I have been thinking a lot about the anointing of Jesus as St. John describes it in his gospel. In John’s gospel, the woman who anoints Jesus is Mary of Bethany, Lazarus and Martha’s sister. Let’s start by saying that Mary got it. She sat at Jesus feet. She listened. She opened her heart to His message and she got it. She was a true disciple. The apostles who had travelled with Jesus for three years could not image a kingdom where their enemies would be spared and their king would be sacrificed. Mary understood Jesus forewarning in his preaching and His prediction of His death.
Let’s look at the story. Lazarus is sick and Jesus receives a message asking for him to come but he doesn’t come for two days. When he arrives, Lazarus has died and Jesus is overcome with grief for his friend. Jesus weeps. Mary, in her grief, tells Jesus that she knows had he been there, Lazarus would not have died and in her grief she continues to love Jesus and sit at his feet. At the same time, the Pharisees have decided that Jesus must die – it is better to kill one man. They think by killing Jesus, they will stop these new rumblings. Jesus time is running short. He knows this and, call it women’s intuition, but I think Mary knows this too.
A few days later, Jesus and his apostles are having supper in Simon the Leper’s home. Simon has just been cured of leprosy and he no longer has to tell people to stay away. Imagine the great rejoicing in his home that evening. Also in attendance are Lazarus, Mary and Martha. Again, there is great rejoicing. Lazarus, who was dead in the tomb, is now alive again. How interesting that Jesus is anointed for his burial by the sister of the man he raised from the dead. I wonder if Mary suspected that a man who dined at a leper’s home, allowed a woman to touch him, who rebuked the Pharisees and befriended prostitutes would not be long for this world, the world in which she lived? Did she want to offer this last kindness to her teacher while he was still with her?
Mary enters and she breaks the seal on the jar of costly nard or perfume. In Jewish tradition, once the seal has been broken, all of the nard must be used. Mary, a true disciple, knows this. She is all in. She holds nothing back. Jesus has just restored the life of her brother. She wants to thank him and the only way she knows is to offer the most costly things she has: the nard and letting him know she is all in. I believe her intuition helps her to realize that in sparing Lazarus life, Jesus will forfeit his. Mary wants Jesus to know this in a very physical, tangible sign. She finds Jesus at one of his most vulnerable points as he is preparing in his mind what these next days will bring and both of them show us that we must risk living with the openness and vulnerability to love and be loved by others. This is one of the few stories that appear in all four gospels and in all four gospels Mary is berated by what she has done. In all four gospels, Jesus predicts that her actions will be remembered long after she is gone in hopes that the lessons from this one event would be remembered forever – lessons of true love, true discipleship and acceptance. Lessons teaching us that we must make sure we love and allow others to love us.
She anoints his feet. The same feet that will carry the cross. She anoints his head. The same head that will crowned by thorns. She anoints his body. The same body that will be beaten and scourged for our sins.
In the ancient Near East, kings were often anointed as part of their coronation ceremony by a prophet or priest. The Greek word Christos or Christ is a translation of the Hebrew word for Messiah which means “the anointed one”. How interesting that in a culture where women did not touch men, did not show their hair, we have Mary, an insignificant women of that time, anointing the king of kings and unwrapping her hair to do this. I often wonder if by anointing him with her hair, the scent which would have clung to her hair was her way of walking with him. Jesus accepts her anointing and shows us that in his eyes we are all equal at every level. He then repeats her actions a few days later by washing the feet of his disciples. Again, he shows them that we must love with no reserve. We must be all in.
Let’s talk for a moment about the nard which is was estimated to weigh about 12 ounces. The gospel says it was worth about 300 denarii. At that time, a denarius was a day’s wages so Mary’s gift represented 300 days of wages. In today’s society, the average person makes about $35,000 a year. If you divide that into a day’s wages, you get about $134 a day times 300 days and now you are talking about $40,000 worth of perfume at about $3,000 per ounce. So you can see, Mary truly was all in. She spared nothing. She gave her best and she gave her all.
When Mary anointed Jesus, he would have reeked of the perfume. In fact, the entire house would have reeked of the perfume. If Jesus had bathed in a bathing pool, that pool would have reeked of the perfume. The perfume would have clung to him and in the coming days, I wonder if when he was pleading with his Father to let this cup pass, the scent of the perfume reminded him that there was someone out there who also understood that he must drink this cup. As he was shuffled from Pilate to Herod and back, would the smell have been a tangible reminder to have the courage to be silent and let the story play out as his Father intended. As each stripe from the scouring ripped and shredded his skin, would the scent have given him the stamina to bear yet another lash because he knew there was someone out there along with his mother who understood. As he carried his cross, did the scent give him the strength to get up each time he fell? When he was nailed to the cross and cried out, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” would the scent remind him that the women did not forsake him? They walked the way of the cross with him and they stayed with him right to the end. At that point, pain could have blurred his vision but the scent never left him and neither did the women. Like Mary, they were all in.
So I have two questions for you today. The first is: Are you all in? and the second is: For each person you encounter, do you leave with them a scent, a tangible reminder in the way you speak, treat and love each person, of Jesus and his love for them. I pray that our presence, our actions and our words always leave the scent of Jesus with each person we encounter. May the scent of Jesus in our lives impel us and urge us to be broken and poured out for others.