“Then Mary took an extraordinary amount, almost three-quarters of a pound, of very expensive perfume made of pure nard. She anointed Jesus’ feet with it, then wiped his feet dry with her hair. The house was filled with the aroma of the perfume.” John 12:3 (CEB)
“Pure nard.” What is that anyway? According to several sources, it is Spikenard which was an oil based perfume that was often used in anointing kings into office and preparing the dead for burial. It was also VERY expensive, and when we translate the estimate of what they could have received if they sold it, it would be about $30,000.
Why would Mary “waste” such a precious oil by using it to anoint Jesus’ feet? What was the point of her action? If we look back to the events preceding this story, we discover that Jesus had raised Lazarus, Mary and Martha’s brother from the dead. This prompted the religious leaders to conspire again to arrest him. They were out to rid themselves of this so-called rabbi who broke all the rules and “must have used some kind of magic” to perform the miracles that he did.
After Lazarus was raised from the dead, a group of people gathered at his home, and, as usual, Martha was busy preparing and serving them a meal. And, instead of sitting at Jesus’ feet, Mary appeared and began to anoint them. For a woman to have her hair down in the presence of a man who was not her husband was scandalous. Even more so, for her to touch a man’s feet was shocking and a very intimate act that was not acceptable in the culture of the day.
Her actions would have made everyone in the room uncomfortable, to say the least. Perhaps Judas’ reprimand (“This perfume was worth a year’s wages! Why wasn’t it sold and the money given to the poor?”) came from his discomfort. Mostly, according to the writer of John, he was greedy and wanted to be able to pocket the money himself. Judas’ actions that followed this story moved the events of Holy Week into view. He left the party and went to the chief priests to set up his betrayal of Jesus.
So, Mary brings the calm into the middle of the storm. She offers something that no one else dared to offer Jesus: her pure, genuine, honest love. Jesus loved her, and she knew it. She loved him, not in a romantic way, but in the way that someone loves her savior, the Son of God. Mary gave what she had, and the cost was the last thing on her mind as she knelt to anoint him for his burial.
Did she know that was what she was doing? Perhaps. The rumors and unrest were clear, and the tension in the air probably seemed to vibrate as the religious leaders plotted, Judas arranged to betray Jesus, and the inevitability of his arrest loomed on the horizon.
In the midst of our storms, do we stop to kneel at Jesus’ feet and offer our pure unadulterated love? Do we recognize him as our savior? Do we give ourselves unquestioningly to him? Do we serve in his name?
This is food for thought as we enter the week before holy week. It’s a journey, this life of faith. It’s also a choice. We can choose to follow Jesus or not, but if we choose to follow him, we also choose to love him with all of who we are and to serve him in our world.