Week 3: Mary of Bethany pours out her love for Jesus
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
Texts: Romans 12:1-2, 9-13; John 12:1-8
It was easy to criticize Mary.
She took an astonishingly expensive thing and poured it out. If the value really was 300 denarii, that’s worth nearly a year’s wages for a common worker. Whatever you might think of Judas, he has a point. It’s doubtful the disciples’ common purse ever had three hundred denarii in it. Many could have been blessed with that.
It’s easy to criticize Jesus, too. He seems to devalue caring for those who are poor in favor of caring for him. “You always have the poor with you” sounds a little callous.
But the criticism is easy only if we don’t enter Mary’s heart and Jesus’ wisdom. Paul pleads with his Roman churches to live with transformed minds, being completely different people in the life in Christ that the Spirit gave them. Lives filled with genuine love, care for each other, patience, joy, generosity for each other and for strangers.
Mary is living such a transformed mind because her heart was re-made. This pouring out was the only response she could make from her heart. Jesus knows that, sees this new heart. And publicly gives thanks for it.
Mary’s heart and mind were transformed by her life with Jesus.
Transformed by her time sitting at his feet listening, soaking in his grace, the love of God he lived and proclaimed. Transformed by her life with him as his friend, hosting him in the home she shared with her sister Martha and her brother Lazarus. Transformed by her profound experience at her brother’s death, when this beloved Master and Healer wept with her, shared her grief. Opened his heart to her, which she had come to know was the heart of God.
Mary lived in the abundant life Jesus came to bring all. She experienced new life when she was with him, the life in God’s reign Jesus said was now in the world. When she came to this moment, her heart was different and her understanding, her mind, was transformed.
Mary’s new heart gave her deep empathy.
This is a week before Jesus’ death. He’d warned the disciples, and John tells us they feared he’d be killed if he came to Jerusalem. But they seem oblivious to what Jesus is feeling.
Not Mary. Does she know he will die soon? Maybe. But she clearly senses his inner pain, his fear. Her new heart is drawn to his heart, and she feels his grief. She gets this costly perfume and pours out her empathy, her love, her heart, over his feet, and wipes them with her now-fragrant hair.
Living in Christ’s abundant life, with new heart and transformed mind, the only thing she knew to do was to love Jesus in the most abundant and gracious way she could. Little wonder others were confused and even critical. If they didn’t share her heart, how could they share her love?
Mary’s new heart also gave her new math, new values.
Seen logically, pouring nearly a year’s wages on the floor for any reason is criminally wasteful. These were not wealthy people. The math doesn’t work. If you care for those who are poor, and share your wealth with all so that all have enough, whether friend or stranger in need, this gift doesn’t add up.
But Mary’s new heart and transformed mind have a completely different value system, not driven by cost figures or rational argument. When you see differently, understand differently, feel in your heart differently, your priorities and values add up differently.
Far differently than some of her fellow disciples. It’s as if she was speaking a different language, acting according to a different set of cultural expectations. Not just marching to a different drummer, but singing with an entirely different set of musical rules and structures and voices.
This new heart and mind is your gift in the Spirit, too, if you want to live in it.
Meeting the heart of the Triune God in Christ, walking with Christ, transforms your mind, re-makes your heart.
In that new heart and mind, you share Mary’s empathy. Feeling not only God’s pain over the world’s suffering, but the suffering of all God’s children. That’s the wisdom Jesus has in his words about the poor. Mary only had that one week left to care for Jesus. But he made it clear that caring for all those in need, “the least of these,” as he said, from then on was where his followers would care for him. With transformed mind and re-made heart, you have Christ’s empathy, can pour yourself out in love for others whose needs will always be with you. Your Christ heart can feel that pain and offer healing perfume and loving abundant grace.
And in that new heart and mind, you have Mary’s new math and values. We’re learning that in this current health crisis. Suddenly doing things the way we want, the way we like, just isn’t good enough. We sacrifice things that are deeply important to us because we carry Christ’s heart for our neighbors and friends. But we’ve been learning this all along, too. That wealth we share for the sake of others is always a blessing, far beyond tax breaks or investment strategies. That helping someone might not make good business sense but always makes sense in our hearts. That seeing abundance instead of scarcity gives us courage to share in ways others might not understand, might criticize.
I appeal to you, Paul says, be transformed in Christ.
Let the Spirit open your mind to new possibilities, remake your heart into one like the Triune God’s. It’s a whole new world, but it’s life abundant, Mary reveals. And it’s what Christ longs for you to know and pour out into this frightened and broken world.
God’s peace be with you, beloved, in this time we are apart, but still together in God’s love.