5th Sunday of Lent 17.3.13 John 12.1-8

12 03 2013

Judas and Mary

This simple account of an all-too-imaginable incident can take us to the place of deep devotion, or make us recoil with horror at the meanness of human nature. Maybe we need to do both.

John 12.1-8

Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 2There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. 3Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. 4But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, 5‘Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?’ 6(He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) 7Jesus said, ‘Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. 8You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.’


To help give shape to the reflection here are three types of question: head questions, heart questions and hand questions. They are about our intellectual response, our emotional response and our practical or behavioural response. I hope that you will want to work at all three levels.

Head Questions

  1. ‘Six days…’ v1 what is the significance of this? Why is the story so precisely located in time?
  2. ‘Three hundred denarii’ v5 How much is that? On what other occasions is a large quantity of money mentioned in John’s gospel?
  3. Why do we always have the poor with us?

Heart Questions

  1. Imagine you had seen Mary do this. How would you feel?
  2. Can you imagine wanting to do just what Mary did?
  3. Is there a Judas inside you somewhere saying ‘tut-tut’?

Hand Questions

  1. Whom could you give a dinner for?
  2. Whom might you anoint?
  3. Is there anyone who needs some special attention from you before they die?


These questions are intended to challenge you to engage more closely with the passage and to hear and feel what it has to say to you.  That’s more than a five-minute task. And so is the follow-up, working out what you might want to say to others as a result of engaging with the passage with head, heart and hands.  Take your time.