Six days before the Passover, Jesus therefore came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. So they gave a dinner for him there. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those reclining with him at table. Mary therefore took a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it. Jesus said, “Leave her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of my burial. For the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me.” John 12:1-8 (ESV)
Shrove Tuesday is also known as Mardi Gras (literally: Fat Tuesday.) Being the day before Ash Wednesday, which is the beginning of Lent, in liturgical traditions, (especially Roman Catholicism) Shrove Tuesday is traditionally a day to eat up all of one’s sumptuous food and to live it up before embarking on the somber, penitent, fasting season of Lent. Of course, the Mardi Gras tradition is also one of theoretically getting all one’s sinning out of one’s system so one can be “shriven” or forgiven all their sins. Of course, we all need to remember our baptisms and confess our sins daily. We may be God’s saints, but as long as we are in these bodies on this earth, we are also sinners in need of God’s grace.
Jesus was sinless, so He had no sins to get out of His system before the Passover- or at any other time. The only sin problem Jesus ever had is when He took on the sins of the world- so that He could defeat the curse of death, cover us in His blood, and forgive our sins.
He was treated to a dinner with His disciples and friends. Mary saw the opportunity to be extravagant in her care for Jesus while He was with them. Before He had to embark on His lonely journey through Passion Week, taking on the burden of our sins, and ultimately dying for us on the cross, He was cared for and richly anointed. She had no idea what lie ahead of Jesus in the following days, but she responded to Him out of love. Mary did not realize that she was preparing Jesus for the journey ahead of Him and she was anointing Jesus for His burial.
Yes, there are times for prudence and frugality. There is always a need to care for those less fortunate than we are. It can be said in this text that Judas had an ulterior motive for pointing that out. Charity does not always come from a heart with pure motives. There are also times in our lives in which we should celebrate and be extravagant with each other. We do not know how long we will have our loved ones with us.
Traditionally Lent is a time of penitence and sacrifice. It is not just a time to give up bad habits or to get rid of unnecessary things. It is a time to contemplate the life and Passion of Jesus. It is a time to consider taking up good habits such as regular Bible study, giving, or serving others. As we enter the season of Lent- whether we participate in Fat Tuesday traditions or not- perhaps we could make time to appreciate our loved ones, while they are with us, and we with them. We do not know where this life’s journey may take us.