This passage is the Revised Common Lectionary Passage for March 13, 2016 (year C, Lent V)
Summary: The Greek does not give one permission to avoid the obvious implication of the text: The world will always have sin and poverty, so focus on Jesus' death and resurrection. If anything, the Greek simply amplifies the language to support this conclusion! In the 20th century, the Lutheran church made an error by so focusing on Jesus' death and resurrection that we avoided all together the nasty business of calling the world to action (see 1930s in Germany for the ultimate example of this.) I wonder if in this century we have strayed too far in the other direction and once again, need to hear this passage. Yes, young adults and seekers want to see the church involved in social service if not action. But ultimately our gift to the world and our passion must be Christ crucified and resurrected. (Okay, okay, now that you've read that, I confess I have a bit of good stuff about serving others in the Greek blog)
εξ ("six", 12.1) The whole verse that includes the word "six" is foreshadowing. Six is the penultimate number in the bible; on the sixth day Jesus died (Friday). This is a penultimate story, one that points toward a bigger story, namely, the events that follow. If you don't buy the "six" thing, John spells it out: Before the Passover...after Lazarus had been raised from the dead. Big events are ahead!
δειπνον ("feast", 12:2) This word can mean "main meal", but also "feast." (See NIV translation:
Here a dinner was given in Jesus' honor.) Jesus only has two δειπνον / "feasts" in John's Gospel; once in this case with Lazarus and then soon afterwards during the last supper. The juxtaposition of these feasts suggests numerous preaching directions, including parsing out various aspects of Holy Communion. I would suggest in depicting this meal, John invites us into praise and pondering of Jesus' death during Holy Communion.
διηκονει ("serve", 12.2) The word here for "serve" (as in Martha "served") is where we get our word "diaconal" and "deacon." In this version of the story, Martha is not criticized for helping out. So before we get too much into a battle of liturgy vs diakonia, we need to take a deep breath. In fact, you could preach/argue that either a) Martha's work makes Mary's worship possible or b) that Mary's work is worship in itself.
μυρον ("oil", 12:3). The word can simply mean oil, but in our case, the important thing to note is that it is oil from "myhrr", which is used for people's burial. Again, foreshadowing of death!
John's Gospel has an odd array of words here: "roman pound (λιτρα) perfume (μυρον) plant (ναρδος) genuine (πιστικος) expensive (πολυτιμος)" This is not typical, as far as I have read, of John's style to stack so many words. It is almost exactly what Mark has. He really wants to draw attention to what is going on here; ie, he is writing like Mark! "Polytimos" (πολυτιμος) is an unusual word -- the pearl of great value (Matt 13:46) uses the same word.
επραθη ("sell", from πιπρασκω, 12:5) The word for sell is very interesting here. It is "piprask-oo." It has the connotation of selling for a bribe; or even sell into slavery (Romans 7:14). It will be used in contexts that probably mean simply sell, but again, will be used in contexts of sell for a bribe, sell for slavery. In short, Judas here is predicting exactly what he will do.
πτωχους ("poor",12:8) John's Gospel never uses the word poor outside of its connection with this story. It is worth pointing out though, that is was Jesus overturning of the money tables in the temple that began his conflict with the authorities. The Jesus of John's Gospel is not unconcerned with "earthly" matters!
πασχα ("Passover", 12:1) This word "Pascha" (hence "paschal" mystery) is rather interesting. It comes from the Hebrew P-S-K (pasach) which means "passover" as in the angel "passed over" the houses. However, πασχω as a verb in Greek means "to suffer" and comes into English as "passion." An odd coincidence where a number of words in different languages seem like cousins.