Understanding the Messianic Mission
My final observation from this story in John 12 is that Mary appeared to have understood the Messianic Mission of Jesus better than the other disciples.
According to Jesus he saw this extravagant and scandalous act of love from Mary as being akin to the ritual of anointing bodies before their burial. This move, for Jesus, would function as preparation for the fact that he knew he was just moments away from his full on confrontation with Rome, which inevitably would result in his crucifixion.
Mark’s account says that Jesus told everybody, “leave her alone… she has done what she could, and anointed my body for burial.”
In other words, she knows I am heading towards my death.
She won’t be like Peter, who tried to prevent Jesus from going to Jerusalem so that he wouldn’t be killed. No, she understands on a profound level that Jesus is going to die. And there’s nothing she can do about it.
This one final act of love and devotion.
This pouring out of this oil that she has been saving for this moment.
This gesture of love, this intimate display of affection and adoration.
This absurdly scandalous gift that will stand for all time as a testament to what ridiculous devotion to Jesus just might look like.
That… she can do that.
A Failed Messiah
The other disciples refused to accept that Jesus was about to die. Lord knows he tried to tell them on more than one occasion. Yet for most of them it was offensive to consider that Jesus would die because a dead Messiah meant a failed Messiah.
The predominant expectation for the Long Awaited Messiah, in Jesus’ day, was a figure who would lead a military revolution against their oppressors and liberate Israel once again.
Prior to Jesus (and even after him as well) there were a number of would-be-Messiahs. Men who led revolutions and got people to follow them. Men who stood up to Rome. Men who, eventually, died in their efforts.
Which meant that clearly they were not the Messiah.
So whatever Jesus meant when, for instance in Mark 9, he said, “The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise,” there is just no way he could have actually literally meant “killed.”
The disciples were used to Jesus at this point. Accustomed to him speaking in riddles and saying one thing but actually intending to point to another.
So when Mark says, “But they did not understand what he meant and were afraid to ask him about it,” that fits with what we would expect followers of potential-Messiahs to think.
Mary Was Different
But not Mary. She got it.
She got it in a way the others didn’t.
For some reason she accepted that Jesus actually meant what he said, about the whole “getting killed” bit. And though it would have messed with her conception of what a Messiah was and did and was expected to do, she embraced it anyways.
Because she embraced Jesus.
I wonder how many of us hold back from leaning in to a deep, abiding and trusting relationship with Jesus, because we’re not sure it makes sense.
Which goes back to what Ted Mosby told us: Love is nonsensical.
But we have to keep doing it or else we’re lost, and love is dead, and humanity should just pack it in.
And Mary, Jesus’ best friend whom he loved and she loved him, she got that.
A lot of things about Jesus wouldn’t have made sense to her. But she was strangely okay with it. And her story, her example of faith and love and devotion, echoes throughout eternity.
A cosmic reminder… no, a cosmic invitation to embrace the Jesus we discover in the Gospels, the Jesus we discover in our friends and family, the Jesus we discover in the poor and marginalized, the Jesus we discover in our enemies.
Embrace Jesus, love and follow Jesus, even when at times it might not make any sense to do so. Even when at times it might go against the crowd. Even when at times it might feel contrary to what the religious exception of a Jesus-follower might look like.
Love is absurd.
Which makes it a truly revolutionary, world changing sort of thing.