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Sermon by the Rev. Dr. George Hermanson, "."
In the Gospel of John, this lesson is the last event before Jesus enters Jerusalem for the last time on the day we now call Palm Sunday.
Bethany is a small community within walking distance of Jerusalem. It is the home town of Lazarus, whom Jesus has raised from the dead, John 11:17-44. This was the final straw for the Judean authorities, for as John reports them saying:
What are we to do? ... If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and destroy both our holy place and our nation.
And as John then comments:
So from that day on they planned to put (Jesus) to death.
Jesus then "no longer walked about openly among the (Judeans), but went from (Bethany) to a town called Ephraim in the region near the wilderness." (John 11:54) But as the Passover Festival once again draws near, so Jesus - for the third time - also draws near Jerusalem. This time for the final sign; the final revelation of God's glory.
John then bookends the text we are reading today:
- Before: "anyone who knew where Jesus was should let (the Judean elite authorities) know, so that they might arrest him;" (John 11:57)
- After: "When the great crowd of (Judeans) learned that (Jesus) was there ... the chief priests (i.e. the Judean elite authorities) planned to put Lazarus to death as well, since it was on account of him that many (Judeans) were deserting and were believing in Jesus." (John 12:9-10)
We need to know this context in order to make sense of Mary's anointing of Jesus' feet.
It was a normal custom of hospitality in elite homes for the host to have his slaves wash the feet of guests. But Mary's actions take this common action to whole new level.
* Link to Amazon.com Bibliography for Bruce J. Malina and Richard Rohrbaugh, Social Science Commentary on ... The Synoptic Gospels; The Gospel of John; The Book of Acts; The Letters of Paul; The Book of Revelation; and others.
+ Link to Amazon.com Bibliography for Amy-Jill Levine and Marc Zvi Brettler, Jewish Annotated New Testament, The Bible With and Without Jesus, Short Stories by Jesus, Entering the Passion of Jesus, and others.