Reflection for Friday 29 July

Nigel Price

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John 12.1-8

Mary Anoints Jesus

Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, ‘Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?’ (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) Jesus said, ‘Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.’


Many of you will have heard me speaking of my association with Alton Abbey in Hampshire.  In fact before I started going to the Abbey I was helping a convent, The Sisters of Bethany, with their financial matters.  The Sisters are a religious order for women within the Anglican Communion.  They also have Associates and those associates are: a body of close friends who unite their life in prayer to that of the community and who are accepted as members of an extended community family. They live in their homes and accept a simple rule of life which is the expression of a shared concern to love and serve God and one another after the example of Mary, Martha and Lazarus.

If you would like to learn more about the order, which is based in Southsea in Hampshire, this is their website: The Society of the Sisters of Bethany

We have met this family before, of course. Martha has made a great dinner for Jesus and Mary, not wanting to be outdone, doesn’t just sit at the feet of Jesus but anoints his feet and wipes them with her hair.  To do that, she would have had to let her hair down.  Now it is hard for us to imagine just how shocking that would have been in mixed company in those days.  It just wouldn’t be done and the onlookers must have been totally shocked.  Imagine if you were at a polite dinner party and suddenly one of the hosts starts stripping off all her clothes! So there is a real tension in the room. What on earth would Martha be thinking – surely her sister has gone way over the top this time.

The other disciples are a bit uncomfortable about the extravagance of her action.  Judas voices it, but John clearly tells us that this is a hypocritical response, for Judas has been helping himself to money.

But what about the reaction of Jesus. Perhaps he realises that Mary has been keeping the perfume to anoint his body after death, and that is going to happen much earlier than she expects.  But the suggestion is that she should keep the perfume, not to raise money for the poor, but for a more important purpose, for his coming death.  A death that perhaps would be the action to put the world to rights, including the world of poverty.

So where do you stand? With the reckless Mary who risks everything? Or with Judas, who on this occasion appeared to be the prudent, reliable one, anxious to provide for the needs of the poor?  Or are you back in the kitchen with Martha?  It’s your call, just what do you make of Jesus and his words?

And so we pray the Collect for Mary, Martha and Lazarus:

The Collect

God our Father,
whose Son enjoyed the love of his friends,
Mary, Martha and Lazarus,
in learning, argument and hospitality:
may we so rejoice in your love
that the world may come to know
the depths of your wisdom,
the wonder of your compassion,
and your power to bring life out of death;
through the merits of Jesus Christ,
our friend and brother,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.