Faith and Giving (John 12)
Pr. Phinny Kuruvilla
Gospel of John is unique one among the other Gospels. Apostle John begin his account with the pre-existence and the incarnation of Jesus Christ the Logos. The incarnation of the Lord Jesus Christ marks the miraculous event in the history. His life not only divides the calendar into BC and AD but also human destiny. As Jesus Himself warned those who rejected Him that, “… for you will die in your sins unless you believe that I am he” (John 8:24). The purpose statement of the gospel John is to present “… Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31). The whole narrative of the gospel of John is revolving around this purpose.
What is Faith?
Faith is to believing in God and trusting in His plan totally, even when we don’t understand it and can’t see it. Faith is more than just a feeling, it’s about living it; we live our faith through obedience to God and the Word. Apostle John in his Gospel used the verbal form of the Greek word pisteu,wpisteuō which is mainly translated as ‘believe’ and sometimes as trust or commit. It is used ninety-eight times in the gospel and nine times in 1 John. By presenting the verbal form, John presents faith as an intentional act of believing; it is not simply an idea, subjective feeling or the mere agreement of a plan. Believe is the active acceptance of the message about Jesus (John 1:12; 2:11, 23, 3:15-16, 18, 36; 4:39; 6:29, 35, 40, 47; 7:5, 31, 38-39, 48; 8:30; 9:35-36; 10:42; 11:25-26, 45, 48; 12:11, 36-37, 42, 44, 46; 14:1,12;16:9; 17:20). John 12 presents the story of Mary’s anointing of Jesus, both belief and unbelief are portrayed here. The worshipful act of Mary characterizes faith and love; but the suspicious response of Judas shows unbelief.
Jesus Giving life to Lazarus
Raising of Lazarus from the dead brought murderous opposition from the hostile Jewish leaders (John 11:46–53). They made plans to kill both Jesus and Lazarus (John 12:9-10). Since, His hour had not yet come (John 7:30; 8:20), they could not do any harm to Jesus. Jesus left the vicinity of Jerusalem and stayed in the village of Ephraim (John 11:54). And then six days before the Passover, Jesus once again came to Bethany. John described Bethany as the village where Lazarus lived, and he is one of the famous resident, since Jesus had raised him from the dead.
A supper was given in honor of Jesus, it was to express their love and gratitude to Jesus for raising Lazarus. Supper refers to the main meal of the day, it would have been a lengthy one, designed with much time for relaxed conversation. The guests were reclining at the table, leaning on one elbow with their heads toward a low, u-shaped table. The text is silent about how many attended, probably Jesus, the Twelve, Lazarus, Mary and Martha were present. Martha served on the occasion and in all probability her service was primarily to Jesus, because it was motivated by her loving gratitude to Him, and to honor Him in the best way she knew.
Mary’s Selfless Devotion to Jesus Christ
John presents Mary as more thoughtful and emotional of the two sisters. In an amazing and spontaneous outpouring of her love for Jesus, Mary comes forward with a gift, a pound of costly perfume of pure nard and liberally pours it on Jesus’ feet. It was not just a few drops, but a full jar of perfume. Nard was a fragrant oil extracted from the root and spike of a plant from the mountains of northern India. Perfume made from nard was very costly because of the great distance from which it had to be imported. It was estimated that it was worth “over three hundred denarii” (Mark 14:5), it would be equal to a year’s wages (John 12:5). The expensive alabaster jar in which it was stored also added to its value (Matt. 26:7). She broke the jar (Mark 14:3), thus giving up everything both the contents and the container.In fact, it is one of the few occasion in the New Testament where smell is mentioned, and it is a significant reversal. A fragrant smell and grateful love now fill the house that had once been filled with mourning and the smell of death’s decay.
John very keenly presents in his gospel that, the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. It also testifies to the extravagance of Mary’s act of devotion. But she was careless about its cost. The measure of her love was her total devotion to Jesus Christ. In Mark, Jesus declared, Mary’s noble act would be spoken of as a memorial of her love wherever the gospel is preached (Mark 14:9).
Mary’s selflessness and Judas’ selfishness
John 12:4 start with the conjunction ‘but’ it presents the plain contrast between Mary’s selflessness and Judas’ selfishness. Judas acted over such a waste of money, exclaiming, “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and given to poor?” These words of Judas are the first recorded words of Judas in the New Testament. They expose the greed, ambition, and selfishness that ruled his heart.
