“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. Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), complained, ‘This perfume was worth a year’s wages! Why wasn’t it sold, and the money given to the poor?’ (He said this not because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief. He carried the money bag and would take what was in it.)
Then Jesus said, ‘Leave her alone. This perfume was to be used in preparation for my burial, and this is how she has used it. You will always have the poor among you, but you won’t always have me.’”
When I was a kid there was a show on TV called “Quincy.” Quincy was a coroner. Every episode was him performing an autopsy on someone who appeared to have a rather normal death. But Quincy always found something suspicious and spent his time prying into people’s lives to confirm his investigation. His boss and the police chief would chide and warn him saying, “Leave it alone, Quincy.” Quincy’s typical response was: “But I can’t leave it alone. There’s more here than what meets the eye!”
Indeed, the Apostle John was the Quincy of his ancient generation. In his gospel there is always more going on than what meets the eye. There are double-meanings, sometimes even triple-meanings to the events unfolding. There are deeply symbolic encounters, as well as the physical tangible events serving as almost metaphors pointing to the spiritual.
Mary, a woman with a sordid background, had her life transformed through meeting Jesus. Now, near the end of Christ’s life as he was about to enter Jerusalem and be arrested, tried, tortured and killed, Mary senses what is happening and is aware of what’s happening when others are not. Her own brokenness cracked open to her the true reality of life.
The surface event itself is a touching and tender moment in history. This woman, whom everyone knows as a damaged person, takes a high-end perfume and breaks the entire thing open. She proceeds to anoint Christ’s feet with it. You can imagine the aroma which would fill the house with an entire amount of expensive perfume out for all to smell. Giving what she had to Jesus, Mary demonstrates the path of true discipleship.
But there’s more here than what meets the eye. Let’s point out some observations about John’s expert autopsy:
- The broken jar of perfume shows us the brokenness of Mary and our need to be broken (Matthew 5:3-4)
- Mary uses an extraordinary amount of perfume, picturing her overflowing love for Jesus (John 20:1-18)
- Mary applies the perfume to Jesus with her hair; hair is richly and culturally symbolic for submission and respect (1 Corinthians 11:14)
- The perfume directs us to the death of Jesus (John 19:38-42)
- The perfume highlights for us the aroma of Christ to the world (2 Corinthians 2:15-17)
- There is more to Judas than his words about perfume; he is not actually concerned for the poor (Matthew 26:15)
- Judas and Mary serve as spiritual contrasts: Mary opens herself to the sweet aroma of Christ; Judas just plain stinks
- The perfume presents a powerful picture of the upcoming death of Christ, for those with eyes to see; he was broken and poured out for our salvation (Luke 23:26-27:12)
Christianity was never meant to be a surface religion which only runs skin deep. The follower of Christ is meant to be profoundly transformed within, inside and out, so that there is genuine healing, spiritual health, and authentic concern for the poor and needy. Keeping up appearances is what the Judas’s of this world do. But the Mary’s among us dramatically point us to Jesus with their tears, their humility, their openness, and their love.
In this contemporary environment of fragmented human ecology, our first step toward wholeness and integrity begins with a posture of giving everything we have – body, soul, and spirit – to the Lord Jesus. Methinks Quincy was on to something.
Loving Lord Jesus, my savior and my friend, you have gone before us and pioneered deliverance from an empty way of life and into a life of grace and gratitude. May I and all your followers, emulate the path of Mary and realize the true freedom which comes from emptying oneself out for you. Amen.