Biblical Studies/New Testament Commentaries/The Gospel of John/Chapter 12
John 12 Verses 1-11
Jesus, while preparing for the Passover, spends time in Bethany in the company of his disciples, Lazarus, and Lazarus' sisters Martha and Mary. While enjoying dinner, Mary pours perfume on Jesus and washes his feet with her hair. One will notice that this event takes place after John Chapter 11's description of Mary being "...the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair" (John 11:2). Though this occurrence is seemingly out of place, the author might have done this for several reasons. John may have attributed this event to Mary as an honor; acting somewhat as a title. He may also have been describing (to those who were familiar with the oral telling of such a story) something that defined who Mary was (apart from all of the many Marys of the time); an act that typified her character. In any case it showed her real love for Jesus in that she was willing to give everything she had to him, her only regret being that she could not give more. It also showed here humility in that she anointed his feet rather than his head. She never thought she was good enough to go so far as to anoint his head. The letting loose of her hair also showed that she was very comfortable with Jesus. Those who are really in love do not care what others think and live in a world of their own. Her loose hair exemplified this.
Jesus' reply, 'Leave her alone; let her keep it for the day of my burial' in verse 7, suggests the outpouring of the ointment could be reserved as anticipation for Jesus' future burial. Why would anyone object to using the ointment which would have been used to anoint his dead body when it can be poured over him while he is living? That way he can appreciate her action in love. Mary's anointing Jesus is similar to other stories however this is a specifically distinctive event. Other occurrences include an unnamed woman anointing Jesus' head also in Bethany (Matthew and Mark). Likewise, an unnamed woman in Luke anoints Jesus' feet, presumably with ointment or perfume also before wiping the feet with her own hair. "In all three cases there is a protest at the expenditure of costly perfume which could have been sold, with the proceeds given to the poor" (Smith 234). In this chapter, it is "unfaithful Judas" who protests. He says that the money from selling the perfume could be given to the poor, and used for a good cause, however we know from further verses he would really steal the money instead. The poor are just an excuse. It might be worth noting here also that this passage with Judas is not found in the other gospels, but rather we have in the other accounts all of the disciples together objecting to the woman's display. The reason John changes up the account is not entirely clear but there are other examples in John's gospel of him pointing out Judas' betrayal. It is possible that ideas about Judas as being a vessel of God's will were circulating and John was trying to squash them within his own community. Whatever the case may be Jesus reprimands him and asks that he let Mary do this before his burial. Judas will always have the poor, but not always Jesus lending to the thought that Jesus will not be around forever and his death is looming near.
The characters of Judas and Mary provide a literary element that is consistent with the style of John. Judas and Mary are foils of each other. Judas chooses an extreme of the path that John shows unbelievers and doubters taking. In contrast, Mary resumes her role from earlier in the gospel as an example of total faith and devotion. Their thoughts of the future were quite different, too. The author of the Fourth Gospel depicts Mary as preparing a loved one for burial, while Judas only thinks of himself and of his monetary benefit.
In verse 8, Jesus states "For you always have the poor with you, but you do not always have Me." (NAS) This verse has cross references from Hebrew Scriptures in Deuteronomy 15:11 and in the synoptic gospels in Matthew 26:11 and Mark 14:7. Although this is not the first time this short phrase has been brought up in the Bible, many questions or ideas about the character of God have arisen from it. For instance, the view of Gerard Sloyan in his book John believes that this "became a watchword of callousness." Being a pretty bold statement he continues to explain by describing Jesus as "favoring a good work done to him above the care of the poor- quite uncharacteristic of what we can deduce of the historical Jesus." James Burton Coffman disagrees. He believes that this was a "profoundly proper evaluation of the true values inherent" in the Bible. For instance if we look in 1 Kings 17:13 Ellijah asks the same thing of a woman. He states "Do not fear; go, do as you have said, but make me a little bread cake from it first and bring it out to me, and afterward you may make one for yourself and for your son." (NAS) With that said, Jesus statement was not unlikely according to Coffman. John Gill's exposition was not based on whether the phrase was "Jesus worthy" rather he believes that the words were of simply prophecy that there will always be poor people to be taken care of and provided for but His "his corporeal presence, which would be quickly withdrawn from them, would be no more an opportunity of showing him personal respect, in such a way." John simply believed that Jesus was trying to tell His disciples that these random acts of worship were not repeatable, but the poor will never cease.
Verses 9-11 explain the Jews' plan to do away with Jesus. A large crowd of Jews--not the Jews in charge--went rushing to see Jesus and Lazarus as soon as they found out Jesus and Lazarus were there. At this point, the chief priests made plans to kill Lazarus. They realized that Jesus' ministry was gaining followers, and they wanted to not only do away with him, but also with traces of his works, including the once-dead Lazarus. According to the chief priests, Lazarus was a main reason that people were deserting the priests and putting their faith in Jesus.
Verses 25-36 Again here we have Jesus making reference to eternal life. His comments here mirror those of chapter 3 and chapter 11, once again emphasizing belief and life as a prominent theme in John. In verse 27 you have Jesus foreshadowing the misgivings he will show later in the garden before his death when he says, "Should I say, 'Father, save me from this hour'?" Then there is a rather strange happening in verse 28 when God actually speaks saying, "I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again." The crowd standing around are split about what has just happened, some contend that it is just thunder, while others say it is an angel. Jesus essentially tells them that the voice is trying to warn them of their impending doom. He also makes reference to being "lifted up" to foreshadow his means of execution.
Fear, Conformity, and Vanity in John Chapter 12 With many profound Christological miracles already documented in the Gospel of John, one might reason that the peoples of the area would have come to embrace Christ and His message. The fact that they do not speaks to the powers of vanity and fear (see verses 42 and 43). The Jews wanted to reap the benefits of societal inclusion more than eternal life. But before we condemn their decision as foolish and unrealistic, I would ask that we consider an example much more recent in history: the Holocaust. What could possibly enslave so many people to do the bidding of so few? After the war, psychological experiments (e.g. the Milgram experiment) were conducted to see how people reacted to authority figures pressuring them to do various tasks that had the potential to cause great harm to others. Many of the people went through with the experiments simply because they were told to. Fear and the pressure to conform were their primary motivations, and we can only imagine what the situation must have been for the Jews at the time of Christ, whose lives were able to be influenced very significantly by those in power.
John 12 Verses 12-19
The Johannine account of Jesus' return to Jerusalem one very noticeable difference from the Synoptic gospels. There are actually two crowds that greet Jesus. The two crowds are named as pilgrims coming to observe Passover and those who were present for the miracle Jesus performed for Lazarus. The first group came because of what they heard, the second because of what they saw.
John 12:12-19 once again shows that the disciples did not understand Jesus or his mission until after the resurrection. Verse 16 shows this to the reader. The disciples did not understand that Jesus' entry into Jersualem was a fulfillment of prophecy. It is surprising that the men who were with Jesus the most would not understand the man's mission more than they did.
John 12:46-48 illustrates themes that have been common in Jesus' teachings. In verse 46 the theme of Jesus being the light of the world is repeated. Jesus is the light and believers will not remain in the darkness. In addition, Jesus' goal is salvation not judgment. The climax of Jesus' teachings comes in verses 49 and 50, which is eternal life. Eternal life begins the instant one believes in Christ and can be a blessing throughout life and for eternity. Those believers who are saved will live forever in the presence of God. This teaching is possibly directed to those who believe in Jesus but are too afraid to admit to it.