Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.
But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.” He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.
“Leave her alone,” Jesus replied. “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.”
Meanwhile a large crowd of Jews found out that Jesus was there and came, not only because of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. So, the chief priests made plans to kill Lazarus as well, for on account of him many of the Jews were going over to Jesus and believing in him. (NIV)
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 tangible events serving as almost metaphors pointing to the spiritual.
Mary, a woman with a sordid background, had her life transformed through meeting Jesus.
Near the end of Christ’s life, as he was about to enter Jerusalem and be arrested, tried, tortured, and killed, Mary sensed what was happening. In fact, she was aware of what was happening when others did not. Mary’s 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 as 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 filling the house with an expensive perfume for all to smell. Giving what she had to Jesus, Mary demonstrated the path of true discipleship.
But there’s more here than what meets the eye. Let’s observe some of John’s expert autopsy work:
- The broken jar of perfume shows us the brokenness of Mary and our need to be broken. (Matthew 5:3-4)
- Mary used an extraordinary amount of perfume, picturing her overflowing love for Jesus. (John 20:1-18)
- Mary applied the perfume to Jesus with her hair; hair is 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 merely runs skin deep. The follower of Christ is meant for deep personal transformation, 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 others to Jesus with their tears, humility, openness, and love.
In our social landscape 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.