The author of John’s Gospel develops a sharp contrast between Mary’s free, most likely spontaneous expression of magnanimous love and Judas’ calculating complaint in John 12:1-6. Mary breaks open an expensive bottle of perfume, pours it lavishly on Jesus’ feet and then wipes his feet with her hair. John observes that the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.
Judas, we are told, complained, “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.” The writer comments: “He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.”
Scholars have argued that John’s portrait of Judas is biased and not historically accurate, that the author surely had an ax to grind. Maybe so. But that matters little to the one reading this story for spiritual guidance. What is significant is the kind of spirituality and religion Judas and Mary represent.
Mary is totally uninhibited and oblivious to how her intimate expression of love might be perceived by others. Her action surely brings a severe critique from those schooled in conventional etiquette. This is something a “loose woman” would do.
But Mary is completely unconcerned with perceptions and appearances and surface conclusions by others. She is being true to her real feelings of gratitude and devotion, and her action is an honest and authentic demonstration of love.
On the other hand, Judas is at the opposite end. For all his religiosity, he feigns concern for the poor. But his real motive is greed. Perhaps he is not even aware of his own intentions. Religious people can be very unaware of how their religious fervor springs from false incentives and illusions.
Mary is deeply spiritual and religious, while Judas is deeply religious, but not spiritual. The contrast is stark and extreme and overdrawn, which is a common feature of this Gospel. Rarely are we as authentic, free, and uninhibited as Mary in our love for God and for one another; rarely are we as deceitful, conniving, and hypocritical as Judas is portrayed. Most of us hover somewhere in between.
Each day we are faced with a choice. What kind of person will I be? What kind of disciple? It’s interesting that it is the woman, not the man, who is authentically real and sincere. That seems to be true more often than not. Maybe it has something to do with how we are socialized into our society. But gender, of course, is not the issue.
The greater issue and question is: Who are we going to be like? What sort of life force and energy will pervade our lives and relationships?
Will the negative forces of greed, the lust for power and position, the concern for outward appearance prevail? Will we continue to think and act in ways that mirror our spiritual blindness and emptiness? Will we mistake our religiosity for authentic spirituality? Will religion simply be a mechanism we use to maintain control and tout our own wishful ideals?
Or will the redemptive and transformative spirituality and energy of love fill our lives and relationships? Will the positive powers of compassion and honest awareness of our own weakness and vulnerability lead us into lives of humility and service? Will we discover our real worth in our true selves as recipients of God’s unconditional love, freeing us to gratuitously lavish love on others without concern for appearances or consequences?
Will we allow the ego to take charge, so that life becomes a game of comparisons and rewards to gain at any cost? The way Judas coldly calculated the amount of money wasted by Mary. Will we judge our worth by how much money we make, how many merit badges we earn, how much status we acquire, how many accolades we receive, or the number of vacations we take?
Or will we invest in eternity? Will we live each day to see how fruitful and rich our relationships can be, how much love we can share, how much good we can spread, how much of our abundance we can give away?
Will we be authentically human or will we be ruled by deadly powers that diminish our true humanity? Religion imbued and infused with a genuine spirituality of love and gratitude can lead us on a path to real healing and transformation; religion saturated and diffused with greed and egocentricity becomes deadly and life diminishing.