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John 12:1-8 - The test of bowing one's head to the feet of Jesus

Updated: Feb 8, 2022

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


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This is the Gospel selection that will be read aloud by a priest on the fifth Sunday in Lent, Year C, according to the lectionary for the Episcopal Church. It will follow an Old Testament reading from Isaiah, where the prophet spoke as Yahweh, saying “Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” That will be followed by a singing of Psalm 162, where David wrote: “Those who sowed with tears will reap with songs of joy.” The Epistle selection from Paul’s letter to the Philippians will then come next, where he wrote: “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.”


In verse one’s first words we have a statement of timing that is important. “Six days before the Passover” not only states the date as being 9 Nisan (with the Passover beginning on 15 Nisan), it says this event took place on Sunday, the first day of the week. Because the Passover would begin at 6:00 P.M. on 14 Nisan (which technically begins 15 Nisan), that “day” known to be a Friday then backs up to the previous Sunday. This can then be dovetailed into the timing that was of Jesus being told (in the region known as Beyond the Jordan) that Lazarus was ill; and, that timing says when Lazarus died, was buried and was then raised by Jesus.


Lazarus fell ill on a Shabbat, which was 1 Nisan (the Hebrew Ecclesiastical New Year's Day). By Sunday morning early (2 Nisan), two (including John) were sent to where Jesus was camped with his disciples. Taking a donkey and a mule, in order to travel as fast as possible, the two reached Jesus on Sunday evening, giving him the news. When Jesus told everyone “Lazarus is only sleeping,” that says Lazarus had died on Sunday afternoon, after the two left to tell Jesus. The two stayed the night with Jesus and then returned to Bethany, getting back Monday evening (3 Nisan), when they learned Lazarus had died. That says no blame would be placed on Jesus for not immediately leaving for Bethany. When John 11:6b states, “after having heard that Lazarus was ill, [Jesus] stayed two days longer in the place where he was,” that says Jesus stayed Beyond the Jordan Monday and Tuesday, until leaving Wednesday afternoon (5 Nisan). Jesus then stayed the night in Jericho, in the house of Zacchaeus, leaving for Bethany on Thursday morning (6 Nisan). Jesus then arrived in Bethany Thursday afternoon. Lazarus, having died on Sunday afternoon, had been dead for four days (Sunday afternoon to Thursday afternoon). The sealing of his tomb would have been on Wednesday afternoon (5 Nisan), after a wake of three days. Thus, Lazarus’ body would have been sealed in the tomb for one day, before Jesus arrived; and, Jesus raised Lazarus on that Thursday afternoon, after he had been “dead and stinking for four days.” The diner in his honor was then prepared for on Friday (7 Nisan), with nothing done on the Sabbath (8 Nisan). The diner was on Sunday, six days before the Passover, on 9 Nisan.


It is important to realize that none of Jesus’ disciples witnessed Lazarus being raised from the dead. In the return from Jericho, the entourage stopped first at Bethphage, where they established a camp (if not finding buildings to lodge in there). Jesus left his disciples at Bethphage, as he went into Bethany. Because Jesus had said “Lazarus is only sleeping,” there was no danger sensed by the disciples and no urgency to accompany Jesus to his home, shared with Mary, Martha, Lazarus and John. This means Judas Iscariot was unaware of Jesus doing anything more than heal a sick Lazarus, which he had done many other times, rather routinely. Therefore, Judas Iscariot does not acknowledge that Jesus had done any out of the ordinary miracles, even though the talk said, “Jesus raised Lazarus from being dead.”


Because John felt need to write an aside that says Judas was “the one who was about to betray him,” it is the nature of spies and traitors to act unaware, while carefully observing the scene and listening to all valuable information. The talk of why this dinner party (luncheon) would be held on the first day of the week, prepared for on Friday, the day after Jesus raised Lazarus from death, the Sabbath was for giving thanks to Yahweh for the miracle. Sunday was for giving thanks to Jesus. Still, Judas Iscariot would only tell his keepers - those of the Sanhedrin - that “the people were saying Jesus raised his brother-in-law Lazarus from death.” Lazarus would receive that information without letting on that he was interested in that valuable (money in his pocket) news. Instead, Judas Iscariot made a point of being concerned for the poor, which would be to keep all from thinking he was a spy.


