At His Feet (Published 1983)

Chapters 12 and 13 of John’s Gospel contain two remarkable narratives. They describe Mary at Jesus’ feet, 12. 1-9, and Jesus at the disciples’ feet, 13. 1-17.

The two passages invite careful comparison. Mary brought ointment to the Saviour’s feet and Jesus brought water to the disciples’ feet. Love for the Lord brought Mary to His feet and love for the disciples brought the Lord to their feet. Judas objected to Mary’s action and Peter objected to the Lord’s action. Both men were rebuked by the Lord. Judas maintained his objection because he was indifferent to the Lord but Peter withdrew his objection for he loved Him. Mary wiped the Lord’s feet with her hair but He wiped the disciples’ feet with a towel.

Mary’s action involved the release of fragrance and the Lord’s action involved the removal of defilement. Each action was symbolic. The anointing of the Lord’s feet pictures the believer’s sacrificial devotion to Him and the washing of the disciples’ feet pictures the cleansing of the believer’s walk. Both actions looked to the future. The anointing of the Lord’s feet looked forward to His departure, 12. 7, and the washing of the disciples’ feet to the meeting of their spiritual needs after that departure.

We will look at Mary and her action in a little more detail. Her first recorded encounter with the Lord had occurred some time earlier, when her sister had invited Him into their home (an initiative for which Martha is seldom given credit), Luke 10. 38. At that time Mary had taken her place, along with the disciples, at His feet to hear His words. When Martha had complained that Mary was leaving all the work to her, the Lord vindicated Mary, saying that she had “chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her”, v.42. Today we often risk making Martha’s mistake, namely, wearying ourselves with “service” for the Lord at the expense of adequate time spent quietly in His presence and receiving His word. This can easily make us harassed, resentful and critical. Let us watch for the warning signs!

Later the brother of Martha and Mary became seriously ill and died, John 11. 1-16. The key to all that happened after is found in the words, “Now Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus”, v.5. That was the order in which the Lord dealt with the stricken family. To Martha He declared His purpose, vv.23-26; to Mary He disclosed His pity, v.35, and to Lazarus He displayed His power, vv.43-44. We notice that when Mary came to Him she “fell down at his feet, saying unto him, Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died”, v.32.

John 12 records the third occasion that Mary came to the Lord’s feet, v.3. This time it was for an altogether different reason. She did not come to hear His words or to weep in her grief. She was seeking neither His wisdom nor His sympathy. She had previously heard His teaching, seen His tears and witnessed His power. Now she wanted nothing from Him, but had something for Him. She came as a giver, not as a receiver.

The Gospel writers provide several points of contrast between Mary the worshipper and Judas the betrayer. Mary came into the Lord’s presence in order to impoverish herself but Judas departed from the Lord’s presence in order to enrich himself—the value of Mary’s ointment was about 2½ times that which Judas obtained for betraying the Lord. Mary was criticised by the Lord’s friends for her devotion. Judas was welcomed by the Lord’s enemies for his deception. Mary’s object was to give to the Lord that which was her lawful possession and enrich Him at her own expense. Judas’ object was to deprive the disciples of their lawful possession and enrich himself at their expense, v.6. We read of the alabaster box, the container which held that which was precious to Mary, Matt. 26. 15, and of the bag, the container which held that which was precious to Judas. John 12. 6. Mary brought the box in order to bestow its contents on the Lord. Judas carried the bag in order to purloin its contents for himself. The action of Judas has perpetuated his memory to his lasting dishonour. The action of Mary has perpetuated her memory to her lasting glory, Matt. 26. 13. The verdict of Judas (and of the other disciples) was that Mary had wasted her ointment, v.8; John 12. 5. The verdict of the Lord Jesus was that Judas had wasted his life, John 17. 12 (where “perdition” translates the same word rendered “waste” in Matthew 26. 8).

The criticisms of Judas and the others were not more legitimate than had been that of Martha when Mary had sat at Jesus’ feet to hear His words. The ointment belonged to Mary and not to the disciples. Her disposal of it was no concern of theirs. When the Lord said, “Let her alone; why trouble ye her?”, Mark 14. 6, He was in effect telling them to mind their own business! Let us avoid making critical assessments and judgments of the personal devotions of fellow Christians and of the way in which they choose to handle their possessions.

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