Day four of Jesus’s final week was a Wednesday. Due to illness at the beginning of the week, I am behind on posting my Holy Week reflections on Jesus’s activities and teachings each day of that week. I had originally intended to just accept being behind and do one day at a time, but today is Maundy Thursday, and I find that my heart wants to walk through the events of the rest of this week in sync with the timeline and the rest of the saints worldwide who are commemorating this event along with me. So, I am going to take the time this evening to obey the prompting in my heart and catch up in my meditations and in my postings.
In my last post I mentioned that Jesus taught in the temple openly for the last time on Tuesday of that week and then once again retreated to Bethany for the night. Thursday would be a busy day of preparation for and then celebration of Passover, and Jesus knew that would be His final night with His loved ones. It seems as though He chose to make Wednesday a rest day, not in the sense of a Sabbath, but in the sense of not going back to teach and heal and minister to the crowds in the city. He stayed in Bethany and visited His friends for the last time.
During one such visit—dinner at the home of His friend Simon, who was a leper—a woman rushed in, broke an expensive jar of expensive perfume all over Jesus’s feet and began to anoint Him with it. The account of this encounter chosen for the She Reads Truth Lent study is found in Mark 14:3-9, but the other gospels inform us that the woman was Mary, the sister of Martha and of Lazarus, whom Jesus had raised from the dead just days, or maybe a week, before entering Jerusalem for the festal week (on Palm Sunday).
Some of the disciples criticized Mary for wasting the expensive perfume, the cost of which was worth a year’s wagers for a common laborer and could have fed many poor and hungry people. But Jesus corrects them and honors her expression of love and worship. He reminds them that the poor will be with them always but He will not, and He tells them that her anointing is preparation for the burial He will experience a few short days later. They don’t seem to understand the last part of that, but what’s new? To be fair, I wouldn’t have understood it either. As I’ve said before, the only 20/20 vision we have is hindsight, and they did not have that option yet.
In the “Holy Week in Real Time: Wednesday” devotional reading, Pastor Russ Ramsey says this about Mary’s actions:
“By giving Him her most valuable possession, Mary was expressing that she knew what Jesus was about to give of Himself was for her.”
Now, I’m no theologian, so take please take what I’m about to say with a very large grain of salt, but I think I disagree with Pastor Ramsey. Mary’s confusion over Jesus’s death as expressed in her grief-filled statements when His body went missing on Resurrection Sunday leads me to believe that she had no more understanding about what Jesus was about to do than any of the rest of his disciples or followers. Even His closest friends didn’t understand, and they would have had much more access to details and explanations than she would have.
But just days, or maybe a week, before this moment, Jesus had raised her brother from the dead—not just from being almost dead, but from being beyond-the-grave dead. There was a belief among ancient Jews that after a person died, their spirit stayed in their body for three days; well, Jesus waited to go to Bethany until Lazarus had been in the tomb four days. He was in the stages of death where his spirit would have departed and his body would have begun to stink and decay. By the time Jesus had arrived in Bethany, Mary and Martha were distraught and lost in grief. They both independently cried out to Him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not be dead right now!” They knew Jesus could have healed their brother. They were counting on it, I’m sure; they didn’t send word to Him of Lazarus’s illness just because they knew he’d be a concerned friend, but because they knew He could intervene and save them all—Lazarus from death and them from the uncertainty and danger that accompanied life with no male protector or provider. So, when they lodged their despairing complaint with Him, they weren’t just sad to have lost their brother so early in life; they were confused as to why He would show such a lack of care about their protection and provision as His friends and loved ones. Underneath the grief over withheld healing, they were really saying, “Lord, didn’t you care about us? What will we do now? Why didn’t you do something? You could have done something, but now what?!”
And He did. He did more than they could have ever asked or imagined (Eph 3:20).
