While Jesus was in Bethany in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on his head as he was reclining at the table.
When the disciples saw this, they were indignant. “Why this waste?” they asked. “This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor.”
Aware of this, Jesus said to them, “Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me. When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. Truly I tell you, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.” (NIV)
When I was a teenager 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, there is more going on in today’s Gospel lesson than what meets the eye. The Apostle John identifies the woman as Mary (John 12:1-11), a woman with a sordid background who 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, this woman, Mary, is aware of what is 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 knew was a damaged person, took a high-end perfume and broke the entire thing open. She then proceeded to anoint Christ’s feet with it. You can imagine the aroma which filled the entire house with expensive perfume for all to smell. Giving what she had to Jesus, Mary demonstrated the path of true discipleship.
Yet, that is not all, because there is more here than what meets the eye:
- The broken jar of perfume shows us the brokenness of the woman and our need to be broken (Matthew 5:3-4).
- The woman used an extraordinary and extravagant amount of perfume, picturing her overflowing love for Jesus (John 20:1-18).
- The woman poured the perfume on the head of Jesus, and she herself used her hair as the application (according to John); hair is a rich cultural symbol 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 the disciples’ response than mere words about perfume; the Apostle John specifically names Judas as questioning this action – the one who is not actually concerned for the poor (Matthew 26:15).
- The woman and the disciples, or Judas and Mary, serve as spiritual contrasts: Mary opens herself to the sweet aroma of Christ; Judas 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, 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 the woman Mary and realize the true freedom which comes from emptying oneself out for you. Amen.