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John 12:1-8

1. Jesus therefore, six days before the Passover, came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, who had been dead, whom he had raised from the dead. 2. There therefore they made him a banquet, and Martha served; 11     “Et Marthe servoit a table;” — “and Martha waited at table.” and Lazarus was one of those who sat at table with him. 3. Then Mary took a pound of ointment of costly spikenard, and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped his feet with her hair; and the house was filled with the odor of the ointment. 4. Then one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon, who was to betray him, saith, 5. Why was not this ointment sold for three hunted denarii, and given to the poor? 6. Now he said this, not because he cared for the poor, but because he was a thief, and had the purse, and carried what was put into it. 7. Jesus therefore said, Let her alone; for the day of my burial she hath kept it. 8. For the poor you have always with you, but me you have not always.

 

1. Jesus came to Bethany. We see that they judged too rashly who thought that Christ would not come to the feast, 22     “Ne viendroit point a la feste.” (John 11:56;) and this, reminds us that we ought not to be so hasty as not to wait patiently and quietly, till the season arrive, which is unknown to us. Now Jesus came first to Bethany, that thence he might go three days afterwards to Jerusalem. Meanwhile, he intended to give Judas a fit time and place for betraying him, that he might present himself, ready to be sacrificed, at the appointed time; for he is not ignorant of what is to take place, but willingly comes forward to be sacrificed.

Having come to Bethany six days before the passover, he remained there four days; which may easily be inferred from Matthew and Mark. On what day the banquet was made for him, at which he was anointed by Mary, John does not state; but it seems probable that it took place not long after he had arrived. There are some who think that, the anointing mentioned by Matthew (Matthew 26:7) and Mark (Mark 14:3) is different from what is mentioned here; but they are mistaken. They have been led to adopt this view by a calculation of time, because the two Evangelists, (Matthew 26:2; Mark 14:1,) before relating that Christ was anointed, speak of two days as having elapsed. But the solution is easy, and may be given in two ways. For John does not say that Christ was anointed on the first day after his arrival; so that this might happen even when he was preparing to depart. Yet, as I have already said, there is another conjecture which is more probable, that he was anointed one day, at least, or two days, before his departure; for it is certain that Judas had made a bargain with the priests, before Christ sent two of his disciples to make ready the passover. 33     “Pour faire apprester la Pasque.” Now, at the very least, one day must have intervened. The Evangelists add, that he

sought a convenient opportunity for betraying Christ,
(Matthew 26:16,)

after having received the bribe. When, therefore, after mentioning two days, they add the history of the anointing, they place last in the narrative what happened first. And the reason is, that after having related the words of Christ,

You know that after two days the Son of man shall be betrayed,
(Matthew 26:2,)

they now add — what had been formerly omitted — in what manner and on what occasion he was betrayed by his disciple. There is thus a perfect agreement in the account of his having been anointed at Bethany.

2. There therefore they made him a banquet. Matthew (Matthew 26:7) and Mark, (Mark 14:3) say that he then supped at the house of Simon the leper. John does not mention the house, but shows plainly enough, that it was in some other place than the house of Lazarus and Martha that he supped; for he says that Lazarus was one of those who sat at table with him, that is, one who had been invited along with Christ. Nor does it involve any contradiction, that Matthew and Mark relate that the head of Christ was anointed, while John relates that his feet were anointed. The usual practice was the anointing of the head, and on this account Pliny reckons it an instance of excessive luxury, that some anointed the ankles. The three Evangelists agree in this; that Mary did not anoint Christ sparingly, but poured on him a large quantity of ointment. What John speaks, about the feet, amounts to this, that the whole body of Christ, down to the feet, was anointed. There is an amplification in the word feet, which appears more fully from what follows, when he adds, that Mary wiped his feet with her hair

3. And the house was filled with the odor of the ointment. It was not a simple liquor extracted from spikenard, but a compound of many odoriferous substances; and therefore it is not wonderful that the whole house was filled with the odor

4. One of his disciples, therefore, saith. Next follows the murmuring of Judas, which Matthew (Matthew 16:8) attributes to the disciples indiscriminately, and Mark (Mark 14:4) to some of them; but it is customary in Scripture to apply to many, by way of synecdoche, what belongs to one or to a few. Yet I think it is probable, that the murmuring proceeded from Judas alone, and that the rest were induced to give him their assent, as murmurings, by fanning a flame, easily kindle in us a variety of dispositions; and more especially, as we are too prone to form unfavorable judgments, slanders are readily embraced by us. But the credulity which the Spirit of God reproves in the Apostles is a warning to us not to be too easy and credulous in listening to calumnious statements.

5. Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred denarii? A pound of ordinary ointment, Pliny tells us, cost not more than ten denarii; but the same Pliny says, that the highest price of the best ointment was three hundred and ten denarii. Now the Evangelists agree, that this was the most costly ointment, and Therefore Judas is correct in valuing a pound of it at three hundred denarii, — a sum which, according to the computation of Budaeus, amounts to fifty livres of French money. And as almost every kind of luxury involves excess and superfluity, the greater the waste of money, the more plausible reason had Judas for murmuring; as if he had said, “Had Mary spent little, there would have been some excuse for her; but now, since, in a matter of no importance, she has wasted a vast sum of money, has she not done an injury to the poor, who might have obtained from such a sum great relief? What she has done, therefore, admits of no apology.”