But I imagine that after Lazarus came hopping out of that tomb still wrapped in his grave cloths, there was some attending that needed to happen. His sisters would have been newly occupied, and rightly so. In the midst of that, Jesus left for Jerusalem amidst the shouts of praise from the crowds outside the city. And then He’d spent all day the next couple of days in the temple in Jerusalem, teaching, healing, cleansing, correcting, and consoling. So, I imagine that this Wednesday evening being recounted may have been the first moment Mary’d had to go find Jesus and express her gratitude, her love, her devotion to the Messiah who had changed everything when He called her brother back from the dead and restored life to her family and her own heart.
As I meditated on this scene and on the context surrounding it, I wrote this response in my study book:
I doubt she knew she was anointing Him for His burial, but I have no doubt she did know He was the Messiah and that He was worthy of all she had in her possession and in her heart—of even more than that! He had saved her brother, and He had saved her and Martha. Not only that, but He had also grieved deeply with them and then later rejoiced deeply with them! I wonder if this was simply her act of gratitude, her outpouring of worship, her expression of utter devotion: “No matter what, I am now Yours alone, and you are my only Lord.” She had listened to Him before and she had believed, but now she was all the way in, committed, devoted, even though she had no idea what that would really mean for her in the end.
It seems almost like an outward expression of all that Jesus had been exhorting His followers in that week: to hide themselves in Him, to trust Him, to submit to Him alone, knowing that they were secure and cherished by Him and His Father. It makes me wonder if she’d gotten to go into the city at all for any of that week’s events. Had she seen Him cleanse the temple and then love people back to true life? Had she listened as He condemned the Pharisees and then consoled His followers about the future? Did she watch Him grieve for Jerusalem and her people as He progressed forward in determination to literally move heaven and earth to save every single one of His own?
Job cried out to God, like Mary, asking in essence where He was and why He had turned His back on Job and his family. God actually answered Him! I wonder if this was Mary’s way of responding, like Job, to God’s answer. Job said, “My ears had heard of you, but now my eyes have seen you. I place my had over my mouth and repent!” (Job 42:5-6). I wonder if this was Mary’s way of saying, “I had heard with my ears, but now I have seen with my eyes, and I take it all back! You do care. You do provide. I have nothing to fear, even though I don’t deserve that tenderness and love. And now I will spend my life and all that I own and all that I am, pouring out my gratitude and love in devotion and worship, anointing you with my praises and adoration.”
It is interesting to me that while Mary was in Bethany anointing Jesus with her adoration and devotion, Judas Iscariot was in Jerusalem making a deal with the religious leaders (Mark 14:10-11): in exchange for 30 pieces of silver (Matt 26:15-16), he would “betray Him to them when the crowd was not present” (Luke 22:3-6). I cannot even begin to fathom the depth to which that betrayal pierced Jesus’s heart; even knowing all along that Judas would be that one destined to betray Him so that all that was written could be fulfilled, it must have still hurt Him so terribly. After all, Judas was still one of His own.
It is easy to respond to Judas’s betrayal by thinking he was a despicable person and deserved the death and judgement that He received. And yes, that is true. But . . . sometimes I read about Judas and about what happened to him after Jesus was killed, and my heart breaks for him and the lies of despair he believed in his heart. It’s easy to think that Judas is basically responsible for killing Jesus, or that the Pharisees were responsible for killing Jesus, but so was Mary . . .
. . . and so am I.
Mary and I, we are sinners too, and our sin is what sent Jesus to the cross. Not just Judas’s blood money and betrayer’s kiss, not just the Pharisee’s plots. Sure, those things were part of the whole, but ultimately what sent Him to the cross just two days later was sin: Judas’s sin, the Pharisee’s sin, Mary’s sin, my sin, and your sin. We are all betrayers, but He absorbed our betrayal and died for our sins so that we could become worshipers, just like Mary did on that beautiful Wednesday evening.
Betrayal and worship: I have them both in me. I am so thankful that He did not leave me in the betrayal of Judas, and I pray He will teach me to love and worship Him like Mary.