Giving Your All to Jesus - John 12:1-8
Updated: Dec 19, 2022
At the center of this Gospel passage is Mary of Bethany. She is the sister of Martha and Lazarus. You may remember her from the Mary and Martha story in Luke’s Gospel where Mary sat at Jesus’ feet and Martha was distracted by her many tasks. They were also central characters in the story of the raising of their brother Lazarus from the dead. This Mary is not to be confused with Mary Magdalene, another one of the women who were among Jesus’ first disciples. Both seem to have been particularly holy women, and so the medieval church often conflated them into one person in art and the common imagination.
Here Mary of Bethany does something profound for Jesus. She seems to understand his death is coming soon. Remember Jesus was quite open with his disciples about the fact he was going to die and rise again. And most of them didn’t get what he meant, but Mary obviously did. So she anoints Jesus’ feet with costly perfume. I’m told that 300 denarii was about a year’s worth of wages. So this was perhaps Mary’s life savings. Her most prized possession. Her greatest treasure. And she poured it all out to honor Jesus. To express her love for him. She gave her all to Jesus.
Mary is an example for us. She was human. She experienced sin and selfishness. Yet divine love led her to let go of her most prized possession, this costly perfume. This perfume was more than just perfume. The physical object of the perfume symbolized Mary’s everything. Beyond the literal event of pouring perfume on Jesus’ feet, is what this physical act represents. She poured out her heart and soul to Jesus in the act of pouring out the perfume. She gave her all to Jesus.
And then there’s Judas. We all know Judas is the one who eventually betrays Jesus. And the author of the Gospel tells us this here. Judas criticizes Mary for giving her all to Jesus. Judas came up with some good reasons for her to not give her all to Jesus. Most compellingly Judas says this perfume could’ve been sold and the money given to the poor. That’s a really good thing to do with the perfume. And the Gospel writer of John knows this too, so he comments that Judas was probably thinking he could steal the money for himself. But either way it’s an appropriate question. Why not sell it and give the money to the poor? Many times Jesus did tell people to sell all they had and give it to the poor and then come follow him. Giving your all to the poor was something Jesus often said was a way of giving your all to him. Giving to the poor was a main way people could demonstrate their commitment to Jesus—then and now. And here Mary demonstrates her commitment and devotion to Jesus in a way that seems to disregard the poor.
While caring for the poor was and always will be a hallmark of the ministry of Jesus and his disciples, the key thing here wasn’t what happened to the prized possession Mary gave away, it was the act of giving it away. It’s about the spiritual motivation behind her actions. Here Mary lets go of her most prized possession. She lets go and gives it all to Jesus. It is this act of letting go of our treasures, whether it’s to the poor or to Jesus directly, that matters most.
Of course donating to the poor will make more of a material difference, and as Christians in the world’s wealthiest country it’s something we need to be very aware of. Today, giving your all to Jesus may very well mean giving it to the poor. But when Jesus was physically present in front of Mary, giving her all directly to Jesus was her best way of expressing love for him. She sought to express her devotion in whatever way she could. And the act which seemed the best way to express this overflowing love for Jesus was pouring out her heart and soul to him by pouring her most prized possession on his feet. By pouring out her perfume in abundance, she expressed the abundance of divine love in her.
What is your most prized possession? Is it something you’re willing to let go of for Jesus’ sake? Is it something you’re willing to pour out over Jesus’ feet? Do we have the love Mary did to pour it all out as a physical expression of our inner commitment to him? Or do we make excuses like Judas to protect our possessions and criticize others who seem to be giving it all up for Christ?
The purpose of all the things we love in this life is to prepare us to give and receive the love of God. It might be a physical possession, your home, or a piece of property. It might something like your reputation or your career. Or it might be something like your family and relationships. The Bible says the ideal marriage is about surrendering yourself to the other person, in a way that teaches us how to surrender ourselves to God. The same thing is true about your children or your vocation or your life’s passion. All of these earthly things are meant to teach us to love in a divine way. It’s only when we become addicted to these things that they become idols—or false gods—which get in the way of giving our all to God. But in their purest form, even perfume is something which can connect us to God. Whatever it may be, when we hold our earthly belongings and relationships in proper perspective, they become springboards to our love of the divine. Vehicles by which we grow in relationship with God. But in order for that to happen, we need to surrender them to God.
Mary let go of her prized possession for Jesus’ sake. In the same way, we are called to let go of everything we care about for God’s sake.
The problem for most of us is we have a hard time with letting go. We have trouble loving God above all things. We struggle with turning it all over to God. Sometimes we have moments where we’re like Mary, but we’re more often like Judas in our excuses and refusal to give our all to Jesus. We see this tendency in ourselves, and we see this tendency at work in human beings across the world. We’re trapped in loving our possessions, we’re trapped in making false gods out of our passions and relationships. We miss the mark when it comes to using those things to propel us to God because we cling to them and make them ends in themselves. We’re often more like Judas than like Mary.
But even so. Even when we can’t turn all of ourselves over to Jesus like Mary did. Even when we’re stuck in our own selfishness. Even when we haven’t yet learned to let go. Even when we don’t give Jesus our all, still: Jesus died for us. Jesus died on the cross to heal us of our selfishness and sinfulness. Jesus died on the cross to show us true unconditional love and to invite us into the same. Even when we couldn’t give Jesus our all, Jesus gave us his all. And because Jesus gave us his all, we have the chance to grow into the kind of love Mary demonstrates here. The kind of love Jesus brought to the world. Through the work of the Holy Spirit, God is transforming us to be like Mary—to be the type of people who surrender our all to God.
So even if you find it difficult to imagine yourself letting go of everything for Jesus, know that Jesus gave his all for you; and the very love he has for you is transforming you to be an expression of divine love. To be an expression of divine love that willingly, naturally, bears the fruit of surrender and offers your all to God.
As we begin Holy Week one week from today, we remember God’s love for us. We remember that God’s love is transforming us to be vehicles of divine love in the world. And we remember that the love that led Mary to pour perfume on Jesus’ feet is the same love that led Jesus to the cross. Divine unconditional love. As we journey in our faith walk, know that God is growing that same love in you. Growing that love in you so that it will overflow into love for God, into love for the poor, into love for the whole human family and all creation. That love is a seed in your soul waiting to sprout into full bloom like it did in Mary. Thanks be to God for the gift of such love. The love that the Holy Spirit is growing in us. The love that Mary poured out for Jesus. The love that led Jesus to the cross. The love that raised Jesus from the dead. The love that saves the world. Amen.
Pastor Brian, 4/3/22