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.”
When the great crowd of the Jews learned that he was there, they came not only because of Jesus but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. So the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death as well, since it was on account of him that many of the Jews were deserting and were believing in Jesus.
Another one of my favorite stories in scripture — this Lenten season has been filled with them. This was the story for my first sermon, ever, back when I was a beginning seminary student. The text itself was from Mark, not John, and in that version, I was particularly struck by this line: “Truly I tell you, wherever the good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.”
Jesus’ terse response of, “Leave her alone,” is almost as good! In Mark’s version, this event happens at the home of Simon the leper and the woman is unnamed. Here, she is his good friend, Mary. And the gift she gives him is priceless, more valuable than any other item ever mentioned in connection with our itinerant, sandal-wearing, lived off the offerings of wealthy women followers. They followed after our Jesus, the teacher — now on his way to becoming Jesus, the savior.
Welcome to Holy Week.
Loving God, help us to keep our focus on the road you walked this week, to remember each piece of the story, that story that we have told and re-told, over and over again. Thank you, thank you, for it.