The story of Mary anointing Jesus with expensive perfume right at the beginning of Easter week, doesn’t fit easily around all the other events of that week.
For a start church tradition, no doubt in an attempt to accommodate the story and make sure it is not forgotten, has shifted it to “holy Monday” despite the fact that it occurred before palm Sunday.
And even though the event itself proves to have a prophetic function in that it points to the death and burial of Christ, there is an awkwardness that surrounds it. Awkward because each of the gospels give us different pieces of information, with what appears to be a similar but probably completely different story in Luke 7.
However, what is really awkward lies in what actually happened. Mary of Bethany, according to John’s gospel (12.1-3), takes a pint of pure nard – an expensive perfume – pours it on Jesus’ feet and wipes His feet with her hair. The other accounts (Matthew 26.6-13 & Mark 14.1-10), reveal that she anointed His head as well.
Jesus said that what Mary did would ensure that she was remembered throughout the world wherever the gospel was preached (Mark 14.9). Mary’s spontaneous act of worship had secured a legacy of which she had never dreamt.
How can we leave the kind of legacy that Mary has left for us?
‘Leave her alone,’ said Jesus. ‘Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. 7 The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. 8 She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial. 9 Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.’ Mark 14.6-9
Firstly, Mary’s act was considered.
Although it was something done spontaneously, Mary had evidently been keeping the pint of nard for such a moment as this. John 12.7 says that she had “kept” or “saved” the perfume for the day of Jesus’ burial. The word has the idea of “watching over”. Mary had saved her perfume for a moment such as this.
How are you planning to “bless” Jesus?
Secondly, Mary did something creative.
Anointing your guest with a pint of expensive perfume was not the usual way of expressing your appreciation. It was different. It was unusual. Her creativity resulted in something that Jesus described as beautiful.
God has given us the ability to be creative. To be different. Use that difference for His glory.
Thirdly, Mary did something unconventional.
Foot washing was not unusual in houses in the ancient world. But it was something that was usually carried out by a menial servant. It wasn’t something you’d expect of your host or hostess. And you certainly didn’t expect your whole body to be anointed with expensive perfume – water from the nearest well would suffice.
When God leads us to do something that makes an impact for Him, it is usually unconventional. It breaks with the established order.
Fourthly, Mary did something that was costly.
Mary’s action was costly in a couple of ways. The perfume itself was expensive: it was worth a year’s wages. It is also possible that the perfume was some sort of family heirloom. One can imagine the questions that might have raised with her family.
It was costly in another way. She incurred the criticism of the disciples, Judas in particular for “wasting” this perfume, when the proceeds from it’s sale could have been used in another way.
It’s costly to follow Jesus. Sometimes the sacrifice is financial. Sometimes it consists of having our motives questioned.
Finally, Mary’s extravagant act of worship connected her to God’s redemptive plan for the world.
By doing what she did, Mary, perhaps unconsciously become caught up in God’s great act of redemption.
Abandoning ourselves to Jesus connects us to God’s purpose for the world. Pouring out our lives in His service helps to further His purpose in a way of which we are probably not fully aware.
It was just one moment in her life. I’m tempted to say one moment when she let her hair down for Jesus. One moment that would reverberate throughout the world throughout history.