This week, I'm talking about the events of Holy Week, and trying to apply what I learn to my own life. The passage I'll talk about today is from Matthew 26:1-16. It covers two acts by two of Jesus' closest followers sometime that week. The two acts seem to be connected. An act of love and devotion, followed by an act of betrayal. We're not sure at what point during the week the events I'll talk about today happened. Only Matthew records this part of that week. You can find my Bible Blog post on today's passage here. There's a lot more detail there, if you're interested.
I referred yesterday to the home where Biblical scholars believe Jesus and his disciples stayed during that Passover week. It was the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, who were long time friends and supporters of Jesus. Many scholars believe they were relatives of Jesus. Mary was not his mother Mary, nor was it Mary Magdalene. This was a completely different Mary. The following story is mostly about her. Her and Judas.
This is a story of Jesus' inner circle. One member of Jesus' inner circle understood his mission. The other didn't, and it unmade him.
Jesus often stayed with this family when he was in Jerusalem, which he often was. Jesus faithfully attended the various Jewish festivals throughout the year. Anti-Semitism among Christians makes absolutely no sense. Jesus was the most Jewish guy ever. Hello, he was the Jewish Messiah!
But I digress. Jesus had his crowd on the road, and his disciples took charge of that group. But I get the feeling that when they were at this house, the disciples took a back seat to Jesus' family. This was Jesus' home group in the Jerusalem area. In Capernaum, he lived at Peter's house, with Peter's extended family. There, the disciples may have felt like it was more their show. But here, Jesus was all about Mary.
This Mary was one of Jesus' most devoted followers. In an earlier story, Mary only sat and listened to Jesus teach while her sister, Martha, made all the preparations for dinner. Martha tried to get Jesus to make Mary help her, but Jesus didn't want Mary to go anywhere. Nothing pleases Jesus more than a devoted follower who only wants to listen to his voice. You can find that story, and my commentary on it here.
This is also the same family who Jesus came to see after Lazarus had died, weeks or months before. Jesus purposely delayed coming, so that Lazarus would already have been dead for days when he arrived. He put his most loved ones through days of grief and confusion so he could demonstrate the power of God by raising Lazarus from the dead. (John 11:1-43) Imagine the impact that had on this gathering, with Lazarus sitting right there.
That sets the stage for the kind of relationship Jesus had with this family. They were very close.
While they were there, Mary felt moved to anoint Jesus with a jar of expensive perfume called nard. It wasn't concentrated like perfumes today. It had a much milder aroma. It was used to anoint bodies for burial. The gospels say that this jar of nard cost a year's wages for a working man. In today's American dollars, that would make it worth about $40,000. Can you imagine owning a bottle of perfume that cost that much? I can't. For this and other reasons, scholars believe this must have been a wealthy family.
She broke the jar and poured the perfume over Jesus' head. This is the way kings were anointed. Then Mary wiped Jesus' feet with her hair, which was the duty of a slave. This was a rich family who probably owned slaves, but instead of having a slave attend to Jesus, this wealthy woman anointed Jesus as her king, and declared herself his slave with this one act.
The disciples, and Judas in particular, thought this was a waste of money. But Jesus understood what Mary was doing. The way Jesus took it, she was anointing his body for burial. I don't think Mary knew that's what she was doing until Jesus said so, but think about that. His mother Mary would not get the chance to use the myrrh that the Magi had brought for that purpose. By the time she reached the tomb, Jesus was risen. Jesus’ friend and follower Mary did for him what his mother Mary would not get the chance to do, and she used what was probably an irreplaceable family heirloom to do it.
All the while, the chief priests and elders were plotting how to kill Jesus. I won't go into what I believe were Judas' motivations for betraying Jesus, but Matthew, Mark and Luke all seem to connect these two events: Mary’s anointing of Jesus, followed by Judas’ betrayal. I don’t think that’s a coincidence. When Mary "wasted" that heirloom on Jesus, something broke in Judas.
I go into a fair amount of detail about this in my Bible Blog post, but let me just say that I do not believe that Judas was bad from the start, even though some of the gospel writers have some pretty bad things to say about him. You can understand why they would. But Judas was as much a part of Jesus' ministry up until this point as any of them. I just think something went very wrong for him somewhere along the line.
Whatever his reason, Judas Iscariot went to the chief priests right after this and specifically asked them how much money they would give him to turn Jesus over to them. The sad and ironic thing about this story is that the amount that Judas received was a pittance. A piece of silver was worth about a dollar in our money today. Judas betrayed Jesus for thirty dollars.
So what do I learn from this passage? What's the lesson here? And how does it apply to my cancer, or my journey in any way? The obvious first conclusion is that I want to be like Mary, not like Judas. I want to sit at his feet and listen to him teach. I want to anoint him as my king and declare myself his slave.
One day, Jesus will rule the earth as king. In case you didn't know, Christians believe that will happen. For 1,000 years. Just so you know. But the disciples thought that would happen right away. They didn't understand that before Jesus could save Israel, he had to save us. I don't think even Mary understood that. But when she heard it, she accepted it, even though it meant the death of one of her closest friends and relatives in just a few days. Judas could not accept what Jesus said, and acted out.
Like both Judas and Mary, I've heard some things recently that I didn't want to hear. But I'm thankful that I didn't react like Judas, with anger and betrayal of what I hold dear. When I heard I had cancer, my reaction was basically, "OK, what do I do now?" Maybe Mary thought something similar when Jesus talked about burial. Maybe, like Mary, I was able to accept what I heard because I really try to listen to him. I've spent a lot of time sitting at his feet.
But that wasn't always true. For many years, I was more like Judas. Yes, I was doing the work of a disciple, but deep down, I was more interested in my own pursuits and goals. I wanted to do it for Jesus, but in a way that benefited me. It was about what I got out of it.
Not anymore. Now all I want to do is listen. Even when I hear something I don't like, I want to accept what he says. It might take a while, but eventually, I come around. After all, that's what all of these Holy Week posts are about. I'm trying to listen. I'm trying to look at these events, which I've heard about and studied for my whole life, in a new light. Because everything's different now. Now I get it. All God had to do was get my attention.