This Sweet Aroma: Kneeling at the Feet of Jesus

John 12:1-8

We enter into this room today, made familiar, somehow, by those who are there.

For we know these people by now… both those who are named and whose words and actions draw us closer in and those who stay in the background, watching and listening, as you and I do now.

We know Jesus, of course we do. And yes, we remember that he has been to Bethany in just the chapter before:

  • Meeting Mary and Martha, too, in all their desperate grief, mingling his tears with theirs;
  • Calling Lazarus out of the grave and commanding that the cloths covering his face, his hands, his feet be removed;
  • Finally going into hiding, knowing that this wondrous act was also disruptive in ways that were somehow now too threatening in a world where the separation between life and death had always seemingly been so clear before. Knowing that this was the final straw, if you will, for those in power were having none of it.

All of this is fresh in our minds and heavy on our hearts as we stand in the background now, just hours, really, from another death, another life resurrected which would mean the end of all we had ever known and the beginning of what perhaps we cannot even now fully begin to imagine. All of this is just under the surface even now as we see them gathering for a meal, something that had been shared, one imagines, countless times before in the home of these beloved friends.

Only this meal is like no other.

Not because of what was served and not even, at least this time, because of those who were there to share in it.

But because at least one among them sensed that something more was bearing down on all of them and on Jesus most of all.

And because Mary took it then and poured it all on Jesus’ feet, this pound of pure nard, and then wiped his feet with her hair and with it she poured out all that mattered, all that she held in her heart and all that she was.

It is an extravagant, intimate moment which almost makes our eyes burn, and not only from the fragrance in the air, but because, perhaps, such pouring out, such emptying, such raw giving of oneself is so rare, something we so seldom, too seldom see, or so it seems to me.

Indeed, one wonders if poor Judas saw it at all. Or if, instead, his heart was just so bent on only one way of seeing, so closed to what might be, to what could be, that his only possible reaction was his gut response to the extravagance of the gesture which was that so much better good could have come from the money which would have been gained from just selling it and giving it away.

And it is not as though Judas is necessarily wrong, of course, but in his way of thinking — one I know I too often share — he is missing the moment altogether.

And oh, we think of Judas’s betrayal, don’t we — just days away now in the garden — and we think that is the worst of it, but surely as John’s Gospel clearly says, that which would have Judas unable to embrace this extravagant outpouring is at the root of all that would have him choose another path, one so far from all he was intended to be and do when it all began.

I know this, I do, because many days I can see myself as much or more in Judas as in Mary now.

  • The holding back.
  • The wondering if, the believing sometimes that there is another, better, more practical way than the one before us now.
  • The sometimes speaking aloud my cynicism.
  • The hanging on to it, whatever it may be, for another day when I worry that it might be needed more.

For Mary’s is an act of pure love, with nothing held back.

Something many of us have never seen nearly enough of, at least perhaps not often enough for it to shape our hearts in any real way.

Something, perhaps, even if we once knelt next to her, we can hardly remember doing now in a world where too much everything is calculated, measured, where the ways of the world always threaten to break in and take hold…

Perhaps we know this especially now in the wake of a time which took so, so much and we experience the old ways of measuring too much falling short. At least in the ways we can see.  At least in the hard numbers which too much have told us we are doing it right. The number in the pews and the classrooms.  The count in the offering plate. Those showing up for the choir, to usher, to help lead in worship…

Indeed, how does one find oneself able to ‘pour it all out’ when in doing so there may well not be enough for what remains to be done?

This is how I know my instincts too often stay with Judas.

  • When I am afraid.
  • When I am too much measuring.
  • When I turn away from what seems to burn my eyes as well today.

And this is how I know that the only way to hear the story, the whole story, as it is intended, as it can change even my frightened, too much measuring heart, is to kneel beside Mary now.

To stay in that sacred, holy moment, which was only measured in boundless love, with all that precious nard dripping onto the floor at Jesus’ feet.

Indeed, only in love which could not, cannot be measured.

That same love which shows up in extravagant abundance all through John’s Gospel:

  • In wine at a wedding.
  • In water at a well.
  • In bread and fish enough to feed thousands.

In this time now when too much it seems as though there is not enough, never enough, the call is, along with Mary, to kneel at Jesus’ feet, it seems to me, and pour it all out.

Yes, the fear, the grief, the cynicism. The parts of Judas in me as well which try to steel my heart against all that is yearning to stand still in love again. Yes, all of this, but all of this only to make room for that which is still there under all of that and more:

For hope again.

For dreams which have been too long delayed.

For that fathomless joy which seemed to lose its way to our broken hearts for far too long.

And then we pour those out as well, knowing that in the pouring out their sweet aroma will be received by anyone close enough to see, to hear, to smell. And with that scent they will remember, too, what perhaps had long been forgotten.

That this is the Holy One’s intent for us all along.

To pour it all out.

To simply pour it all out.

And then to do it again.

  • Lately I find myself just living in the story, listening to what it has to offer.  Sometimes as the time to actually preach nears, an illustration emerges. And sometimes not.  Either way, the story stands and is enough, it seems to me. Especially when the story is as vivid as the one before us now. What is the heart of this story for you?
  • As I watch Mary pouring out that pound of costly perfume, I also see Judas (and in the other Gospels, the other disciples) holding back.  Not pouring out.  I see myself in both of them. Do you?
  • When I recognize ‘Judas’ in me, I know there is a great deal that needs to be ‘poured out’ before the sort of pouring out that Mary does can also be mine to know, to do.  What needs to be ‘poured out’ of you before the other can be experienced? What fears, what regrets, what dashed dreams need to be poured out first?
  • Might it be enough this week to come up alongside Mary and simply kneel at the feet of Jesus?  What would that look like for you? How might such doing and being enable us to hear the heart of this Gospel now?



  1. Barbara says:

    Thank you. So relevant today for me to hear these words. Providing room to grief and reflect. Your questions opened a place in my own heart to see how I can be both Judas and Mary at the same time. Blessings.

  2. I look for your insights each week as it helps me see myself too and give me great ideas for my sermon preparations in which I do use some of your ideas a lot and of course gives you the credit. Thanks a lot Janet for your inspiring insight.

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