Judas objected to Mary ‘wasting’ such valuable perfume in her lavish display of overwhelming love and gratitude to Jesus. If he had really been concerned for the poor, his objection might have had some validity. But actually he was helping himself from the disciples’ communal money bag. And he failed to take into account the spiritual reality of such an apparently unwise outworking of Mary’s burning love for Jesus.
So Jesus defends Mary’s anointing of himself. It was absolutely appropriate in preparation for his coming burial (John 12.7) and ‘the poor you always have with you, but me you do not always have’ (John 12.8).
Now was the time to concentrate on the immediate reality that Jesus is moving into the fearful sufferings of his betrayal, trial, death and burial. Concern for the poor can wait. The sad needs of the homeless, asylum seekers, the destitute, orphans, widows and the poor generally will remain always before us. This clarion call always sounds out to the church to do everything possible to alleviate the sufferings which are so desperate in our world. That is true, but Mary’s lavish love has priority even above the call of the poor.
‘But me you do not always have’ (John 12.8). The present tenses used in this verse relate firstly to Mary’s own time. How true that Jesus was not always with Mary or his other followers. As an incarnate human he could not be with them all the time. Some times he needed to be alone with his Father. And most of his ministry took place in Galilee; he was not often in Bethany where Mary lived. Mary was absolutely right to take this opportunity of showing her love for Jesus while he was present with her.
But it is very probable that Jesus was also thinking of his impending death and resurrection. This thought may well have been in the NIV translators’ minds when they changed the Greek present tenses into future tenses in this verse. In John 14.1-4 and John 16 Jesus warns his disciples that he would soon be going away and returning to his Father. He would leave them for a while. It was true that Jesus would not always be with them. So Mary was wonderfully right to take the opportunity of his presence with them to pour out her love for him while he was there.
But Jesus’ going away led to him sending them “another Counsellor to be with you for ever” (John 14.16 and 16.7). No longer do we have to face being on our own without Jesus with us. Now by his Spirit he never leaves us or forsakes us (Hebrews 13.5). The Christmas message of Immanuel/God with us is now constantly true. The risen Jesus’ assurance that “I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28.20) comforts and strengthens us. By his Spirit Jesus walks with us through every circumstance of life and into all eternity. With this assurance we can joyfully wish each other:
Happy New Year!