Once again scripture that I have read thousands of times in my life as a Christian has opened up to me. I saw and heard what I hadn’t seen or heard before. That’s what makes the Bible such a unique book!
With today’s reading in John 12, we are entering the last week of Jesus’ life and this story of the anointing of Jesus in Bethany at Simon the Leper’s house sets the stage for what would happen in that last week on earth. In the other gospel’s versions of this story, we find other aspects emphasized. Today’s reading, however, emphasizes the contrast between Mary and the Disciples and their grasp of Jesus’ words and actions.
We see Mary presented by John as insightful and devoted to Jesus, sitting at His feet, listening to His words and responding with love. She recognizes that Jesus feet were dirty from His journey that day and wanted to do what servants generally did in the middle eastern households, wash the traveler’s feet. