The Truest Disciple: Reflections on John 12:1-8

I’m nearing the end of a wonderful online writing class (offered through and for one of our lessons, we were asked to write something in the style of one of our favorite authors. I chose Barbara Brown Taylor, whose sermons are perfection. This small meditation is a very feeble attempt to echo her insightful handing of familiar Bible passages.


“Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him.  Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?”  (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.)

 Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”


It was a party, you know. A dinner party. Because that’s where all the really good things in life happen, right? Sharing a meal with people we love, laughing over a shared glass of wine, telling stories, building memories.

And they were all there, the whole motley crew. The Twelve that followed Jesus up the road and down again. And the three – the siblings, Martha, Mary, Lazarus – who loved Jesus and hosted him time and again.

And this was a special party, truly special. Lazarus had been . . . well, there’s no other way but to put the bald truth out there — Lazarus had been dead.

And then he wasn’t, because Jesus said, ‘Come out.’

But like many parties often do, this one wound down to just three people, three people in the spotlight.

Jesus, because . . . well, he was Jesus, after all.

And Judas, because he asks hard questions and flings accusations.

And Mary.


Right here, in the deeply misogynistic world of 1st century Palestine, the one in the fullest glare of the spotlight, the one truly faithful disciple turns out to be . . . a woman.

All the guys are there — the crusty fisherman, the bickering brothers, the tax collector, the one who sat under the fig tree. And they’ve all been there for the last three years, covered in dust, sprinkled with Galilean water, living the daily ins and outs of the Jesus life.

Yet somehow, they missed it. They missed the point of it all, the thrust of their mission, the terrifying end of the story they didn’t even know they were telling.

But Mary?

Mary gets it. She is so full of the glorious, heartbreaking truth that it literally pours forth from her body. She comes to the end of the dining couch, where Jesus is reclining by the table. She bends down, breaks open a wildly expensive vial of fragrant oil, and pours it over his feet, loosing her hair to rub it right into the cracks and crevices, scandalizing everyone in the room except the one she came to anoint.

Because, you see, she had been paying attention. Like that other Mary, she was ‘pondering these things in her heart,’ listening with care. As Judas snarled, Jesus calmed the storm: “Leave her alone . . . this perfume has been stashed away just for today, to prepare me for . . . my burial.”

Even here, on the eve of his own brutal death, Jesus insists on changing up the rules for acceptable behavior.  He shuts down what we might call the ‘churchy’ attitude, the self-righteous platitudes, and he elevates the simple but loving actions of a contemplative woman.

What we do and why and how we do it — that’s what counts. It’s not so much what we say or even what we believe — it’s what we do. Because the take-home truth is this: the surest sign of a true disciple is the delicious aroma that permeates every corner of the house.

Every corner.


In the midst of a hard and tiring week, I’m thankful tonight for 
the stories of scripture,
the gentle care of health aides where our moms live,
the sunshine sparkling on the water,
a 91 degree swimming pool for therapy on unhappy tendons,
CPK salads for dinner.

Joining this with Michelle and Jen, Ann & Jennifer this week:

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  1. I think I always say here, that I’m grateful for your voice. You write with wisdom and compassion and your words call me right back to the heart of things. Thank you for this. I just had the privilege of hearing Sandra McCracken sing live this weekend, and she sang an acoustic version of her song “Justice Will Roll Down” and there’s a line in there that’s been haunting me all week: “Mercy is the fragrance of the broken…” and this speaks to that too. Thank you, Diana.

  2. Dear Dianna
    When I was reading your words about Lazarus, I was thinking of Jesus’ prayer when He raised Lazarus from the dead. He loudly thanked His Father for always listening and working through Him so that the others could hear and believe that Jesus never used His divinity to do anything while He walked the earth. Every moment, every miracle and even the words He spoke, He trusted our Pappa’s power to work through Him, the way we are supposed to live; trusting our Lord Jesus to live His life in and through us every moment of every day through His wonderful grace.
    Blessings XX

  3. Dianna,

    I love how you show how when Mary ‘got it’ it moved her to action. She couldn’t stay still. Even though all of acceptable society through the voice of Judas moved to slap her back into her ‘place’, Jesus recognized and validated her. Awesome piece.

    Thank You.

    Cassandra from Renaissance Women

  4. Good words, Diana. Thank you!

    • Thank you for reading them, John. That means a lot to me. (Do you know Paul Willis? He’s a friend from church who stopped me to thank me for reading your poem a couple of weeks ago – the one I asked if I could use in worship, remember? His new book of poems is on its way to me at this moment. Someday, I hope to have one of yours.)

  5. What a delightful perspective on this familiar story Diana. I wonder how she felt. She was brave and true and saw with spiritual eyes. You’ve done a wonderful job.
    Praying for grace and strength for you.

    • Yes, she was brave and true. And the other thing I love about this story (especially when you remember the story in Luke’s gospel about the sisters), is that she, once again, went to the FEET of Jesus, which was where a disciple would naturally sit. Thanks for coming by and commenting, friend.

  6. Mary Gemmill says

    Well done Diana- that was a gripping read- you have studied well 🙂

    I so want to be like that Mary, the one who ‘ got it’, as above all, I want to love Jesus with the passion of a betrothed- He deserves nothing less.

    I so appreciate your insightfulnes Diana.

    Mary, New Zealand.

  7. I loved this – and I could almost smell the perfume, spent and filling the room – you, Diana are one great story teller. Thank you –

  8. ‘Love the way you told this familiar story, Diana. Plenty of fresh insights to ponder! But it was the conclusion that caused my eyes to sting: “The surest sign of a true disciple is the delicious aroma that permeates every corner of the house.” Oh, yes, Lord. Help me to become that kind of disciple–one who gets it and lives it with heart, mind, and soul. Thank you, Diana!

  9. This week I’m working on the sister passage to this, Luke 7, where Jesus is similarly anointed at the Pharisee’s house. I’ve worked with that passage for a number of years in different contexts, but what strikes me this time is how it Meant Something to Jesus. Like he didn’t just sit there passively, but soaked in all of the love she poured out. I know people get uncomfortable about saying “God needs us” but the idea that our acts of love mean something to Jesus is moving to me. I posted a really beautiful painting of the passage on my fb page earlier this week – don’t know the name of the artist.
    And yes, Barbara Brown Taylor, oh, to speak like that!

    • YES! It did mean something deep and powerful to Jesus. When I’ve preached on that passage, I’ve also accented that part. Because as I read it, Jesus was feeling mighty lonely about then – not one of his ‘friends’ got him, not one understood how frightened and tired he was. But the woman did. Yes, he needed that exact gesture at that exact time. I’ll check out the picture. (I’ve got 6 or 7 volumes of BBT’s sermons plus her memoirs and I love each and all of them. She is a hero to me, on many levels.)

  10. Beautiful and sweet words, Diana.


  11. Perfection 🙂 Thanks, Diana 🙂

  12. This was great Diana! You’ve written with such clarity, and broken down any hindrance to hearing and receiving this word. I fully understand Mary in this scene and will measure my motives and actions in a new light. Thank you for this powerful word/work.