6. Because he was a thief. The rest of the Apostles, not from any bad disposition, but thoughtlessly, condemn Mary. But Judas resorts to a plausible pretext for his wickedness, when he brings forward the poor, though he cared nothing about them. We are taught by this instance what a frightful beast the desire of possessing is; the loss which Judas thinks that he has sustained, by the loss of an opportunity for stealing, excites him to such rage that he does not hesitate to betray Christ. And probably, in what he said about the poor having been defrauded, he did not only speak falsely to others, but likewise flattered himself inwardly, as hypocrites are wont to do; as if the act of betraying Christ were a trivial fault, by which he endeavored to obtain compensation for the loss which he had sustained. He had but one reason, indeed, for betraying Christ; and that was, to regain in some way the prey which had been snatched from his hands; for it was the indignation excited in him, by the gain which he had lost, that drove him to the design of betraying Christ.

It is wonderful that Christ should have chosen, as a steward, a person of this description, whom he knew to be a thief. For what else was it than to put into his hands a rope for strangling himself? Mortal man can give no other reply than this, that the judgments of God are a deep gulf. Yet the action of Christ ought not to be viewed as an ordinary rule, that we should commit the care of the poor, or any thing sacred, to a wicked and ungodly man. for God has laid down to us a law, who they are that ought to be called to the government of the Church, and to other offices; and this law we are not at liberty to violate. The case was otherwise with Christ, who, being the eternal Wisdom of God, furnished an opportunity for his secret predestination in the person of Judas.

7. Let her alone. When Christ bids them let Mary alone, he shows that they act improperly and unjustly who disturb their neighbors without a good reason, and raise a disturbance about nothing. Christ’s reply, as given by the other Evangelists, is longer; but the meaning is the same. The anointing, which Judas finds fault with, is defended on this ground, that it will serve for his burial. Christ, therefore, does not approve of! it as an ordinary service, or one which ought to be commonly used in the Church; for if he had intended that an office of this sort should be performed daily, he could have said something else instead of speaking of it as connected with his burial. God certainly does not approve of outward display. Nay, more, perceiving that the mind of man is too prone to carnal observances, He frequently enjoins us to be sober and moderate in the use of them. Those persons, therefore, are absurd interpreters, who infer from Christ’s reply, that costly and magnificent worship is pleasing to God; for he rather excuses Mary on the ground of her having rendered to him an extraordinary service, which ought not to be regarded as a perpetual rule for the worship of God.

For the day of my burial she hath kept it. When he says, that the ointment was kept, he means that it was not poured unseasonably, but with a due regard to the time when it occurred; for a thing is said to be kept, which is reserved in store to be brought cut at a fit time and place. It is certain that, if any person, at a former period, had burdened him with costly delicacies, he would not have endured it. But he affirms that Mary did not do this as a customary matter, but in order to discharge her last duty towards him. Besides, the anointing of bodies was not at that time a useless ceremony, but rather a spiritual symbol, to place before their eyes the hope of a resurrection. The promises were still obscure; Christ had not risen, who is justly designated the first-fruits of them that rise, (1 Corinthians 15:20.) Believers, therefore, needed such aids to direct them to Christ, who was still absent; and, accordingly, the anointing of Christ was not at that time superfluous, for he was soon to be buried, and he was anointed as if he were to be laid in the tomb. The disciples were not yet aware of this, and Mary unquestionably was suddenly moved to do, under the direction of the Spirit of God, what she had not previously intended. But Christ applies to the hope of his resurrection what they so greatly disapproved, in order that the usefulness, which he pointed out to them in this action, 44     “A fin que l’utilite laquelle il leur monstre en ce faict les retire du jugement chagrin et pervers qu’ils en faisoyent.” might lead them to renounce the fretful and wicked opinion which they had formed respecting it. As it was the will of God that the childhood of his ancient people should be guided by such exercises, so, in the present day, it would be foolish to attempt the same thing; nor could it be done without offering an insult to Christ, who has driven away such shadows by the brightness of his coming. But as his resurrection had not yet brought the fulfillment of the shadows of the Law, it was proper that his burial should be adorned by an outward ceremony. The odor of his resurrection has now sufficient efficacy, without spikenard and costly ointments, to quicken the whole world. But let us remember that, in judging of the actions of men, we ought to abide by the decision of Christ alone, at whose tribunal we must one day stand.

8. For the poor you have always with you. We must observe what I have already pointed out, that a distinction is here drawn expressly between the extraordinary action of Mary, and the daily service which is due to Christ. Those persons, therefore, are apes, and not imitators, who are desirous to serve Christ by costly and splendid display; as if Christ approved of what was done once, and did not rather forbid that it should be done afterwards.

But me you have not always. When he says, that he will not always be with his disciples, this ought to be referred to that kind of presence to which carnal worship and costly honors are suitable. For as to his presence with us by the grace and power of his Spirit, his dwelling in us, and also feeding us with his flesh and blood, this has nothing to do with bodily observances. Of all the pompous ceremonies which the Papists have contrived for the worship of Christ, in vain do they tell us, that they have bestowed them upon him, for he openly rejects them. When he says, that the poor will always be with us, though, by this saying, he reproves the hypocrisy of the Jews, yet we may learn from it a profitable doctrine; namely, that alms, by which the wants of the poor are relieved, are sacrifices acceptable, and of sweet savor, to God, and that any other kind of expense in the worship of God is improperly bestowed.


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