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'Tales of the Unexpected'
Mary of Bethany's Story

'Tales of the Unexpected'

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Mary of Bethany's Story

Read : John 12: 1-8 

I'd like you to picture the scene. The guests are gathered around the table, the honoured guest at the head. The room buzzes with conversation, the guests are animated, lively, as they discuss recent happenings. They question Jesus, they are puzzled, intrigued by this man who is so different from anyone else they know. This is a rare opportunity to spend time with him and a few others. No crowds bustling around, trying to get close to him, just a few select dinner guests, including Lazarus, whom Jesus raised from the dead.  

There are noises from the street outside, dogs barking, children shouting, mothers calling to them. Street traders are vending their wares, but the noises are distant, not intrusive. The room is hot and smells of spicy food, and warm bodies. The men gathered around the table are eating and drinking even as they are conversing, feasting on the splendid meal before them. Martha serves them, as befits the place of a woman in this culture. She would eat later, after the men had eaten.  

Do you remember when Jesus visited Mary and Martha before? Martha was doing all the work while Mary sat at the feet of Jesus to listen to him talk. Martha was so annoyed with her, and with Jesus for allowing it. And this is a very similar scene. Martha doing all the work, and Mary, well, where is Mary?  

There is a break in the conversation. A door has opened and a breath of air wafts into the room, slightly cooler as it moves around their ankles. Here is Mary! But what is she carrying? It is not a dish of food, nor even a flagon of wine. It looks like a flask of perfume. And what is she doing? She kneels in front of Jesus. How dare she interrupt! This is not her place! She should be serving, helping Martha.  

Mary seems completely unaware of the tension in the room. The atmosphere is thick with it; everyone has fallen silent in astonishment but she kneels before Jesus, oblivious to everyone else. There is a loud snap in the silence, as she breaks the neck of the perfume bottle. The scent drifts into the air, masking odours of food, and other less savoury smells. The fragrance is rich and sweet. It is an expensive perfume.  

She pours the expensive ointment over his feet. She spares not a drop. It splashes over his feet to fall on the ground and waste itself in the earth.  

She looses her hair, and now there is outrage in the room. It is a scandal for a woman to loose her hair in the company of men. Now the silence is broken by the murmurs of the guests, angry murmurs. Especially Judas who is indignant 'Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?'  


He thinks he is being clever. He knows that Jesus has argued on behalf of the poor. He knows that Jesus is scathing of those who are profligate with their resources instead of doing good with them. In this case, however, he is mistaken. Jesus once again defends Mary against her critic, then Martha, now Judas: '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.' 

I wonder if Mary realized the significance of what she did or understood that Jesus was going to his death?  

She was taking an opportunity to show her love and gratitude to Jesus, who was her advocate against her critics, who gave her back her brother from the grave and who treated her as an equal of any of his male disciples.  

She broke the vial of perfume and poured its entire contents over Jesus' feet. A denarius was equivalent to the daily wage for a labourer so in today's value, Mary's anointing would cost approximately £22,000.00! Mary was extravagant in her adoration because in her eyes, Jesus was worth it . . . far more valuable than 300 denarii.  

But perhaps in fact Mary did "get it". Perhaps she understood more in her loving heart that Judas in his greedy one or Peter in his fearful one. 

Mary's action was a prophecy in more ways than one. She acted out of faith even when she was confronted by the awful truth - she acknowledged Jesus' predictions of his death and burial - she believed what the other disciples refused to. 

Similarly, Jesus delivers himself to death in spite of his longing that the cup might pass from him. 

Mary acts out of her steadfast love for her Master and displays her devotion even in the face of stringent criticism. 

Jesus, on the cross, shows forgiveness and love even to the men who deride and execute Him. 

Mary's act was one of considerable personal sacrifice - pouring costly perfume worth a full year's wages - showing her commitment to the Messiah. 

Jesus willingly gives the ultimate sacrifice - that of his very self. 

Jesus tells Mary in response to the disciples' rebukes, that her action will be told and remembered and indeed today, we remember this as the harbinger of his suffering and death, just as he said we would.  

She did what she could and so should we. 


Note - The video based on this soul space, can be found here : http://youtu.be/iuIPoJb4tmM

Rev Jane Denniston, 2015


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