Six days before the Passover, Jesus Christ made a trip to Bethany. There He attended a dinner that was never to be forgotten. As He sits at the meal, Mary the sister of Lazarus comes into the room and interrupts the flow of words. As I imagine this scene, I see her quietly walk over to Jesus who is the center of conversation. She is holding an alabaster box containing a very costly amount of precious ointment. Mary opens the box, produces a jar and then pours spikenard from the container onto Christ’s head. Through her silence, she creates a sacred space, a holy place. She is anointing Jesus. Everything about her actions is lovely, the reverence in which she opens the box, the sweet fragrance of her faith filling the room.
Mary then anoints Jesus’ feet and wipes them with her hair. To anoint the head is to do Him honor but to anoint both the head and the feet with such expense is an act of homage rendered to kings. When Mary wipes His feet with her hair is an overwhelming expression of humility, devotion and respect. The act of her letting down her hair is extremely personable and something Jewish women do not do in public. Servants also wash the feet of guest with towels. Mary is using her beautiful hair to show that she does not care about the things of the world, only about her Lord and His ministry. The utter extravagance and adoration of it all is a prophetic symbol of how very precious Jesus’ life is.
But one of Jesus’ disciples, Judas Iscariot, does not approve and scolds Mary by saying “Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred pence, and given to the poor?” But, Jesus sensitive to her feelings and meaning says, “Leave her alone: against the day of my burying hath she kept this. For the poor always ye have with you; but me ye have not always”. (John 12:4-8) Verily I say unto you. Wherever this gospel shall be preached to the whole world, there shall also this that this woman hath done, be told for a memorial to her.” (Matthew 26:13)
Jesus‘ words “my burying hath she kept this” bring Mary’s offering into focus. Jesus had been telling his disciples of his impending death. Since women were among His followers, it is likely that Mary too had heard these warnings. Her act of love symbolized that she had a deeper understanding of what Jesus was about to face, an understanding that even some of His male disciples may have lacked.
The amount of spikenard Mary used was worth about sixty dollars at the time. I wonder what length she went through to obtain the ointment. Did she have to sell some of her jewelry or give up part of her inheritance? Did she travel far to purchase it or did she pay someone else to obtain it for her? Judas criticized Mary for being so extravagant but soon he would betray the Savior for just thirty pieces of silver, the equivalent of about twenty dollars. Certainly Mary used her money justly and was the more righteous disciple. Her unselfish gift was a balm of faithfulness that soothed the way for the Savior who would suffer in Gethsemane and trudge to the cross alone.
Mary must have also been worried about the enemies Jesus had and the danger that awaited Him in Jerusalem. He was a provocative man who divided the people and angered religious leaders. Many thought He committed blasphemy. Others thought he was crazy or possessed. But Mary was among those who believed He was the Savior of the world. She needed to show her devotion to Him in an unmistakable and remarkable way. This anointing of Jesus’ body was the only one He would receive upon His death. It was a powerful message on the eve of His being handed over to suffering and death. She anointed Him, as if to say, “Behold, the Lamb of God.”
No wonder this incident is a “memorial to her”.
As this Easter season comes upon us, I want to focus my thoughts and heart like Mary. I want to show my love and gratitude to my Savior. For many Christians, “Holy Week” describes a season of observance that begins with Palm Sunday and ends on Easter morning. I have committed myself to reading and pondering about each one of the days and events leading up to the resurrection of Christ. I invite you to read along with me by following this link.
Like Mary, we must come to know that Jesus Christ is our prophet, priest and king. I know that as we learn about and reflect upon His life we can receive a special witness of this. I bear witness that He is the Savior of world.
Your Friend in Christ,