Mary's Flowering Tree (John 12)

I preached a while back on John 12:1-8 which reads:

Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 2There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. 3Mary 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. 4But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, 5‘Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii* and the money given to the poor?’ 6(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.) 7Jesus said, ‘Leave her alone. She bought it* so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. 8You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.’

I’ve been thinking about this passage since that time. I love it. There’s so much going on here, so much to reflect on. For one, think about the wider biblical narrative of which this takes place within. Jesus has just raised Lazarus from death to life and in the meantime all hell has broken loose. Literally, this is the last public event Jesus does before he is arrested. Because he raised Lazarus his following has grown and gained the attention of those who were looking to do away with him. Just before our dinner scene we get to listen in on the pharisees scheming how they might kill Jesus. Just as everything is picking up the pace, the story is beginning to build to it’s devastating conclusion with Jesus’ capital punishment, that Mary plants a beautiful flowering tree amid the rubble:

“Remember let’s plant a flowering tree, here in the rubble and debris. I’ll tend it with a tear…” (Elvis Perkins)

She takes what turns out to be her last opportunity to show that she has given up all that she has and is fully devoted to Christ as one of his followers. The perfume she pours out then is a symbol for the obstacle that needs to be poured out in worship, it is the obstacle that holds one back, and thus becomes the object paid out in devotion to Christ. The fragrant oil poured out at his feet smacks of being out of place, just like beautiful flowers planted in pot holes.

Next, Mary’s act, her complete surrender, becomes a kind of beautiful aroma that overflows into the room and the whole house, she takes that which means the most to her and spills it onto the floor in the name of Christ. You have this kind of overflow, excessive spirituality represented here, where it exceeds the event and actually has to be written into the text. It says: “The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.”

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Wess

...is the William R. Roger Director of Friends Center and Quaker Studies at Guilford College in Greensboro, NC., PhD in Intercultural Studies from Fuller Theological Seminary, served as a "released minister" at Camas Friends Church, and father of three. He enjoys sketchnoting, sharing conversation over coffee with a friend, listening to vinyl and writing creative nonfiction.

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