‘How do we show our devotion?’
Bible study prepared by Andrew
Key text: John 12:1-8
Themes: Vulnerability, generosity, gratitude, costly worship; extravagance, waste; condemnation, jealousy, support; care for the poor
Deuteronomy 15:11 “There will never cease to be some poor people in the land …”
Matthew 26:1-16; Mark 14:1-11; Luke 7:36-38 (quasi-parallels)
John 13:1-17 (foot washing)
Luke 14:12-14 “When you host a dinner or a banquet …”
Burial preparations were expensive. It was customary to wash the body and anoint it with perfumes and spices, not ever for embalming but always to control the odours. The wealthier families could afford the more costly and weightier perfumes. The hands and feet were wrapped with linen cloths (grave-bands), and the face and head were covered with a small cloth and bound. It was loving friends and relatives, mostly women, who prepared the body.
He Qi, ‘Mary’ (https://www.heqiart.com/2-the-life-of-jesus.html).
What is the nature of true devotion?
Both Mary and Jesus are prepared to make themselves vulnerable. What is the nature of this wisdom? How might the story of their relationship (see previous chapter) help towards understanding this scene?
It is striking that Jesus is anointed by a woman in this very masculine setting (the story template for each of the quasi-parallels).
Jesus teaches by way of example … how to receive love/wisdom … how to respond to hatred/foolishness … how to defend and protect the most vulnerable …
Jesus teaches by way of an enigmatic word. “You have poor people with you always. But you won’t always have me,” says Jesus. “There will be vulnerable and endangered beings long after I’m gone” – a comic retort that can be heard either as lamenting inequity or as an indictment of injustice, but certainly not as license for neglect of those in need.
Jesus’ words echo those of Deuteronomy 15: “There will always be those among us in the world who are in need, so I require of you that you be always generous with the poor and needy in your land.”
Jesus will be killed precisely because he is a friend to the last and the least – precisely because his parables and demonstrations upset the status quo, precisely because his radical hospitality offends the wealthy and the powerful.
Mary understands … she welcomes/comforts/affirms/anoints the Outsider, the poor and persecuted One …
KAREN: Mary offers her presence to Jesus, attuned to what he is feeling and fearing.
ABNER: The story reminds me of when I was pouring out a story and some in the group found it disruptive and complained. The leader of the group spoke up for me saying, “Leave him alone! He is grieving and working through his issues. Give him space.”
How do we show our devotion? In spiritual ways? Cultivating certain habits? Joining with others? Forsaking or giving away? Creating or making?
How do we give (ourselves) to Jesus/God now? By giving to the church? By giving to those in need? By changing our ways/lives?
PAMELA: I show my devotion through my spirituality – learning to be a consistently loving person.
JANE: I am letting go some of my possessions, passing them on to people who may need them more than me. This can be a way of showing devotion to Jesus.
Three aspects of religion (three approaches to reading)
- Poetics (What qualities of language or expression do we notice? Are there key words, phrases or images? What is the tone or feeling of the text?)
- Ethics (Whose calls for help, whose calls to justice do we perceive? How will we respond?)
- Metaphysics (Are we offered insights regarding the world? How might we describe or come to experience this world we live in?)
Read the following comments on John 12:1-8 and assign each to one or more of the “aspects”. What further questions are raised for you?
- “Mary, ever-devoted, came out and poured a pound of perfumed nard, a year’s wages worth, on Jesus’ feet. This nard might likely have been imported from Eastern India or Nepal. She then wiped his feet with her hair, an act of deep love, a foreshadowing of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet in the very next chapter” (Bishop Michael Rinehart).
- “In Luke’s parallel version of this story (Luke 7:36-50) Jesus is eating at the home of a Pharisee, and the woman doing the anointing is a ‘sinful woman’. The Pharisee thinks that if Jesus were a prophet, he would know what ‘sort’ of woman this is, and distance himself from her. Jesus responds by saying, whoever is forgiven much, loves much” (Bishop Michael Rinehart).
- “Jesus said the ominous words: ‘She has saved this for my burial.’ His hour having arrived, she marked it with an act of lavish generosity that Judas cannot fathom” (Bishop Michael Rinehart).
- “Jesus is a realist. He knows there will always be inequity. There will always be people in need. He is not telling people to give up. In fact, Jesus teaches his followers to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and so on. Instead, he is saying, ‘There is a time for feasting and a time for fasting’.” (Bishop Michael Rinehart).
- “Let’s not call it social justice for the moment. Call it extravagant love, extravagant generosity. May our lives, our churches, our streets, be filled with such love … the fragrance of it …” (Bishop Michael Rinehart).
- “Maybe they were thinking she was bewitching them” (William, The Gospel in Solentiname).
- “When she offered it to Jesus, she was giving it, in his person, to all the poor … Believing in Jesus makes us concerned about other people …” (Oscar, The Gospel in Solentiname).
- “Possibly she saw herself as a slave … and saw in him her liberation” (Alejandro, The Gospel in Solentiname).
- “As long as there are poor, they will always be among us, we shall not be separated from them. Because the Christian community must be with the poor” (E. Cardenal, The Gospel in Solentiname).
- “If [the poor and needy] are among us … we won’t let them perish” (Tomas Peña, The Gospel in Solentiname).
- “The revolution isn’t so we’ll all be rich but so we’ll all be poor, so there’ll be enough for everybody. Not disastrous poor but comfortable poor, tidy, clean, with medicine, with human dignity” (Olivia, The Gospel in Solentiname).
- “So you can answer these people who defend inequality: there will always be poor people as long as Jesus isn’t here. But when there’s only equality with justice, and no needy, no beggars, Jesus will be with us again” (E. Cardenal, The Gospel in Solentiname).
- “Jesus looked like a poor man … because he never was in those big mansions with rich clothes or anything; so she saw him with that simplicity and that humility, and he deserved the best there was” (Olivia, The Gospel in Solentiname).
- “That perfume that they poured on people was like a deodorant, because there was no running water then; people weren’t always bathing. And Jesus must have been, we might say, just a little smelly” (E. Cardenal, The Gospel in Solentiname).
- “As I see it, when she poured that very expensive perfume on Jesus she was giving up all her luxuries and squandering and that’s why Jesus defended her from the criticism” (Olivia, The Gospel in Solentiname).
- “We can offer our lives as Jesus did. Then it’ll be also for us, that perfume that the woman poured on Jesus” (Laureano, The Gospel in Solentiname).
- “The moment for responding physically to [Jesus’] act of love is unique and will not return. As the first beneficiary of Jesus’ costly death, Lazarus is present to see and ponder it all, once more standing in for all who receive the gift of life from Jesus” (Brendan Byrne SJ).
- “Mary demonstrates deep love and vulnerability in performing this gesture and Jesus also demonstrates love and vulnerability in both defending her extravagant gesture and, as anyone who has ever been vulnerable knows, in letting her perform it for him” (Melinda Kearns).