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.” John 12:1-8
It was coming near the end of the ministry of Jesus. As I mentioned in my last essay (The Entry of the King) the action of Jesus coming to Jerusalem, when there was a price on his head, took great courage. The crowds in the city during Passover would have been so great that finding lodging with the town would have been impossible, and so they went to Bethany to the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus.
He arrived at the home of his friends, and they made a meal for him and it was at this time that the love that Martha and Mary felt for Jesus overflowed. Of course, they loved Jesus, after all, he raised their brother from the dead, but it was deeper than that.
Martha was a very practical person, and the way she chose to show her love for Jesus was to serve at table and with the work of her hands. As we have seen before, Martha also gave what she could. Caring for the creature comforts of one at home enables them to concentrate on their work outside of the home and Martha was doing this for Jesus. Service to Jesus takes on many forms and Martha shows us just how important the various roles of his followers truly are. It is just as possible to serve Jesus in the kitchen as on the public platform. The one who cares for others physical needs in ministry is the hands of Christ as much as the one who cares for the spiritual needs of others. Martha shows this to us by her love for Jesus.
Mary was the one who above all loved Jesus, and in this passage we see three things about this love.
We see love’s extravagance. Mary took the most precious thing she possessed and spent it all on Jesus. Love does not love if it nicely calculates the cost. Love gives all, and its only regret is that it has nothing left to give.
We see love’s humility. It was a sign of honor to anoint a person’s head. The psalmist says, “You anoint my head with oil.” Psalm 23:5. But Mary would not look so high as the head of Jesus; she anointed his feet. The last thing Mary thought of was to confer honor upon Jesus; she never dreamed that she was good enough for that.
We see love’s unselfconsciousness. Mary wiped Jesus feet with her hair. In Palestine, no respectable woman would ever appear in public with her hair unbound. On the day, the girl was married her hair was bound up, and never again would she been seen in public with her hair unbound. To appear in public in such a way was a sign of an immoral woman. But Mary never thought of that. When two people love each other, they live in a world of their own. Many are self-conscious about showing their Christianity; they are always concerned about what others are thinking about them. Mary loved Jesus so much that it was nothing to her what other thought.
But we see something more in this passage. John tells us that when Mary anointed the feet of Jesus, the fragrance filled all of the room. This statement, like so many others in John’s Gospel, has a double meaning. One is on the surface, and one lies just under the surface. Mary’s action has filled the entire Church with the sweet memory of what she did for Jesus by anointing his feet. But the action goes deeper than that. The fragrance filled the room and moved out from the house into the entire world. The fragrance changed the surrounding area with the sweet smell of love and added a bit of beauty to the world around them.
When we do something nice for someone else out of love the world changes around us just a little bit. Do something for someone today for no other reason than they are a fellow human being and you love them.