Matthew 26:6-13; Mark 14:3-9; John 12:2-8
"She has done what she could and has anointed my body for burial ahead of time." – Mark 14:9 NLT
There has always been a fascinating story to me. It is full of interesting turns and twists and raises more than just a few questions. One of the most intriguing things about this passage is a statement by Jesus. It is one that I overlooked for years. After having been anointed and hearing the protests of Judas about the wastefulness of this action, Jesus responds by saying, "I tell you the truth, wherever the Good News is preached throughout the world, this woman's deed will be remembered and discussed" (Mark 14:9 NLT). I can't help but read that statement and ask, "Was He right?" Have the actions of this woman been remembered and discussed wherever the Good News has been preached? There is no doubt that this passage has been preached and the events contained in it have been discussed, but I really question whether her deed has been remembered and discussed. I am not saying that Jesus was wrong, but I am suggesting that we have perhaps missed the significance of the moment as Jesus saw it. His statement suggests that the actions of Mary were not to be overlooked or misunderstood. The disciples, especially Judas, saw what she did as wasteful and unnecessary. It seemed extravagant and a tad over-zealous on Mary's part. But Jesus said that what she did should be remembered and discussed among all believers everywhere for all time. Why?
I think there are several things going on here. First of all, it is just days before Jesus' trial, crucifixion and death. He has told His disciples what is going to happen in Jerusalem, but they are refusing to believe it. Jesus has His attention focused on the task at hand – His sacrificial death for the sins of all mankind. The disciples are focused on the Kingdom. They are still anticipating that Jesus is going to establish His earthly Kingdom and they are going to rule and reign at His side. They have no room in their plans for a suffering Savior or a martyred Messiah. Jesus is fully aware of all that is about to happen to Him. He knows Judas is going to betray Him. He is painfully aware that Peter is going to deny Him. He knows that every one of the disciples will desert Him. So when He walked into the home of Simon the leper in order to attend a special dinner held in His honor, His mind was on the events that faced Him in just days. But this dinner was a celebration. Simon, the host of this event, had been healed from leprosy by Jesus. In attendance was Lazarus, who Jesus had miraculously raised from the dead just days before. Along with him are his sisters, Mary and Martha. This was a joyous occasion, and all in attendance were celebrating the life, health, and wholeness of these two men: Simon and Lazarus. Jesus was the center of attention, because He had made it all possible. It was a feast, complete with fine food and good wine. And then, in the middle of it all, Mary, the sister of Lazarus, stood up and took a bottle of costly perfume and poured it on Jesus' head and feet. This would have been a stop-down moment. The smell would have been overwhelming, as the pungent aroma of essence of nard filled the room. All eyes would have been riveted on Mary as she knelt at Jesus feet, weeping and wiping up the excess perfume with her own hair. Jaws would have dropped. Whispers would have been passed back and forth. Mark tells us that some at the table were indignant at what they saw. Judas, the treasurer of the disciples, spoke up and commented on the wastefulness of it all. "That perfume was worth a year's wages. It should have been sold and the money given to the poor" (John 12:5 NLT).
But why did Mary do what she did? Jesus seemed to indicate that Mary knew what she was doing. He said, "Leave her alone. She did this in preparation for my burial" (John 12:7 NLT). But I don't think that was Mary's intent. I don't believe she anointed Jesus, aware that He was going to be dead in just a few days. Her action was purely out of gratitude for what Jesus had done for her brother. He had raised Lazarus from the dead, and she was overwhelmed with gratitude. So she took the best that she had and gave it to the Lord. She blessed Him for having been a blessing to her. Unknowingly, she was anointing Jesus for burial – while He was still alive. The fragrance of that perfume would have been with Jesus even when He hung on the cross. The oil from the essence of nard would have mixed with His blood as He was scourged by the Roman guards. It would have mingled with His sweat as He hung on the cross, enduring the physical pain and the verbal abuse of the religious leaders. And as Jesus breathed His last breath, the smell of that perfume would have filled His nostrils.
This selfless, sacrificial gift would last much longer than the meal or the accolades of the guests. Even the shouts of "Hosanna" that had accompanied Jesus' entry into Jerusalem that previous Sunday would soon be changed to screams of "Crucify Him!" The people at that dinner were there because they had either seen or heard about Jesus' miraculous raising of Lazarus from the dead. Jesus was a celebrity. He was a rock star. But none of them went out of their way to sacrificially thank Him for all that He had one. One person, Mary, took the time and sacrificed her resources, to express gratitude to Jesus for His ministry in her life. And her thankful actions were seen by Jesus as a preparation for His coming death.
Jesus was on His way to die – on their behalf. The disciples were busy planning for the Kingdom, even debating who would have the highest positions in Jesus' new administration. The people were thinking that things were looking up. The Messiah was here and, once He claimed His rightful throne, He was going to get rid of the Romans once and for all. But Mary could think of nothing else than expressing thanks for what Jesus had already done in her life. She expressed gratitude.
Jesus made a point of saying that what Mary had done for Him should be remembered and discussed among believers everywhere and for all time. Why? Because she alone expressed the proper response to Him. She was not asking for more. She was not demanding that He set up His Kingdom. She was not wanting Him to perform more miracles or prove Himself in any other way. He had already done more than enough for Mary and she showed Him just how grateful she was. And in doing so, she helped prepare His living body for His coming death. Her action of gratitude would have more impact than even she intended. She did what she could. She gave what she had. She showed how she felt. And she should be remembered.
Father, how quickly we blow past this story. Or we get hung up on the wrong things. This woman's simple, sacrificial act of thanksgiving to Jesus would have a long-lasting impact on Him. He would remember what she did in the days ahead as the aroma of the perfume helped encourage Him during the darkest moments of His life. She anointed for death while He was still living by expressing her love and gratitude for what He had already done. May I learn to do the same. Amen.