We come to a story today that is told in every one of the gospel accounts. It is the story of the anointing of Jesus. We sat in the room with Jesus when Mary poured the oil of anointing in Matthew’s gospel. We looked at the hearts in attendance as love poured out in Mark’s telling. And we looked at the responses when forgiven little; loves little in Luke’s account. Today I want to look at the gift itself as we read John’s narrative.
By now I believe we are familiar with the story, but I’m going to do a quick recap in case someone decides to join us at this juncture first. Jesus and His disciples had been invited to a feast at the home of Simon. He is identified as a leper that Jesus had previously healed by Matthew and Mark. Luke tells us that the man was also a Pharisee. Luke is famous for getting deeper into some of the stories so he shared another aspect of that evening.
In this setting Jesus is given an amazing gift. His head and feet are anointed by a woman in a precious gift of love. John is the one who names our gift giver. He tells us that she is Mary, Lazarus’ sister. She uses her tears to wash His feet, dries them with her hair, kisses His feet and anoints them with a precious perfume. We are also told in Matthew and Mark that she also anointed His head with this costly perfume.
Jesus defended her actions to those in the room who would have stopped her. Simon was upset that the presenter of this gift was a “sinful woman”, while Judas wanted the money the perfume could have been sold for added to his personal pockets. Jesus’ words of forgiveness and memorialization of her precious gift will be part of His story forever.
So let’s look at this gift and the givers. Let’s take the gift first. We are told that this is a very expensive and fragrant perfume in an ornate bottle. The flask was made of alabaster and the perfume was pure nard. I must confess that I have never smelled pure nard so I will defer to those who were actually in the room as to its aroma. I was watching a Youtube video on the making of alabaster pieces and the work that goes into one is extraordinary! A precious vase for a precious perfume.
Nard was one of the ingredients in the oil used for incense in the temple. It was also used as a costly perfume, as in our story today. It was most likely reserved for the very wealthy as it’s cost was high. We are not told how Mary came to be in possession of such an extravagant gift, only of its value and how she used it. It is not listed among the spices for a traditional Jewish burial though.
So let’s look at the givers now. This precious gift was also a gift from Mary and the Father. Jesus would not be treated with love and respect prior to His death. He was treated with hatred and scorn by the very people He came to save. He was given a hurried burial by Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus. But His closest friends would not be present at His burial. They were present at this anointing instead. God and Mary saw to that. I believe God put it into Mary’s heart to perform this beautiful act of love. I sincerely doubt that Mary knew the real reason she performed this act. Her reasons were out of a grateful heart. Not only was she grateful for her own forgiveness but also for the restored life of her brother Lazarus.
Mary and Martha are both mentioned at this dinner and both gave gifts to Jesus. Martha’s gift was in her service. She made sure the meal went off without a hitch. This was her area of ministry and excellence. Mary’s focus had always been person and relationship centered when it came to Jesus. Her gift was personal and focused solely on Jesus Himself. She poured out her heart to Him as she poured out her tears and her perfume.
As I mentioned earlier, we don’t know how Mary came to be in possession of such an expensive gift, but I’m certain that God made sure it happened right in time for this event. The cost to Mary was more than money though. She risked rejection, scorn and humiliation at even being in the room with the men. Other than for service, women were not present at meals with the men. Husband and wife might eat together but women were never guests at meals. So Mary’s intrusion into this territory could only be seen as a part of a servant. She gladly accepted that role if it meant she could be there near Jesus. But Mary wanted to serve Him in the most personal way possible. She wanted to touch Him. To hold Him and to kiss Him. She wanted to pour out her heart and love to Him. So she assumed the lowliest job of all servants, the washer of the feet.
No one else in attendance had been given the honor of their feet being washed, kissed or anointed. But Jesus received them all at the hands of Mary. She gave her whole self during these acts too. Her spirit was moved to find a way to demonstrate her love. Her broken and joyful heart provided the water through her tears. Her crowning glory of hair provided the towel. And her lifesavings or financial future was surrendered for service to Him. She held nothing of herself back.
What she received was even more precious! She received forgiveness from Jesus. I know He had forgiven her for her sins prior to this, as she was probably one of the women who traveled with Him at times. But that forgiveness was proclaimed publicly by Jesus. He also gave her recognition and renown that would stand in His story forever. But more than anything else, Jesus gave her love and protection. He shielded her from her accusers and said how much He valued what she had done for Him. That alone was worth everything she went through to give her gift. To know that Jesus loved what she did for Him!
Lord Jesus, thank You for loving us even when we are sinners. You loved Mary long before she loved You. You have done the same for me in my life. I don’t have the physical ability to give back to You personally as she did. But You said that what I do unto the least of these, IN YOUR NAME, I have done it unto You. I only wish I could get the direct feedback Mary got that night. Sometimes I wonder if what I am doing is service/task oriented or personal/relationship centered. I don’t want our time to become a “job” I have to do. I want it to be personal and intimate each night. Forgive me please for the nights that I put other things ahead of our time together. I love You and I want that love to shine in my life.