We Don’t Talk About Judas

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.” 
 
To a loved one who speaks the truth about death, we might object like Judas did. “Oh, don’t say that,” Perhaps we get uncomfortable because it reveals the fragility of life and the precious nature of the present moment.

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John 12:1-8

One of the reasons I chose the title for today’s sermon is that this song from Encanto keeps getting stuck in my head.  It’s very sticky.  “We don’t talk about Bruno, no, no, we don’t talk about Bruno.”   

It doesn’t work quite as well with the name Judas. “We don’t talk about Judas, das, das….”

But the idea of Judas being the outcast, the black sheep, is similar to the situation with Bruno in the movie.  Bruno’s special talent is that he has visions, the ability to see the future.  This gets misinterpreted.  Bruno sees what could happen, and when it does happen, people think Bruno caused it to happen. Unable to deal with this heavy burden, Bruno disappears, and he becomes the bad brother they don’t talk about.[1]

In today’s scripture reading from John, it’s tempting to do something similar with Judas, to ignore him or write him off as the bad disciple. Or to try to explain his actions as having a greater purpose, because “everything happens for a reason.” But does it?

Let’s try to imagine what it looks like in the scripture Shirley read for us.  I attempted a drawing.  Many of you could do much better.

The center of the scene is, of course, Jesus.  He’s in Bethany at the home of his friends Mary, Martha, and Lazarus.  John names them all as being there for this dinner.  We might call this the penultimate supper, the last supper but one. We might assume that all the disciples are there, but the only one named is Judas.

[2]

John says Lazarus was there. I wonder whether Lazarus looked pale or sickly?  He’d just been raised from the dead by Jesus, but he was in his tomb for four days before Jesus got there. He wasn’t embalmed or stored in a funeral home refrigerator, so decomposition would have already begun. Maybe Lazarus would look a bit like a zombie.  I wonder if he still smelled bad?

[3]

His sister Martha is in the background serving.  In Luke 10, another time that Jesus was over for dinner, Martha complained to Jesus about Mary not helping her serve. In today’s scene, Martha isn’t complaining, or at least not that we get to hear, but maybe she’s still a little annoyed.

[4]

And then there’s Mary.  She doesn’t speak in this scene, but her actions speak loudly.  She’s at Jesus’ feet, the same place she was in the story in Luke 10, but this time she’s not just listening, she’s putting fragrant oil on Jesus’ feet and using her long hair to wipe them.

John tells us that the smell of the oil was so strong that its musty, spicy, earthy aroma filled the room. In my drawing of this scene, the smell would fill the room like yellow wisps of smoke.

[5]Fragrant oil was used to anoint dead bodies. It would have had to be strong if it was meant to cover up the smell of decomposition.  Smells are one of the strongest senses for triggering memories. I wonder if the smell of Mary’s oil made everyone in the room think of death?

What smells do you associate with death?

Is it the antiseptic smell of a hospital?  Or the musty smell of grandma’s house? Or the inviting aroma of the fried chicken that mom made whenever the family gathered for funerals?

It’s not hard to imagine the reasons that Mary would want to anoint Jesus with this oil.  She’s got to be incredibly grateful that Jesus raised her brother from the dead.  The family funeral gathering for Lazarus had turned into a celebration of revival and resurrection.

[6]

Mary had probably heard about the decision that the chief priests and pharisees had recently made that they would find a way to kill Jesus.  Caiaphas, the high priest that year, had prophesied that Jesus was going to die to save their nation (John 11:45-57).  Jesus was already being careful about being seen in public, so even if Mary doesn’t have vision like Bruno’s, she knows that Jesus is in grave danger. 

Maybe Mary has decided that rather than wait until he is dead to give him this anointing, she will do it while he is still alive and can enjoy it and know how much she loves him.

[7]

Judas seems to think Mary is being impulsive and is doing this for no good reason.  Does everything have to have a reason?  Sometimes the best gifts are given for no reason other than love.  As I imagine this scene, Mary has the glow of love on her face.

