Leave Her Alone: Red Letter Year 11/22

John 12.1-11

1 Six days before the Passover celebration began, Jesus arrived in Bethany, the home of Lazarus — the man he had raised from the dead. 2 A dinner was prepared in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, and Lazarus was among those who ate with him. 3 Then Mary took a twelve-ounce jar of expensive perfume made from essence of nard, and she anointed Jesus’ feet with it, wiping his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance.

4 But Judas Iscariot, the disciple who would soon betray him, said, 5 “That perfume was worth a year’s wages. It should have been sold and the money given to the poor.” 6 Not that he cared for the poor — he was a thief, and since he was in charge of the disciples’ money, he often stole some for himself.

7 Jesus replied, “Leave her alone. She did this in preparation for my burial. 8 You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.”

9 When all the people heard of Jesus’ arrival, they flocked to see him and also to see Lazarus, the man Jesus had raised from the dead. 10 Then the leading priests decided to kill Lazarus, too, 11 for it was because of him that many of the people had deserted them and believed in Jesus.


There is a lot of bad stuff to discuss here. The religious leaders have decided they need to kill (or is it re-kill?) Lazarus in addition to killing Jesus, because you know, nothing shuts down a movement like murdering its leaders and symbols. (For as much weight as some people put on the 12 as the hand selected leaders at this point, it is interesting that none of them are a target like Lazarus is.) Judas presumes to rebuke Jesus and is revealed to be a thief. It seems clear that even so many years later, John took Judas’ betrayal very personally. 

But I actually don’t want to focus on those at all. What stands out to me here is Mary anointing Jesus. This is one of the few stories that all four Gospels share and I never get tired of reading it. Mary is the first one to get it. Jesus has been trying to prepare his followers for his violent death that is coming, but no one has understood his message yet. But Mary does. And she puts her understanding into action, an action of worship, devotion – and anointing. If you have any experience with church anointing services at all, you know that only people in the highest positions of leadership perform anointing functions. More than just ritual, the anointing releases the recipient to do what God is calling them to do, it authorizes them to take a specific given action. Remembering one’s anointing becomes a powerful aid when doing the work you were anointed for gets hard (at some point, it always gets hard). The perfume Mary used on Jesus was strong. Its scent lingered with him for days, all the way through his arrest, sham trials, torture, and execution. Through all the assault on his senses, Jesus smelled this perfume and remembered Mary’s anointing. In anointing him, Mary helped give the very human Jesus the strength he needed to complete the hardest of all callings.

All this from a person who just in the last chapter was so hurt with Jesus she could barely speak to him. And all this from a woman. This was no mere act of humble service. This was an act of leadership. This was an act based in the power of the Holy Spirit and an act that conveyed the power of the Spirit to Jesus in a fresh and much needed way. It was an act so inspired and so inspiring, that Jesus himself follows Mary’s example in the next chapter, washing the feet of his followers. In doing that, Jesus altogether removes the distinction between humble service and leadership. Leaders serve. Servants lead.

When Judas questions her action (out of an impure motive), Jesus snaps at him, “Leave her alone!” As I posted yesterday, I question the motives of those who deny other women from following in Mary’s footsteps. Even those who on the surface think they are only being “biblical” are in fact acting out of deeper-seated prejudices that need to be confessed and repented of. The church needs to hear again the rebuke of Jesus: “Leave her alone.” Her calling, her leadership, the anointings she receives and gives are great gifts of worship to our Lord. She must not be hindered from whatever the Spirit leads her to do for Jesus.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale HousePublishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.