Tuesday, March 20, 2007

First Pass at This Weekend's Bible Lesson: John 12:1-8

[Most weeks, I present as many updates on my reflections and study of the Biblical texts on which our weekend worship celebrations will be built as I can. The purpose is to help the people of the congregation I serve as pastor, Friendship Lutheran Church of Amelia, Ohio, get ready for worship. Hopefully, it's helpful to others as well, since our Bible lesson is usually one from the weekly lectionary, variations of which are used in most of the churches of the world.]

The Bible Lesson: John 12:1-8
1Six 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.”

General Comments
1. Most commentators point out that this passage is the third of three different versions of what is apparently the same incident. The others are in Mark 14:3-9 (essentially duplicated in Matthew 26:1-13) and in Luke 7:36-49. As in this lesson, the anointing of Jesus is associated with His burial. Luke makes no such link, instead focusing on the woman's devotion to Jesus and His scandalous proclamation of forgiveness. In the Lucan story, the woman is a notorious sinner.

2. The immediate context of the passage is framed first by the end of chapter 11 in which the "chief priests and Pharisess" have decided to find a way to arrest Jesus during the upcoming Passover. This decision is reached in John 11:53, because of Jesus bringing His friend Lazarus back from the dead. This is too definitive a sign, in this Gospel of miraculous signs, of Jesus' dominion over life and death for them to allow. (This has always struck me as bizarrely funny. If the raising of Lazarus confirmed who Jesus was, why did the religious leadership think that they could successfully kill Him off? It just shows how strangely we think when we become consumed with our own power and priorities.)

3. After our passage, we come to the conspiracy to also kill Lazarus, evidence of Jesus' Lordship, and the movement to the cross with Palm Sunday. (The latter passage ends in John 12:19, with the Pharisees' acknowledgement of the futility of standing against Jesus. But they press to kill Him anyway.)

4. We are moving toward the crucifixion at a time appointed by God, irrespective of the machinations of Jesus' enemies. This becomes clearer as we move through John's account of Jesus' execution. Everything about our lesson foreshadows what is to come and in some ways, this is John's version of the Last Supper, although He will talk about that event in ways that vary from the narratives in Matthew, Mark, and Luke.

[I hope to present verse-by-verse comments on the passage tomorrow.]

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