Giving it up for Lent:
In this series we have been talking about giving it up for lent and what that means for us. We have been focusing on what we are giving up on. We are not giving up what’s good, but what we should not be. Change matters not for what we are giving up, but rather what we are going to become in the end.
To start with I want to discuss the woman washing Jesus’ feet. So we will be taking a look at John 12:1-8:
“Six days before the Passover, Jesus therefore came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. So they gave a dinner for him there. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those reclining with him at table. Mary therefore took a pound[a] of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it. Jesus said, “Leave her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of my burial. For the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me.”” – John 12:1-8 (ESV)
Mary Anoints Jesus’ Feet:
So we can see here that several things are going on in this text. Jesus is back in Bethany six days before the Passover. He is with his apostles. They go to visit Lazarus in his home. We can imagine a warm welcoming. Jesus had not so long ago risen Lazarus from the grave. Pretty big deal! Martha has learned to really listen and appreciate the moment and not to be so busy. Mary is there also, whom had spent time at the teachers feet, listening.
They are probably catching up and then something really amazing happens. Mary does something amazing. She has in her hands an expensive jar of perfume. She gets down on her hands and knees and starts washing Jesus’ feet with her hair. She is crying and pouring this oil on his feet. She is doing something remarkable. Everyone is watching her.
Then we hear from Judas. He cries out “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” He is upset that she has wasted this perfume on Jesus. It was worth three hundred denarii (the equivalent to tens of thousands of dollars in today’s money). He declared it should have been given to the poor. Implying that Mary had been selfish.
Jesus quiets him down with this reply “Leave her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of my burial. For the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me.”
So let us take a closer look at the actions that are going on during this scripture surrounding Mary and Judas.
I would like to take a closer look at Judas. As we look at the scripture, it shows us that Judas had greed in his heart. He was not concerned with giving the money to the poor at all, but in his greed he saw how much the money was worth and that he could be using it for his own personal gain. We know that he has been embezzling money from Jesus. He is concerned with material wealth. Not really the cause that Jesus is doing. He is appalled that Mary has wasted in his mind, a small fortune on Jesus. He is consumed by greed. He has money on the brain. Later on in Mathew 26:15 we see him with the chief priests asking them how much they would be willing to give if he delivers Jesus over to them. For the price of thirty pieces of silver (equivalent to $3,000 – $ 3,900), Judas is willing to betray Jesus for money.
This shows us what is truly in Judas’s heart. He is full of greed. He is selfish and more concerned with money and what he can get with it. He has been with Jesus since the beginning and what has that really taught him? He is not willing to give to the poor. In fact he lied to make himself look good. We see a lack of change and growth. He has been with Jesus this whole time and has he truly learnt a thing? We see how his story plays out later on in the scriptures. In a fit of grief, he ends his own life. A sad end to a man who could have (if he wanted too) been redeemed, but for his own greed.
So know let us look at Mary. I find her an interesting character. She has loved Jesus and has spent time sitting at Jesus’ feet. She has been listening to him. Really listening. I often ask myself when it comes to washing Jesus feet, “Was Mary listening so well that she understood what was about to happen to Jesus and did what she did out of love?” But yet she does do something remarkable. She washes his feet.
Now this is a period in Rome when Rome was doing quite well. The Romans were clean people and cared about taking care of themselves. We see also that the Jewish laws and customs are concerned with cleanliness as well. The Romans have set up sewers, public houses to bath and take steam baths in. They exercise. They have their famous roads, aqueducts, wells in the center of the city, public toilets and even in some of the temples they have machines that allow you to wash your hands with soap and water before going in.
One of the Roman customs was when you had a guest a servant or a slave would wash their feet. Roman streets and roads where not all that clean. The roads were dusty and if in the streets could get dirty by whatever you may have come in contact with. Be it animal excrement or waste that someone had disposed of.
But Mary does this amazing thing. She uses her hair, her crowning glory to wash the feet of the teacher that she admires and loves. She does not concern herself with her hair. She does not concern herself with the cost of the perfume used. She could have used a cloth and water she could have gotten a servant to do it. But she does not. She is filled with love and wants to show Jesus how much he means to her. She does this act with love in her heart. Jesus is moved by this act. He knows the end is near and is happy by her act of love.
We see two acts here. One of selfishness born of greed and one of selflessness born of love.
So bringing this back to “giving it up for lent.” It is said that it takes a month to make or break a habit. I see this journey through lent as making a new mind set. Improving myself through a selfless act of love.
We were each asked to give something up for forty days for lent. Something that would help us become a better version of ourselves.
We did not have to participate at all. We could just have said, no thanks. But we did not. When I thought about what I could give up, I was not thinking of something that would be easy for me, but knew I needed to work on to improve myself. Like all of us. I did not do it out of obligation, but I had to ask what could I do to become a better me? We all wanted to see something wonderful happen to us. A change for the better. We wanted to see something good come out at the end. We were willing to make a sacrifice born out of love and selflessness. A way of expressing to God that we want to keep improving and growing. To say to him, you gave us your best and I want to keep improving myself so that I can be the best for you. So like Mary, we are giving it up out of love.
So I want to end with two quotes that made me think about what it is that we are doing:
“Almost every sinful action ever committed can be traced back to a selfish motive. It is a trait we hate in other people, but justify in ourselves.” – Stephen Kendrick, The love Dare
“The mark of the immature man is that he wants to die nobly for a cause, while the mark of the mature man is that it wants to live humbly for one”. – Wilhelm Steckel
Lent Discussion Questions:
- What improvements do you feel you have gained?
- What challenges have you faced?
- Do you feel improved by this experience?