The meanings behind the names of the people and places also need to be known.


Bethany means “House Of Answer, Business, Affliction, Singing”.

Martha means “Mistress, Myrrh”.

Lazarus mean “God Has Helped, My God Is Helper”.

Jesus means “Yah[weh] Will Save, Yah[weh] Saves”.

Mary means “Beloved [from Egyptian], Obstinacy, Myrrh”.

Judas means “Praised, Let Him Be Praised”.

Iscariot means “Cities”.


From these meanings behind the names, verse one says the salvation of Yahweh had come to the house of answer, where there was singing for God having helped the affliction of death be lifted.


In that house was the business run by a mistress, whose sister was obstinacy and whose brother was the help of God. All were employed as servants, because life was bitter [myrrh] anywhere else.


The one who praised the salvation of Yahweh, as a son of the cities, was intelligent and crafty, thus he was trusted with the business’ money.


When Judas complained that the strong fragrance of “a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard,” he felt called upon to speak out, as the ‘accountant’ of the ‘business’ that was the ministry of Jesus [salvation]. Certainly, the aside offered by John says, had the nard been sold for “three hundred denarii,” the money would have been placed into the coffer managed by Judas Iscariot. Once in his possession, he would have pilfered much of that for himself, with very little going to the “poor.” In this way, Judas Iscariot should be seen as how every so-called “charitable organization” is today: They take money under the pretense of helping the poor, when they are more concerned with helping those who manage the money (salaries and perks for the executives), with them paid first and the poor second.


The ” house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.” That says the place of business smelled strongly of death. Death is the stench of failure, when a soul it snatched away from its body of flesh and judged by Yahweh. The sweet smell of strong perfume is then metaphor for a soul having been saved from judgment. Jesus was the reason for all their salvations, thus the man being honored with a diner.


The complaint of Judas Iscariot could have been argued by Jesus (and Martha and Mary) that the expense of the pound of nard was because Lazarus had died; and, because he had been dead for three days before his tomb was sealed, the nard was a necessary expense, to mask the stench of his dead flesh, while his body was watched continuously by shemira (both males and females – shomers and shomerets). Because Jesus addressed the fact that “You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me,” he was saying to Judas that Judas' soul would always be spiritually "poor.” Jesus knew what Judas was plotting, in league with the Temple elite; so, he said to Judas (in coded words) how he knew that Judas would soon be in need of his own nard. Without Jesus, the soul of Judas Iscariot would not be saved.


When Jesus said to Judas, “Leave her alone,” this is begun with a capitalized “Aphes,” where the root word “aphiémi” means “to send away, leave alone, permit.” The capitalization must make this word be read with a divinely elevated meaning. Because John did not record Judas making mention of Mary, or the act of smearing nard on the feet of Jesus with her hair, the word being directed at Judas says Jesus knew Judas would be “Left alone.” A divine elevation of meaning says "Left alone" is speaking spiritually, when Judgment would come to all mortals. The following word “autēn,” which is the third-person feminine form of the possessive pronoun translated as “her,” the focus should be coming from reading the word as “her soul” (the core meaning of “herself,” where a "self" is a "soul"), with both Judas and Mary having souls in “the same” sense that both were alive in bodies of flesh. This makes what Jesus said next, following John marking a separation by comma, need to be understood more deeply – as that depth explains why Judas’ soul would be “Left alone.”


The Greek text next written by John literally can translate as saying, “in order that upon this day of this preparation for burial of my soul she may keep the same”. By adjusting one’s eyes to see these words speaking of Mary’s “preparation for burial,” not Jesus’, it was her act with hair, feet, and nard, that Judas was not doing. He was complaining about not having the money that bought the nard; as he was doing nothing that placed his head at the feet of Jesus. Therefore, his soul would be “Left alone” when he died. Mary, on the other hand, served Jesus (like her brother and sister – Martha and Lazarus); so, Mary’s soul would be joined with the soul of Jesus [as an Apostle] before her physical death. As such, she would keep the salvation that comes with being so divinely joined [from having married her soul to Yahweh] and the presence of Jesus’ soul [after his known death to come] coming within hers.


