12 Six days before the Passover, Jesus therefore came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. 2 So they gave a dinner for him there. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those reclining with him at table. 3 Mary therefore took a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. 4 But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was about to betray him), said, 5 “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” 6 He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it. 7 Jesus said, “Leave her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of my burial. 8 For the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me.”
Mary of Bethany had an emotional history with Jesus by the time of this story. She had believed in Jesus to the point of sending for Him in John 11 when her brother lay dying, confident Jesus could heal him. And she was deeply wounded when Jesus didn’t come, sitting in her home in silence while her sister ran to Jesus with her sorrow. But Jesus moved in an amazing way, bringing her brother from death to life. What a roller coaster of emotions she must have experienced in her walk with Jesus the few weeks before this scene in John 12.
Prior to Lazarus’ healing, Mary had once before sat at the feet of Jesus, eagerly listening to His teaching. On that occasion, she was rebuked by her sister, but Jesus affirmed her. This time in John 12, she opened herself to even greater rebuke as she poured out expensive perfume on His feet, likely a family heirloom whose cost was estimated to be a year’s wages. She then wiped Jesus’ feet with her hair, which was her glory in that culture. She laid herself out with no protection in her worship of Jesus. She was completely vulnerable. Judas seized on it and tried to shame her. Yet once again, Jesus rebuked her accuser and affirmed her act of worship.
It is remarkable that a woman in that culture would pour out so much of herself in worship of Jesus– financially in the form of such costly ointment and culturally in the form of soiling her valued hair. The vulnerability of her worship is threatening, yet I personally find it deeply encouraging as well. We have good reason to fear opening ourselves, so naked emotionally, in worship of Jesus. For we too risk the same type of rebuke she faced first from her own sister and then Jesus’ disciple. Women especially can be open to criticism in such devotion—mocked for being too emotional or irrational. I often feel constrained by how society will judge my worship and devotion if it appears too costly or too vulnerable. It’s different than Pink Fluffy Bunny emotionalism, yet as a woman I find the deep things of Christ and the Word sometimes result in deep emotion and passion in me, and that can raise the disdain of cynics. Mary’s sacrifice in worship is notable, but what actually empowers her worship is even more important, for it is the thing that enables me to find example in John 12 for myself. She was empowered personally by the object of her vulnerable worship, Jesus Himself. For shortly after Mary washed His feet with her hair, He hung naked on the cross for her and us. Her vulnerability towards Him in worship pales in comparison to His vulnerability in sacrifice for her. He laid Himself bare in every way, and it is through His shame we now have access to the Father, bold and confident access according to the author of Hebrews.
The only way I have found to stay engaged in honest, vulnerable worship of Jesus in our day of skepticism among outright unbelievers and cynicism among others who claim a Christian heritage is daily meditation on Christ’s sacrifice as He laid down Himself so vulnerably in love for us.
Isaiah 53 3 He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
4 Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. 5 But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.
My pastor preached a beautiful sermon on this passage. You can listen to it here.