Advanced search Click here for the website of the current Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby

This is an archived website containing material relating to Dr Rowan Williams’ time as Archbishop of Canterbury, which ended on 31st December 2012

Skip Content

30 March 2015

Read today’s Gospel Reading: John 12.1-11

'Why all this expense?' is Judas the betrayer’s famous complaint.

In times when a great many people are having to go without food, let alone luxury items like perfume, the question would seem all the more powerful.

But why did Mary use this high quality perfume - on Jesus?

Does she sense he is from God, so that even his feet are worthy of special treatment? Or does she bathe his feet because she has respect and affection for him, and she has a hunch he is soon to die?

Or was death a thought far from her own mind –only coming to light when Jesus says she is anointing him for burial?

And then there is her brother, Lazarus, whom Jesus had raised back to life after being dead several days.  Was Mary expressing her love and gratitude for what Jesus had done? 

The name 'Lazarus' means 'God raises'.  Judas complains of the expense; meanwhile the chief priests plot to kill the 'God-raises' man. 

Jesus on the other hand, affirms Mary's gesture whilst the fragrance lingers. Do we let the fragrance of the ‘God who raises’ bear us up, or do we let moaning and scheming drag us down?

Lift up your hearts! Don’t hold back in offering your love to God – after all, Jesus has held nothing back, he gave everything, even his life itself.

Today’s Gospel Reading: John 12.1-11

Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. Mary 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. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, ‘Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?’ (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.) Jesus said, ‘Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.’

When the great crowd of the Jews learned that he was there, they came not only because of Jesus but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. So the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death as well, since it was on account of him that many of the Jews were deserting and were believing in Jesus.