Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, ‘Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?’ (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) Jesus said, ‘Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.’ (NRSV).
This family – re-united miraculously after death – knows that no welcome is too lavish for their most honoured guest. Mary, Martha, and Lazarus seem to understand that Jesus is only passing through. He has fixed his eye on Jerusalem.
And these people will always owe him everything.
It is a last opportunity. They want to show this undying loyalty before Jesus’ coming passion. In a matter of days these brave women will sit in the dust under the cross. Breaking the jar then would seem too late. How could such beauty find its place on Golgotha Hill? After his death could they guarantee a dignified burial? Will there be a better opportunity?
They may only have now.
Mary has saved, purchased, and nervously waited. She seizes the jar and breaks it over Jesus’ feet.
Now that her moment has arrived, however, there is nothing to wipe away the excess. She stoops, embarrassed at the gap in her plan. She mops with her hair.
A blindingly intense, fragrant, and beautiful moment.
But even so, not all can see. Judas’ greed plays down this act of generosity and symbol. Three hundred denarii is close to the cost-of-living for a family for an entire year. This is pure extravagance.
Judas’ willingness to publicly put a price on the perfume, however, under-values Mary.
He can describe it only as thoughtless and wasteful. These are hurtful and hateful words transparently motivated by the hollow hope of gain. This public shaming is not about the poor. It is about an insatiable greed that has blinded, stolen, and will soon betray.
There is something lost when beauty is met with such shallow criticism.
And, wonderfully, heaven knows it. Expressions of love leave the bravest of souls vulnerable. Jesus’ covering of her indicates that her courage and foresight are honourable, exemplary, the essence of beauty in the eyes of God. Jesus will not allow Judas’ critique to snatch this pearl away. Mary’s act is defended as an artistic, creative, and moving display of love for the Jesus she discovered to be friend and healer.
And her timing is perfect.
For even after the unlikely securing of Jesus’ body, a new tomb, and a load of exotic spices, there will be no additional opportunity to anoint these feet. By the time the mourners arrive it will be too late.
For by then the stone will already be rolled and this body resurrected.