[8]

In contrast, Judas looks dark and brooding.  Judas and Jesus are the only ones who speak in this scene, so I would put Judas front and center, but in the paintings I found he’s often left out. 

I suppose Judas is nobody’s favorite disciple.  So mostly we just don’t talk about Judas.

Instead we talk about Jesus’ response to Judas in which Jesus defends Mary’s action:

“Leave her alone. She did this in preparation for my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.” (John 12:7-8)

Jesus is not saying that we can ignore the poor. Caring for the poor was a constant need and commanded in the Torah:

Give generously to the poor, not grudgingly, for the Lord your God will bless you in everything you do.  There will always be some in the land who are poor. That is why I am commanding you to share freely with the poor and with other Israelites in need. (Deuteronomy 15:10-11)

Jesus isn’t saying to ignore the poor. Jesus is speaking to the uniqueness of the moment and anticipating what is already in the works.  John tells us this is six days before the Passover, so they only have a few days left with Jesus before he will be arrested and crucified.

[9]

Mary’s actions speak to the uniqueness of the moment in several ways:

  • Normally a woman would never touch a man except her husband and children – and then only in private.
  • She uses her hair to wipe his feet, but a woman would never allow anyone other than her immediate family to see her hair.
  • For the installation of a priest or king, his head would be anointed. When someone dies, the whole body was anointed.  Mary is anointing Jesus’ feet.
  • Maybe Mary’s act of devotion is what inspired Jesus to wash his disciple’s feet at the last supper.

Mary would likely know that if Jesus were killed, it would be crucifixion by the Romans. They used this method to not just kill a person but to kill what they stand for; to kill belief in them; to kill any possible continuing movement by followers.

Crucifixion didn’t normally allow for a proper burial with proper anointing of the body, because the bodies were often left on the cross for scavenging birds and animals to eat, and whatever remained was later thrown into a pit.[10]

If Jesus were not about to die, then maybe Judas’ objection might have merit, but Mary is taking the opportunity to honor and show love to Jesus while she has the chance.

 [11]

We don’t always know what might be our last chance to show love to somone or how these chances might come about.

There was a widow living at a long-term care home because her Alzheimer’s had made her unable to function on her own and her macular degeneration had progressed to the point where she was nearly blind.  The facility was far away from her family, so they couldn’t come to visit very often, and even when they did, she usually didn’t remember who they were.  But there was a young man, a friend of the family, who was living in an addiction treatment center near the facility in which the widow lived.  The family didn’t ask him to help because they didn’t think he could or would. He didn’t know the widow, but he was grateful for help he had received from the family, so he decided that he would repay them by spending time with the widow.  So twice a week, he rode his bicycle two miles to the facility and sat with the widow, reading her stories from the Bible, singing hymns with her, and saying the Lord’s Prayer together.  She didn’t know the young man at all, but she knew the stories and the songs and the Lord’s Prayer, so she was comforted by his presence.

Everyone handles death differently. Some make plans and some avoid thinking about it.  When we know it’s going to happen soon, we stop everything to come say goodbye because there is no gift that matters anymore except our presence, our time, our love.

Make the most of every opportunity. Eph 5:16

We do not always know what tomorrow may bring, so we should not miss opportunities to say thanks to God for the love we have received through Jesus Christ, and to share that love with everyone we can in whatever way we can.


[1] https://disney.fandom.com/wiki/Bruno_Madrigal

[2] Photo by Daniel Jensen on Unsplash

[3] Photo by Sasha • Stories on Unsplash

[4] Photo by Fulvio Ciccolo on Unsplash

[5] Photo by Steven Weeks on Unsplash

[6] Photo by Levi Meir Clancy on Unsplash

[7] Photo by Lina Trochez on Unsplash

[8] Photo by Idella Maeland on Unsplash

[9] Photo by Samuel McGarrigle on Unsplash

[10] https://www.holytextures.com/2010/02/john-12-1-8-year-c-lent-5-sermon.html

[11] Photo by Alejandro Lopez on Unsplash

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