Judas’question was, “why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages” (John 12:5). Apostle John’s comment is interesting about Judas’ question, he asked the question not because he was concerned about the poor, but because he was a thief, and as he had the money bag, he used to steal what was put into it. As noted above, Mary’s perfume was worth a lot of money; since a denarius was a day’s wages for a common laborer (Matt. 20:2).Threehundred denarii equaled a year’s wages since allowing for Sabbaths and other holy days on which no work was done. Seeing that much money has gone out of his control Judas got furious and turned to Mary. Judas’ displeasure of Mary’s action was not because of the loss of opportunity to do more for the poor but to his own loss of opportunity to steal from the common purse.
Jesus’ approval of Mary’s giving
John narrates that, Jesus the Lord immediately defended Mary by sternly rebuking Judas “Let her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of my burial” (John 12:7). Jesus obviously did not mean that Mary would keep the perfume until His burial, since she had just poured it all out (cf. Mark 14:3). Mary’s act was a spontaneous outpouring of her love and devotion to Christ. In Matthew 26:12, Jesus said, “When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial.” (cf. Mark 14:8). When Jesus prophetically spoke about the burial it was not the actual placing of His body in the tomb, rather He foresee it as a symbol of His imminent death and burial. Mary’s anointing foreshadowed what Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus would later do on Jesus’ body after his death (John 19:38–40).
If Judas really wanted to help the poor, he would had plenty of opportunities; as Jesus said, “You always have the poor with you” (John 12:8; cf. Mark 14:7). The Lord was not negative about the giving to the poor rather He was challenging the disciples to keep their priorities right. Because, the priorities of Judas was not straight but was crooked. For Jesus, the opportunity to do good is to do like Mary had done, because they would not have Him physically present always with them.
Selfish Judas and disbelief
Gospel of John portrays Judas as nothing but a greedy thief, a murderous traitor and even a Devil (John 6:70–71; cf. 13:2, 27). John unmasked the hypocritical face of Judas.Hewas pretending to care for the poor while in reality stealing from the purse. Judas is the greatest example of missed opportunity in the history. He lived with Jesus Christ the Messiah for three and half years. Either, he could fall at Jesus’ feet in repentance, confess his sin and seek forgiveness or he could harden his heart, refuse to repent, and betray the Lord. Unfortunately, he chose the latter one. At the end Judas betrayed his Lord and master and was overwhelmed by guilt but not genuine repentance, committed suicide, and Luke says “Judas left to go where he belongs” (Acts 1:25). But John specifically says as “the one doomed to destruction” (John 17:12). Those of us who claims to be in Christ shall not fall into the trap of Judas, to lose what he had in his hand; rather each of us need to set our priorities on the basis of Kingdom values.
Mary’s Extravagant Faith and Giving
The faith that Mary shows is an extravagant faith; it is a model to Judas, the disciples, her family, and even to us. It is a faith that always seeks more. Seeking more is not that something we desire to achieve in our lives rather it is a faith that gives more to serve others. Jesus praises Mary for her faithful devotion. Perhaps we should reform our understanding of faith; like Mary, we should seek to live with an extravagant faith and giving. Such a faith may seem ridiculous to others, but our Lord encourages us to continue even in the midst of adversity, because Lord Jesus asked his disciples to go for the second mile (Matt. 5:41). Thisis the message of the cross, the unconditional love that God had for the world.
Mary’s surprising gift was her love. She has presented the most important aspect of her faith, i.e., love. Mary’s love prompted her to do something more. Her actions demonstrates what cannot be said in words or in thought can be confirmed through the great giving of the heart. Generous faith means we should be truly love God with our heart, mind and body. It means making more in our relationship with God. Going above, beyond and deeper and still there is something more to be learned and experienced from the one who first loved us. It is not meant in monetary measure. This generous faith is about giving God all that we have. If Jesus is the pearl of great price and the treasure hidden in the field, then it’s not a waste to sell everything you have to buy that pearl or buy that field. Jesus is worthy for you to devote all you are and all you have to Him. When we are overwhelmed by our love for God, we may do wild and radical things that will make us to be called the true Disciples of Christ Jesus.