Monday of Holy Week - John 12:1-13 - March 30, 2015
Grant, we beseech Thee, Almighty God, that we, who amid so many adversities do fail through our own infirmities, may be restored through the Passion and intercession of Thine Only-Begotten Son, Who liveth and reigneth with Thee and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end.
1) Mary enters her home, where Jesus is, and begins to anoint His feet with a precious oil. St. Matthew and St. Mark record that Mary anointed Jesus head with oil. St. John takes this detail for granted and focuses instead up her anointing of Jesus’ feet. This anointing is a beautiful introduction to what will happen to our Lord this week and to what He will accomplish for our sakes. First we must note the reason for which Mary does this. It is no doubt done in thankfulness to Jesus. In the previous chapter of St. John’s Gospel, Jesus raised Lazarus, Mary’s brother, from the dead. With this anointing Mary demonstrates outwardly the thankfulness which abounds in her heart for Jesus’ gracious visitation of their family. It is also demonstrates her great humility and her adoration of Jesus. It was dishonorable for a woman to let her hair down in public. It was an indecent act. But Mary is no harlot. Her action demonstrates her great humility, that she would dishonor herself in order to serve Jesus in thanksgiving for His mercy. So she anoints Jesus’ feet with an expensive oil and wipes His feet with her own hair. This is not only thanksgiving for the raising of Lazarus though. This is thanksgiving for the blessing of the Word and Jesus’ doctrine. This is the same Mary who put off her housework in Bethany to sit at Jesus’ feet and hear His Word in Luke 10:39. By anointing Jesus’ feet Mary confesses that Jesus is the one who whom Isaiah speaks when He writes, “How beautiful upon the mountains Are the feet of him who brings good news, Who proclaims peace, Who brings glad tidings of good things, Who proclaims salvation, Who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!’” (Isaiah 52:7) Mary attends to Jesus’ feet in thanksgiving for His Word of Gospel and the Life that His Word of Gospel brings to sinners who are dead in trespasses and those decaying in the tomb.
2) Jesus attaches a wonderful significance to Mary’s anointing of His feet. “Let her alone; she has kept this for the day of my burial.” (John 12:7) The Word of Gospel that Jesus brings with Him can only be accomplished by burial and the death that precedes burial. Mary prefigures Christ’s death with this act of thanksgiving. The lush perfume smell of this oil fills the entire house and lingers long on Jesus’ feet. She does not anoint Jesus as High Priest, as Aaron was anointed on His head with precious oil in Leviticus 8:12. Nor was Mary anointing Jesus as Israel’s king, as Saul and David were anointed with oil on their heads. St. John indicates this difference by using the word for a common anointing, not the word for a sacred and ceremonial anointing of the High Priest or King. Jesus had already received this anointing from God the Father at His baptism at the Jordan River. Jesus does not need this woman’s act of love to show the world that He is our High Priest and our true King. Those are both true. But this anointing points us not to the glory which Christ possesses as the bearer of either of these offices. This anointing prefigures His sufferings and death. All week Jesus will smell like an anointed corpse because that is the reason He came into this world, to suffer for the sins of the world as the sinner before God, so that He might die with the sins of the world and atone for them in death.
3) Judas Iscariot, who had long ago abandoned faith in Christ to fulfill the temptation of greed, does not see this for what it is. Judas has no reason to be thankful to Jesus because Judas had stopped receiving the doctrine and life of Jesus by yielding to the temptation of his own flesh. Whereas Mary saw the feet of Jesus as the beautiful feet of the One bringing the Gospel, and thus worthy of such an anointing, Judas sees only waste. As the oil runs off Jesus’ feet and drips to the floor from between His toes, Judas only sees dollar signs that could have added to his personal comfort in this life. St. John remarks that Judas had been stealing from the offering plate for the sake of his own belly. Neither does Judas want Jesus anointed for burial because then Judas would lose out on his living, for the turncoat apostle is one of whom St. Paul described in Philippians 3:18-19, “They are the enemies of the cross of Christ: whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame -- who set their mind on earthly things.” Judas does not want Jesus to die for the sins of the world because Judas is still clinging to His sin as a thing He loves, as something that gives Him comfort for this life.
4) Let us learn from this distinction between Judas and Mary how to rightly worship our Lord Jesus this Monday of Holy Week. Do not, like Judas, hold onto your sin so that you hold it dearer Jesus’ Word of Gospel. Do not set your mind on earthly things for Christ comes to bring heavenly treasures. Do not craft an idol of your belly, desires, comfort, or ease. These seemingly small things led Judas to the pit of Hell because he yielded to the enticement and nurtured it in his heart. Beware, lest in the pursuit of earthly things you lose sight of the Savior who bears your sins and merited punishments as Judas did. But learn from dear Mary how to worship Christ aright. Mary sat at the feet of Jesus, gladly hearing His Word of Gospel about the forgiveness of sins. Mary anointed Jesus’ feet in thanksgiving for these spiritual blessings. So you ought to always give thanks in your hearts to Christ Jesus your Lord, giving thanks to Him always for His suffering, death, and burial. Those things were your lot but He took them for you. He took your place on the cross under the full wrath of God so that you would not have to stand under that wrath but so that all who believe will stand under God’s grace in Christ. Christ took your place in the cold tomb so that all who believe this will never have to taste eternal death but live forever with Christ in paradise. Everything you deserve, He took upon Himself. Everything He possesses He gives to you.
5) Look again at these feet that Mary anoints today. They are the feet of the One who brings the Gospel. They are beautiful feet covered in blood to atone for your sins. That is the most fragrant smell to fill the nostrils of penitent sinners. The smell of an anointed corpse, the smell of blood, these are the smells of our salvation from sin and the odor of our release from the Devil. Amen.