Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead.2 Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honour. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him.3 Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. (John 12:1-3)
In this chapter, we see Mary as a picture of the fullness of the life of discipleship. Her act of washing Jesus’ feet shows the love that is the hallmark of discipleship in John’s Gospel. Mary’s act of washing Jesus’ feet anticipates Jesus washing the disciples’ feet in the next chapter. Mary pours out a perfume that is worth a year’s wages. We know that Lazarus, Martha and Mary are not rich for its Martha that is serving the food as they have no servant. The perfume is a major expenditure, a major financial sacrifice. Mary wiped Jesus’ feet with her hair, this is significant since well-kept hair contributed to a person’s dignity in the ancient world. Women took pride in long hair, which was considered attractive, and damage to one’s hair was considered degrading. Mary in this act shows her love for Jesus, not only in acting as a servant in washing his feet but also she makes a major financial sacrifice and sacrifices her appearance and status in the eyes of the world.
Jesus replied. “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. (John 12:7)
Mary has used that perfume that was intended for Jesus’ burial, here again, is an anticipation of what is to come. It is Mary that has understood where Jesus was going and what was about to happen. The 12 Apostles still did not understand what was going to happen to Jesus, Peter, Jesus’ closest disciple did not understand what Jesus had been teaching and explaining to them. He did not realise that Jesus had to go to Jerusalem and to die on the cross.
The power of the witness of Mary’s discipleship in this story is that she knows how to respond to Jesus without being told. She fulfils Jesus’ love commandment, by washing his feet, before he even teaches it to his disciples. She embraces Jesus’ departure at his hour before any of his disciples understand what Jesus had been telling them.
Mary is the first follower of Jesus that really gets what being a follower of Jesus really means, a great example to us all.
A new command I give you: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples if you love one another. (John 13:34)
Jesus wept But this does not quite capture what Jesus was feeling, in the original, the Greek word translated as wept might be better translated as ‘shuddered with anguish’. Jesus shuddered with anguish as he wept. Real physical emotion that shakes us when we lose someone close.
Jesus wept. Tears are important. Pope Francis said
“If you do not know how to weep, you are not a good Christian,”
When we applied to lead our current church, one of the questions at our interview was ‘when was the last time you cried?’ It was a good question to ask, an important question to ask.
How often do you cry, I think our relationship with tears is uncertain in our society and even in our churches. Tears are more likely to be suppressed than expressed, hidden rather than gathered. And if do end up crying in front of others we feel we have to apologise. But throughout Christian history tears have held a special place. There was even a practice in Victorian England, where people would collect their tears in little bottles as an expression of mourning for those who had died. Gathered tears were a sign of their devotion and the pain of separation. Gathered tears were a way of remembering, of paying attention, and of being faithful. An expression of the simple longing to be close to one who was absent. (Runcorn)
The idea comes from the book of Psalms, where in Psalm 56 the struggling psalmist says:
‘you have kept account my misery; put my tears in your bottle’.
The psalmist found comfort in the conviction that God too collects our tears and keeps a record of the stories of our pain.
Jesus wept at the death of his friend. God wept. We weep and God gathers our tears and holds them, and holds us in His all loving embrace.
Bible trivia question – what’s the shortest verse in the Bible? The shortest verse in the Bible is often quoted as John 11:35 ‘Jesus wept’ and this may well be true in some of our English translations but if we have a look at the Greek Jesus wept is 16 letters long:
Let’s not go into the Hebrew as there are a couple even shorter in the original language because of the lack of vowels in Hebrew.
Jesus wept is not even the shortest verse in the popular NIV (New International) that is from Job 3:2 ‘He said’. The reason ‘Jesus wept’ is said to be the shortest verse in the Bible because in the KJV (King James) translation it is the shortest!
If it does come up as a question on a quiz and you want to get the point say ‘Jesus wept’! If you want to put the right answer ask the quiz master to be more specific in their question!
Then Jesus declared, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty’ (John 6:35)
It is interesting that in John’s Gospel there is no account of the Last Supper itself. John’s Gospel does talk about Jesus washing the disciple’s feet, teaching and praying; but there is no mention of bread and wine in chapter 13. But throughout John’s Gospel, the Eucharist is there in the many chapters that talk about Jesus as the bread of life and the true vine. About feeding on him and the importance of his blood. It’s here very clearly in chapter 6:
‘For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them.’ (John 6:55)
We need more than just physical food, Jesus is telling us that we must feed the souls. When we feed on Jesus we feed our minds and our souls. We need spiritual food not just physical food.
When we come to church we get that kind of nourishment, in the songs we sing, in the profound liturgy we say, in the prayers, in the bible readings, in the sermon. In the sharing of communion with our church family and in the fellowship afterward.
But it’s not just on Sundays at Church that we can get spiritual nourishment. We can feed on the words of Jesus, by reading the Bible a little every day, by talking about our faith with others. We can feed on Jesus through praying together or by ourselves. We should never stop learning about God’s love, we should never stop feeding on Jesus.
‘I am the good shepherd, I know my sheep and my sheep know me’ (v11)
Here Jesus is drawing on an image of God from the Old Testament, from an Old Testament Book called Ezekiel. Ezekiel was a prophet in Israel about 600 years before the time of Jesus.
It says in Ezekiel:
For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness. … I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy.I will shepherd the flock with justice. (Ezekiel 34:11-12, 16)
Jesus is identifying Himself as the Good Shepherd building on this Ezekiel passage about God as the shepherd. Jesus is the fulfilment of this Ezekiel passage, in Jesus’ ministry we see him healing the sick and acting justly. But Jesus goes further than the Ezekiel passage by saying that the good Shepherd will lay down His life for His sheep.
Jesus tells us a hired hand is not willing to do that, faced with danger a hired shepherd will save themselves if a wolf attacks the sheep. Jesus laid down His life for the sheep because He is the Good Shepherd because He loves us.
It’s not what you know it’s who you know. And we know the Good Shepherd Jesus Christ. Who loves us so much that He was willing to lay down His life for us. So what can we do? Well in this chapter Jesus also talks about the sheep hearing His voice.
his sheep follow him because they know his voice. (v4)
My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. (v16)
Our job then is to get better at hearing the voice of Jesus. Hearing what Jesus is saying to us in our lives. Relationships work best when you work on them. Keep listening out for the voice of Jesus in the Bible, through prayer, in church and with friends.