The truth of this meaning can be found told later, as the time when Mary went (with the other women) to anoint the body of Jesus with oils on 'Easter' morning. Then, Jesus was already risen and there was no body to anoint. Jesus would have known that future; so, his address was not about Mary using her nard in preparation for his burial (Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea took much more nard and perfumes with them to do that). It was about the soul of Judas Iscariot known to be “Left alone,” due to his lack of service to Yahweh (stealing from the 'business' and not caring about the boss or his employees, much less "the poor").


In this account of John telling how Mary Magdalene (his mother) wiped strongly fragrant nard on Jesus’ feet, rubbing it in with her hair, this act is highly symbolic of submission. She would have been kneeling before her husband, in order to have both her hands and her hair be lowered to his feet. Assuming a stool was used to elevate Jesus’ feet, her placing the nard on his feet with her hands and then using her hands to use her hair as a soft brush, to rub the grease or oil all around his feet, the act clearly says Mary was submitting to Jesus as her master (more than as a wife to a husband). In a diner event given in honor of Jesus, because Mary had come to Jesus sobbing deeply over the loss of her brother (when Jesus finally arrived from Beyond the Jordan), this act done by her says she had fully placed herself at his feet as his complete servant. She did it willingly, out of love, and as well as out of thanks; and, she was requesting forgiveness for her not having known Jesus would save her brother from his illness.


Because both Mark and Matthew wrote of this event, as a diner held at Simon the leper’s house in Bethany, they did not say the diner was because Jesus had raised Lazarus from death. Neither Matthew nor Mark identified Mary, both calling her “a woman.” That is based on it having been inappropriate for women and children to be named in written texts (if not directly in relationship with one). Luke, who recorded the personal accounts of Mother Mary, did not write about this event; so, Mother Mary did not attend this diner. Instead, she led Luke to write of another event where another woman did similar with the feet of Jesus. That anointment was in the home of a Pharisee, whom was named also as “Simon.” This means Mary the mother attended another diner with her son, earlier in his ministry. The woman Mary Magdalene would have been known by Simon the leper, as both possessed houses in Bethany. Simon the leper (healed by Jesus, so he could return to be a Pharisee in good standing with the Temple) also knew Mary Magdalen was the wife of Jesus. The woman who is in the story told by Luke is said to have also wiped her tears in with perfume, which came from an alabaster jar. She placed all upon Jesus’ feet, with her hands and hair; and, Simon implied to Jesus that the woman was a prostitute.


This is how some have conjected that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute; but the events are not the same and the women are not the same. Most likely, the woman in Luke’s Gospel was the woman who was about to be stoned to death for adultery, who Jesus saved by telling the men, “Let the one of you who is without sin cast the first stone.” That event took place in Jerusalem in Jesus’ first year of ministry; so, she could have afterwards become a follower of Jesus, and begged Simon the leper (another who talked of having been saved by Jesus) for a position as a servant in his house. Again, her acts with tears, oil, hands and hair were in submission to Jesus, for his having done more than save her from certain death. She submitted to his soul by falling before him, at his feet.


As a Gospel reading selection to be read aloud on the fifth Sunday in Lent, when the season is a test of self-commitment to Yahweh, having been reborn as His Son, the lesson taught here tells of the different ends souls face. To not submit oneself to Yahweh in marriage and become the place where Jesus’ soul is resurrected means one is like Judas Iscariot and more concerned with material gains than salvation of one’s soul. To lower oneself into a position of submission and do the works of servitude means to become like Mary Magdalene did and have one’s soul saved. The questions one needs to answer are, “Do you seek to be Left alone at Judgment? Or, do you want to be found joined with the soul of Jesus at that time?”

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