As Lent moves to think of Jesus’ death, we read John 12:1-8. Jesus is having dinner with friends, and Mary anoints his feet in an expensive gesture. Judas complains about the cost and “waste” of valuable perfume, though we are warned that as treasurer for the disciples, he was inclined to help himself, and his motives may be mixed.
I think I might have found Mary’s actions difficult, too. It is a bit “over the top”, too much, too personal, embarrassing. Of course, we can take the anointing as symbolic and prophetic of the cross to come. Then Mary anticipates laying out the body with respect and love. That is probably why we read this passage on Passion Sunday, looking at the Passion to come. But that isn’t the point. Mary is expressing love, thanks, – something perhaps too deep for words, and certainly beyond the evaluation of the group accountant. For Mary, Jesus has done something deeply significant, of lasting importance. She is different, she has found something beyond price, and she must express something of that.
Judas either doesn’t understand, or doesn’t want to. He is a disciple, has had time to watch and hear Jesus, as well as talk to him in private and in small groups. But somehow, his loyalty is limited to – to what? To what he can understand, or perhaps even to what he can control? His attachment to Jesus is conditional, and the conditions are about to fail as Jesus takes his own way to save the world. I have some sympathy for Judas; I think I have often believed with an unstated condition, “I’ll follow, if . . “. I wonder if the culture of our time, pricing everything, and always looking for “efficiency savings”, brings the same dangers Judas faced. Would we now see him as an entrepreneur who withdrew his investment as he lost confidence in the management? – because that would not only be a mistake, but question the “business model”. The problem is Judas relationship to Jesus. It just isn’t up to Mary’s standard.
Passiontide, Jesus’ passion: they take us beyond calculation, beyond strategy and financial analysis. If we are going to follow Jesus, a lifeplan will not be enough for long. We have to share his concerns, his motivation, his love.
I’m afraid I would have found Mary a difficult person to get on with. I am more “moderate”, planned, – in other words, calculating. But there is a side of me which can get emotionally involved, and I must remember the importance of involving that with my faith.