hyperspace’ with what happens next:

Mary cracks open a pint bottle of expensive perfume (12:3), pure nard – and we are told by the disingenuous, thief and betrayer, Judas, that it is worth a year’s wages (12:5). 

That’s the equivalent of $4,000 Australian dollars per ounce. 

We’re talking ‘Imperial Majesty’ by Clive Christian, or ‘Symphony’ by Luis Vuitton quality here (for those in the know).

And John tells us that the whole house was filled with the scent of this aromatic nard…and that it because Mary pours all of it – all $65,000 worth – onto her Lord; Jesus who raised her brother from death.

So, second, adoration (in the form of hospitality and devotion) is on view as Mary wipes Jesus’ feet with her hair.

As you know, the servants or hired staff of a host (in the ancient near east) would wash the feet of guests and travellers when they arrived for celebrations and family gatherings (and Jesus himself will do this for his own disciples soon after – as a symbol of washing and cleansing – John 13) – and in part that is what is taking place when Mary attends to Jesus’ feet.

In addition – the other two occasions where this kind of fragrant anointing took place were at coronations and burials.

Mary’s actions prefigure, then, exactly what is to take place in Jesus’ life when he will – on the very next day, come into Jerusalem and be hailed by the crowds as ‘King of Israel’ (12:13) and then, by the end of the week, he’ll be betrayed by those crowds, and his male disciples, and the religious establishment, and given over to death and burial (John 19).

In holy abandon, Mary wipes the feet of her Lord and King (12:3).

It is a precious and personal moment of worship and welcome, hospitality and adoration, and it serves as preparation for Jesus’ closing earthly ministry as Servant-King.

Third, Mary demonstrates remarkable courage

Not simply in the way she quite literally lays all her resources at Jesus’ feet, though isn’t that remarkable? 

Indeed, the account of Mary’s worshipful adoration must have been well known because when John writes the account of Lazarus’ resurrection (back in chapter 11) – he references this event (before giving details in chapter 12) when he says, ‘this Mary whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair – John 11:2.

So not only does Mary courageously lay her treasures before the Lord, but she does so publicly.

And in this very public demonstration of (or witnessing to) her allegiance to Jesus, Mary encounters the ire of Judas, who says the money should have been used for the poor (verse 5).

Jesus defends Mary’s actions; what she has done is entirely appropriate given his impending sacrifice (verse 8).

And as it was God’s expectation that his people would always be ‘open-handed’ and kind to the poor (Deuteronomy 15:11), Judas’ assertions are nothing more than a ruse to conceal his own greed (12:6)

But there is more at stake. 

The social order of the day insisted on proprietous distancing between men and women (who were not married). 

You may recall John’s words in chapter 4 when the disciples encountered Jesus speaking to a woman drawing water from a well in Sychar, ‘just then Jesus’ disciples returned and were surprised to find him talking with a woman’. John 4:27.

Not only is she close to Jesus – she is touching him – or at least her unbound hair is. 

Suffice it say that Mary’s love and devotion for Jesus is on display for all to see; neither she nor Jesus is fazed by what those in the room might be thinking. 

It reminds me of the account of King David dancing before the Lord – quote ‘with all his might’ (in II Samuel 6:14) and his wife Michal looking on from a distance and “when she saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord, she despised him in her heart’ – II Samuel 6:16.

Mary, like David, offered courageous, unbridled devotion to her Lord even if those ‘in the gallery’ (like Judas) were non-plussed. 

And we see in verse 10 the inherent danger for any follower of Jesus; Lazarus is now a marked man and disciples of Jesus would, from that point on (as taught by Jesus) – be hated and persecuted – John 15:18, 20.

Yet Mary appears neither ashamed nor cowered by what may lie ahead. She is in the words of Paul to his friend Timothy…’unashamed of [her] testimony about our Lord’. II Timothy 1:8.


Three Lenten lessons then to be inferred from the ministry and example of Mary of Bethany:

Generosity. In response to God’s kindness to us in Christ we are to use our resources (all of which come from God) – to honour him and to advance his purposes.

Adoration. Whereby we welcome and acknowledge Jesus as Lord and King; he is the locus, the centre of our worship and service.

Courage. By which I mean our demonstrable, public allegiance to Jesus. As Jesus himself said (and as Mary illustrates for us) – ‘Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your father who is in heaven’. Matthew 5:16.

May we pray.

Lord, we thank for the ministry of Mary of Bethany and her unswerving commitment to Jesus. 

Grant us, in this season of Lent, the will and strength to respond to your mercy and grace with generosity, and in adoration, and with courage. 

Use us, we pray, to advance your purposes and to transform our communities.

In the name of Christ.


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