In this dinner at the home of the family Jesus loved, we witness discipleship in several forms. First we see Mary anointing Jesus’ feet with an expensive perfume, then wiping it away with her hair. Here we see part of the dynamic of discipleship: Jesus loves and cares for her, and Mary responds with an act of devotion. She has listened to and learned from Jesus, has seen him raise her brother from the dead, and has put some of the pieces of discipleship together. She intuitively knows how to respond extravagantly to Jesus—even before he washes his disciples’ feet and commands them to love others. Mary chooses the right action for the right reasons and models faithful discipleship.
We see another example of discipleship in Judas’s response. Perturbed by Mary’s actions, he offers a critique that seems rational when he asks, “Why was this perfume not sold . . . and the money given to the poor?” The question of how to respond to God’s persistent commandments to care for the poor is appropriate, one that every generation of faithful people wrestles with. But the Fourth Evangelist essentially asserts that Judas’s motivation for asking the question involves greed rather than compassion for the poor. Judas knows scripture and talks piously but does not follow through on his words; thus, he models unfaithful discipleship.
This story calls us to check our motivations as well as our actions to be sure that we are taking the right actions for the right reasons. It also gives us permission to offer extravagant gifts of devotion to Jesus, even a donation to the poor.
Lord Jesus, you know the contours of my heart. I may know the right answers, but I don’t always do the right things for the right reasons. Continue to teach me how to be your disciple. Amen.
The Isaiah text portrays the redemptive activity of God that is about to be introduced into Israel’s life. All paradigms lie shattered before the immensity of God’s grace! The joy of Psalm 126 is occasioned by the memory of God’s act of redemption in the past and also by the anticipation that a similar intervention is imminent. Paul’s autobiographical sketch directed to the Philippians confesses the change that has come into his life as a result of “knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” The story of Mary’s anointing of Jesus’ feet must be read in the context of Jesus’ looming passion. Jesus sets Mary’s actions in their proper perspective by linking them to his own death, even as he deflects Judas’s counterfeit compassion.
Read Isaiah 43:16-21. How do you respond to this God who insists on doing new things for the sake of the people?
Read Psalm 126. Pray this psalm three times: (1) pray all the verbs in the past tense in thanksgiving; (2) pray all the verbs in the future tense as a prayer for help; (3) pray verses 1-3 in the past tense, verses 5-6 in the future tense. Which was hardest to pray?
Read Philippians 3:4b-14. What props or credentials do you need to let go of?
Read John 12:1-8. What motivations does your discipleship reflect?
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