A devotion for the Monday of Holy Week

Being Prepared for Death

by Rev. Richard Leaver
Director of Mission and Pastoral Care, United Methodist Communities at Collingswood
Read John 12: 1-7

Entry into Jerusalem, Hippolyte Flandrin, 1842
Entry into Jerusalem, Hippolyte Flandrin, 1842

It was six days before the Passover, the day after Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem where he had gone to become the “Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world” by suffering and dying on the cross. He is dining at the home of Mary, Martha, and the resurrected Lazarus. The family held the meal to honor Jesus. Lazarus is seated with Jesus and Mary and Martha are preparing the meal and serving the men. Many of the family’s friends who are of the sect of Pharisees were there as well. Recall many of them were there at Lazarus’ resurrection. Upon seeing Lazarus risen some of them plotted to kill Jesus (John 11:45).

But now, Mary enters the room with a half-liter of Nard, a very expensive, aromatic ointment. She kneels before Jesus, the man who would shortly kneel before his disciples to wash their feet (John 13). Mary is so moved by Jesus her tears fall upon his bare feet. She proceeds to wash, them and with no towel uses her long hair to dry his feet. Which amounts to a hair offering, part of the Hebrew Bible’s list of sacrifices. She then very generously anoints his feet with the expensive ointment. In a sense, she was anointing him for his forthcoming death.

According to Luke (7: 36ff), Pharisees, who had also been invited are appalled that Mary, “a sinner,” meaning a prostitute, had the audacity the show herself. (Remember Jesus often dined with “prostitutes”, “sinners” and “tax collectors”). And Judas also complains that what Mary had done was wasteful, suggesting it is sinful as the Nard, worth about a year’s wages, could have been sold and used for the poor. An aside from John tells us that Judas was a thief who used to help himself to the disciples’ funds (6b). He wanted to get his hands on what the Nard would bring in money.

Judas’ corrupt character and the Pharisees’ judgmental arrogance present a sharp contrast to Mary. She humbles herself before Jesus. Her tears show the power of forgiveness for one labeled a sinner. Her drying Jesus’s feet with her hair meant that she had to break with tradition by uncovering her hair before men, a taboo according to Jewish law. The old law had bound her to a life of sin. Through Christ, she experienced grace and witnessed the resurrection. Think of her courage to break with the “Tradition of the Rabbis,” to uncover herself in the presence of men as she bears her soul before Christ.

She makes a hair offering by drying Jesus’ feet with her hair, which is “Heave” offering spoken of in the Hebrew texts among the list of sacrifices one could make. In affect she was giving herself totally to Christ. Her tears were both tears of sorrow for her old life and tears of joy for her new life in Christ.

Do you have the faith to bare your soul before God and give all of yourself in service to Christ? Do you have the courage to make sacrifices for the sake of Christ? Do you have the courage to right the wrongs of society to free people from the bondage of sin and to work for justice?

Mary is a model for men and women of how the presence of Christ in one’s life can prepare us for our own death when we shall give account to the same Christ died Mary and us all.