The story of the “Anointing” is a well-known story, and is typically read and discussed in the season of Lent as we prepare ourselves for Easter, but why is it important? So important that John (12:1-8), Mark (14:3-9), and Matthew (26:6-13) wrote at some length about this occurrence.
Jesus has just raised his dear friend Lazarus, a man who the Bible says “Jesus loved” as evidenced by the Lord weeping at his tomb, who had been dead and buried for four days (John 11). Naturally the family and friends of Lazarus were overjoyed that Lazarus was raised from the dead; especially his sisters Mary and Martha, and they decided to have a feast, a party, in honor of Jesus and to celebrate the return of their brother Lazarus. If there was ever a reason to celebrate, this was certainly it! So here is the scene that this passage paints for us, Jesus, the disciples, Lazarus, and the other guests are reclined around the table (as was the custom of the time) enjoying a hearty feast. Martha is busy as ever being the good hostess and serving the guests, refilling their cups with wine, and so on. Meanwhile Mary, who we assume is the younger sister, goes and gets an alabaster stone jar or container with about a pound of perfume in it. Now this perfume, Nard, is derived from the rhizomes, the roots, of a flower that grows in the Himalayan regions of what are now Nepal, India, and China. As you can imagine, and as the story tells us, this perfume is very expensive and fine. The scripture tells us its value is at least 300 denarii, which is about the equivalent of a year’s pay for a Laborer. Mary takes this extremely valuable perfume and according to Matthew and John she begins to pour, or anoint, the head and feet of Jesus with the entire jar of the perfume. So much so that John says “The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume” and she wipes and cleans his feet with her hair. Can you imagine that, to be so humbled, to be so devout of a servant that you would use your hair to clean and spread perfume on the dirty and calloused feet of a man? In this simple, and some in our times might say, bizarre act she gives her best to the Lord and humbles herself before him… it’s an act of Love, an act of respect, and an act of Faith because she clearly believed that Jesus is the Messiah, the anointed one, and through this act she anointed him as her King, her savior.
Pause and Reflect: Christ must be honored with all we have. Do we give him the precious ointment of our best affections? Do we honor God by making ourselves the humble and giving servants of him and our fellow men as Jesus taught us and demonstrated for us?
The disciples were shocked, I’m talking jaw dropping to the floor shocked at the actions of Mary, and according to Matthew they grew angry with Mary. John’s version of the story singles out Judas as being the angriest and most vocal of the bunch (As you read John’s version, do you get the sense that he is still a bit angry at Judas for the betrayal to come? Do you think John struggled also with forgiveness and perhaps shame as we often do?) Judas asks “Why the waste? Why didn’t you sell this perfume for three hundred denarii and give that money to the poor?” Surely Jesus had taught them numerous times throughout his ministry to give up their possessions to benefit the poor and the sick, was this not a waste and a violation of this teaching? What did Judas and the disciples miss in the act of Mary?
They missed the fact that Mary, through her act, had fully accepted and acknowledged that Jesus was the Messiah and savior, that he was the Son of God and therefore part of God; she had paid attention to the so called “Great Commandment” of Matthew 22:
"You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
She had given her everything, her valuable perfume, her love, her pride, everything to God through his son Jesus, out of pure Love. You see, to fully be able to Love your neighbor, to fully be able to be a positive, loving, and life giving force in this world, you have to Love God first. You have to give all of your faith, your hopes, your fears, you’re everything to God so that he can set you free to Love yourself and those around you. God is Love, and if you do not know God, then you do not know Love. The Disciples were a little bit slower to come around to this truth than Mary, as evidenced by their actions in coming scriptures about the Arrest and execution of Jesus.
Jesus responds to the criticism simply with these words in John’s version: “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”
I think Jesus is saying two things here: The first and most obvious is he is foretelling again his impending death, trying to drive home the point to his followers that they need to pay attention and absorb as much as possible from his teachings now because his time on earth is coming to an end. The second message I think can be inferred in that last sentence based on what we know about the message of Jesus; Those in need will always be with us, particularly the poor in spirit, because we do not always act like we have Jesus first and foremost in our hearts and minds, mankind is inherently weak and sinful. If we do not Love and glorify him through our words and actions, and spread the Love that he gave us, we will always have the poor in spirit among us.
So In closing, let us carry forward from this day the example of Mary, let us give our everything to God. Give him your hopes, your fears, your precious pride, your everything… Humble yourself to his will, work to be a better servant of the Lord and all of his creation. Because if you show the faith, humility, and Love of Mary in all that you do, you will be glorified by God, and as Jesus said of Mary in Matthew 26:13; “Truly I tell you, wherever this good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.”
Peace be with you.