God Moves.. Us to Empty Ourselves, John 12:1-19

John’s gospel account of Palm Sunday doesn’t give us all the details of how Jesus secures a donkey for the ride into Jerusalem, however John does a nice job of connecting the details between the people who were eye witnesses of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead, are now the same people who are raising a palm branch testifying to his glory along the streets of Jerusalem.

Prior to the Palm Sunday parade, we find Jesus in the home of some good friends that could be called a second family to him.  This would be the third time in Scripture we find Jesus with the family of Mary, Martha and Lazarus.  The first time Jesus is in this home Mary is at Jesus’ feet listening and Martha is at work cooking and cleaning.  The second time Jesus is with this family we find Martha is the first one to meet Jesus to bring him to Lazarus who had been dead for four days.

The third encounter of Mary, Martha, Lazarus with Jesus is around a table having dinner, where we find Mary once again at Jesus feet.  The scent of good food has been overpowered by the scent of perfume that Mary pours on Jesus’ feet that stirs up conflict.   Judas objects  what may seem out of  sensible charity as he states that the money for the perfume could have been given to the poor but he is desiring the money for himself.

Mary teaches us through her actions of risk that an empty jar represents an emptying of herself before her Lord.  All that she is and all that she has is laid at the feet of Jesus.

Where Judas sees waste of Mary’s actions, Jesus sees greatness in her.

This day in the story before Palm Sunday, Mary helps us envision with an empty bottle and a room full of perfume how we are to approach holiness and Holy Week.

When we think of holiness, it is about connection to God.  The process of sanctification is being set apart and made holy to live and love as God does.

Throughout Jesus’ ministry he moved toward connecting with people around him, he touched those that others deemed unworthy such as the dead, the lepers and the unclean.  When religious leaders spent their time being disgusted when the disciples didn’t wash their hands before meals, Jesus spent his time showing the disciples and the crowds how to heal and how to love with those hands.

He cared about a holiness that drew others to God’s presence, not through a set of rules or regulations or laws, but a relationship that connected human beings with God, a unity where all things in creation are one.

A Lutheran Pastor who can be controversial at times, and when you see her you will not forget her for she has tattoos from head to toe and shares hard realities with great love, her name is Nadia Boltz Weber and she writes about how she found holiness in this gospel story;

“When I think of holiness, the kind that is embodied and free from shame and deeply present in the moment and comes from union with God, I think of a particular scene in the Gospels when, right in the middle of a dinner party, a woman cracks open a jar of myrrh and pours it over Jesus’ feet.  She then takes her unbound hair and wipes his feet, mixing her hair, her tears, her offering on the feet of God.  Her separateness, from herself and her God was alleviated in that moment.

And those in the room with the woman and Jesus did what we humans too often do.  They turn their backs on the holiness and intimacy of what we are witnessing and instead accuse Jesus of impurity.”

What stories remind you of holiness?


There are many stories in scripture that would be great to have a scratch and sniff Bible.  We could scratch over this story that took place in Bethany so that we too could smell the perfume that was poured over Jesus’ feet.

Have you ever thought of what smells we acquaint with certain concepts such as love, loss or holiness? Seems that the stories of connection, of relationship are hard to put into words, pictures can capture a glimpse, yet smell may be the best sense to help our memories recall those holy moments.  Think through the smells that bring you comfort or discomfort, these smells that lead to  good or bad memories, and how rich those memories still lie in your mind today.

When we walk into a kitchen and smell fresh baked bread….
we step back in time to Grandma’s kitchen and feel the embrace of her love.
When we walk into an office and smell a hint of glue…

          we step back in time to days of Kindergarten with endless amount of free play

When we walk into a hospital or nursing home with the various smells in the hallway…

          we step back in time to being a patient, visiting a friend, or saying goodbye to

          a family member.

So why does the sense of smell help us remember more than sights or sounds.  Research shows one reason may be that odors take a different route through our brain than sights and sounds, the smell track through our brain is close to the brain region that handles memory and emotion.  Also, surprisingly we can detect more smells than other senses

What do you think the perfume smelled like from that empty bottle?
Later in Mary’s life, when she smelled that perfume, did she think of love, loss or that moment of holiness where in the comforts of her home she was being set apart to live and love as God does by pouring this treasure upon her Savior’s feet and wiping his feet with her hair and tears.

Mary’s empty bottle and the intimate connection with Jesus, can represent how we should start this holy week….empty so that we can be set apart and filled up with holiness through the life and love of Christ.

We an begin today by picking up a palm branch and praising our Lord by saying;
“Hosanna, Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord”

This praise begins to fill up the emptiness.

We can be at the Lord’s table this Thursday eating the bread and drinking from the cup, embracing the new covenant that we are called to love as deeply as our Lord loves.

This meal continues to fill the emptiness. 

We can confess our sins, we hand over our burdens, we bring to God our fears on Good Friday suffering alongside our Lord receiving no condemnation at the cross like he did, only forgiveness and grace

This mercy continues to fill the emptiness

When we look at the actions of Mary, where she emptied their lives for the sake of others, it reveals a truth about greatness that the world doesn’t teach. We are to constantly be about emptying our lives of ourselves so that we can be filled with the love and life of Christ.

This is best done in a relationship with our Lord reflecting his glory rather than our own. God does all the loving and we do all the receiving, and hopefully pass God’s love on to others.

Daily we are tempted to fill out lives with everything but God.  Have you ever noticed how empty conversations and days can be at times?

A Canadian Pastor who wrote the book Didn’t See it Coming, talked about how emptiness was his friend for a long time.

For him, he noticed when he was at this lowest point in life, when he was empty inside was when he noticed these 5 things become apparent in his life;

  1. cynicism took over in every conversation
    2. he began to compromise his values
  2. there was disconnection in relationships
  3. he resisted change at all costs
  4. pride won out over humility

He began to fill burned out and empty inside, because he was accomplishing life without God.  He had to stop making himself his mission.  As long as life was about him, emptiness was his friend.  He found fullness once again when he was surrounded by and participated in a life with Christ.

We learn about fullness from Christ’s teachings in the gospel of Matthew it says;

“If you cling to your life, you will lose it;
but if you give up your life for me, you will find it.”

We learn about fullness from how Christ served

“For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

We learn about fullness from Christ’s death at Calvary…

“He humbled himself to the point of death, even death on the cross.”

When we turn our life over to Christ, when we give up ourselves for Christ, we place our trust in him on the good days and the bad days, we let him lead as we follow him as Lord and Savior of our life.

When Mary poured the jar of expensive perfume upon the feet of Christ, Mary emptied herself before the Lord representing a life that is far greater than anything money could buy.

During this Holy week, may God continue to move us toward moments where we are filled up with his life and love through his humility on a donkey ride into Jerusalem, as he washes his disciples feet teaching them a new commandment of love, and as he emptied himself on the cross at Calvary so that we could receive God’s mercy and grace through claiming Jesus as our Redeemer and King

Gracious God,

May our lives be an aroma that is pleasing to you even if it offends the world,

where we release a fragrance of peace

and where an empty cross leads us toward holiness with you.


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