Leave her alone

Published 11:01 am Friday, July 20, 2018

by Charles Qualls

I’ll never forget making the phone call to my mother.

“Mrs. Stephens wants to know if we can stay for supper? Can we stay for supper?”

Grady and Nola Stephens were a good 20 years older than my parents. They lived on an acre or two almost across from our farm. I had known them for all of my short life when one night she asked if we could stay for supper?

My Mom said, “I don’t see why not. When you’re there, you’re home.”

Truth is, with no grandparents very close by they had long since become our de facto grandparents.  They had a little livestock, like chickens and even some peacocks. For a magical two-week span, a monkey had even taken up residence at their place.

Do you have that friend or relative’s house that you just love to go to? A comfortable place where you know you are among people you enjoy, and people you can trust like family?

In John 12: 1-8, that’s what Jesus had here in our story today. A place among trusted friends that felt like home.

Jesus really liked to go to Bethany. It’s not far from Jerusalem. (I know one person who walked there from Jerusalem with his wife. He said it took them about 45 minutes.)

This was a safe place, where He could be real. This family was that rare, chosen-family for Jesus. The people who loved Him because they loved Him.

We don’t know how many people were at this occasion, but it seems to be something more substantial than just Tuesday meatloaf night. The text says they gave a dinner for him, and it bothers to mention that Lazarus was at the table with Jesus.

What no one may have been paying attention to was that Jesus’ vulnerability was not only at the hands of church officials and the Romans. One within his own movement had been slowly growing impatient.

With the great crowds and miraculous acts, Judas seems to have been fostering a belief that it was time for Jesus to really hit his stride on the largest of scales.

Jesus’ hints in the gospels of his impending sacrifice, and of stepping away from their ministry. That went in the opposite direction from what Judas aspired to. Jesus’ hints at His own death? They were not going to be received very well, even by his own followers.

You know, the old saying that “a rising tide lifts all boats”? Judas was the keeper of the disciples’ meager treasury. He wanted more. He may have wanted more in the coffers. Surely, though, he wanted Jesus to take his ministry to a grander level of prominence and power. He was ready for Jesus’ rising tide to lift his own personal boat, it seems.

Jesus had brought his own trouble to the party. Because Judas also had a seat at the table.

Mary came in from the back room and did something that caught everyone off guard. Jesus had just raised her brother from the dead. So, she took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair.

Unwittingly, in doing so she foreshadowed Jesus’ death. For very soon they would all be tasked with trying to find his crucified body so that they could prepare it for burial.

Mary was giving an act of love and gratitude the likes of which the Kingdom was built on and from which every good and benevolent act would flow. But Judas said, “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?”

John tells us all we need to know about Judas’ intentions in his narration. But, it’s Jesus’ response that spoke the loudest on this night. He announced the central place that grace would hold in the kingdom of God when he simply said to Judas, “Leave her alone.”

He wasn’t ignoring the poor, nor slighting them, when he followed up by quoting from Deuteronomy and said, “The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me.”

Instead, Jesus was laying down short and long-term priorities of a fledgling new faith that would find its portal into God’s greatest hopes through him.

Stephen Shoemaker says of this Biblical text that, “…like Mary’s perfume, the fragrance of love’s grace wafts on the air and travels to places we’ll never know.” What an empowering message Jesus gave us that night when he freed us to love and to be generous.

DR. CHARLES QUALLS is senior pastor at Franklin Baptist Church. Contact him at 562-5135.