Six days before the Passover, Jesus went to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, the man he had raised from death. They prepared a dinner for him there, which Martha helped serve; Lazarus was one of those who were sitting at the table with Jesus. Then Mary took a whole pint of a very expensive perfume made of pure nard, poured it on Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The sweet smell of the perfume filled the whole house. One of Jesus’ disciples, Judas Iscariot—the one who was going to betray him—said, “Why wasn’t this perfume sold for three hundred silver coins 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 help himself from it.
But Jesus said, “Leave her alone! Let her keep what she has for the day of my burial. You will always have poor people with you, but you will not always have me.”
A large number of people heard that Jesus was in Bethany, so they went there, not only because of Jesus but also to see Lazarus, whom Jesus had raised from death.So, the chief priests made plans to kill Lazarus too, because on his account many Jews were rejecting them and believing in Jesus. (Good News Translation)
Jesus entered Jerusalem, the day before, on Sunday, with the people waving and lying down palm branches, along with shouts of “hosanna!” Although Jesus had been speaking about his death, weeks before his triumphal entry, most folks were clueless as to what was about to happen.
But Mary Magdalene did. She truly listened to the Master. Her spiritual ears and eyes were fully opened to the significance of this week. Mary was completely aware.
A woman with a sordid background, Mary Magdalene had her life thoroughly transformed through meeting Jesus. She became a follower, in every sense of the word. As an attentive disciple, Mary knew her Lord. She observed every little thing about Jesus, hung on every word, knew each voice inflection and every gesture.
Now, near the end of Christ’s earthly life, and only days from being arrested, tried, tortured, and killed, Mary sensed what was happening. She saw the pained affect on her Lord’s face that no one else noticed. She was cognizant of what was happening, while the others seemed clueless.
Mary’s own brokenness cracked open to her the true reality of life, the real meaning of the unfolding days, and the deep gravity of this week.
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.
Mary 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.
Mary’s act of faith in anointing Jesus was deeply symbolic:
- 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 a cultural symbol of 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, vulnerability, openness, and love.
In our contemporary social and cultural 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.
Sometimes it takes a woman to show us the way.
On this Monday of Holy Week, a tangible act may help us to express and deepen our faith. Take a bottle of unopened perfume or cologne, pour it completely out into a used tin can, and set the can in a central place in your home, just for the day* The aroma will likely linger into the next few days, as well. Let the smell be a continual reminder of both the sadness of death and the joy of salvation.
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.
*When you are ready, it is appropriate to dispose of the perfume by pouring it down the drain. Even this can be a ritual in which you visualize discarding your old life in order to take up a new one on Easter Sunday.