The Magi’s visiting Jesus presented 3 gifts: gold, frankincense, myrrh. Often they are respectively tied to Jesus’ roles as king, prophet/priest, sacrifice/savior. How accurate that is may be questioned. That they were costly and significant gifts is not questionable. Gold is gold. We all have a pretty good idea about it. Frankincense is an aromatic plant often used in incense, including Jewish temple incense (Exodus 30:34-38). It is also used in perfumes. The fact that it was a key component of the temple incense is what leads many to conclude that its gifting is symbolic of Jesus’ priestly and prophetic role. Myrrh is another plant. It was used as a perfume and incense (too), stimulant, anointing oil, and embalming. The last two uses are where the sacrifice/savior symbology is assumed. Whether this was intended symbology is not the issue at hand. These magi would have had important positions at home. They would have not brought a small amount of any of these things. Providing these gifts was expected, and being stingy in those gifts was not culturally or politically practiced. We should think of the magi as representatives (or ambassadors). Put on a good show to increase the prestige of your home country.
Why the focus on the magi and their gifts? To show just how significant Mary’s action was. We don’t know a lot about Lazarus and his sisters, other than Jesus was likely a more common visitor than the scriptures convey. We also know that Lazarus—due to his rising from the dead—was a person of concern (John 12:9–11) for the religious leaders, as his continued presence was apparently adding to Jesus’ stature as prophet and Messiah.
Let’s look at Judas, too. John gives him a good poke, but let’s be honest with ourselves, we have a bit of Judas in us, especially when it comes to “church” money. The expectation that the church does not spend frivolously is a strong tendency in us all, with the Puritan expectation ingrained in us of financially barebones ministry. The “wastefulness” of Mary’s “gift” would definitely cause some trouble in today’s churches.
Mary wasn’t worried about the wastefulness. What motivated her is her love of Jesus. Her love was reflected in Jesus’ response. Jesus’ followers made sure that her story is still told after almost 2000 years. Maybe that gift wasn’t a waste?
1) Thinking about what is to come (Holy Week), what aspects in this story do you see played out?
2) Poking the bear…what are your thoughts of Judas versus Mary (taking Judas’ betrayal out of it) and how churches and ministries spend money?
3) We often don’t think of the ongoing presence of those touched by Jesus’ miracles (e.g., Lazarus) as adding to the validation of his ministry, and what the impact was on their lives. What do you think their lives were like during Jesus’ ministry and after his death/resurrection?