Just about everything Jesus says in this chapter is related to his death. All four gospels have an account of a woman anointing Jesus with some kind of expensive perfume. However, Luke 7:36-50 is clearly a quite different event from the one in this gospel and from the other two (Mt 26:6-13 and Mk 14:3-9). In the Luke passage, the woman was clearly a woman of disrepute (perhaps a prostitute) and the host of meal was a Pharisee called Simon. The woman was overcome with tears for her sin and Jesus’ forgiveness and Jesus was taken to task for not apparently knowing how sinful the woman had been. His main teaching point was that the degree of your love corresponds to the degree of the forgiveness you have received.
On the other hand, in John (and Matthew and Mark), the woman was Mary, a most upright friend of Jesus and a pillar of the local community. The host of the meal was ‘Simon the Leper’ and the meal was given in Jesus’ honour to celebrate Lazarus having been raised from the dead. Mary was passionate, spontaneous, and generous in her devotion to Jesus and, after dinner, took £20,000 of the most precious perfume available and poured it all on Jesus’ feet; she then used her long hair as a makeshift towel to wipe them. Not surprisingly, the house was filled with the wonderful fragrance – or else she would have taken it back to the shop for a refund!
Typically, Judas – whose faith was weak and whose grasp of money was strong – objected and said that the money should have gone instead into the ‘Poor Bag’ (of which he was the keeper) rather than being ‘wasted’ on Jesus. Jesus disagreed strongly and declared that Mary had not been wrong, but just a bit early in her worship – and that the nard had been originally intended for Christ’s burial. Are we prepared to be extravagant in our worship of Christ, doing things that cost us in some way? Are we prepared to love him in a way that invites criticism from others? Do we go beyond the politically correct use of time, money, and energy in order to place our gifts at His feet?
Lazarus, by now, was becoming increasingly famous and his story was the cause of many local people becoming disciples of Jesus. So, the chief priests made plans to kill Lazarus. This seems ridiculously silly since Jesus could promptly have raised him again – thereby further increasing the power of that story!
Jesus himself was then welcomed into Jerusalem by a vast crowd, praising God for all the miracles that they had seen. In fulfilment of Zechariah’s prophecy (9:9), he rode on a donkey’s foal – which was a symbol of both humility, peace, and royalty – he was, after all, the Prince of Peace! The Lazarus story continued to spread like wildfire, as the witnesses to it told everyone they met. Perhaps if our experience of God was deeper, we too would have more to say and would talk to more people about it! Get a testimony; give a testimony!
In another reference to death, Jesus compared his own life to that of a single grain of wheat; as it falls into the ground and dies, it produces many seeds. As he died on the cross, he paid the price of thousands of millions of saved lives, including ours. Like Moses lifting the serpent in the wilderness to atone for a plague of judgment, Jesus would be lifted up to atone for our sin. Like that one grain of wheat, each one of us also has the same opportunity to die to our own needs and to win eternal life for ourselves and others, not by being an atoning sacrifice, but by having our stubborn wills broken and then allowing him to live his life through us.
Many of the Jews were rejecting Jesus, despite seeing first-hand some spectacular miracles, and refused to believe in him. The reason given for this is that God had hardened their hearts (Isaiah 6:10) – and the reason for that is not given at all! Verse 41 says that Isaiah saw Jesus’ glory – referencing Isaiah 6:1-3 and proving, by comparing those two passages, that Jesus is God. Taking advice from further down in Isaiah 6, we must not presume that we can choose when to obey God and when to believe in him; in the end, it is up to the operation of the Holy Spirit, over whom we have not control. So, if an opportunity arises, take it!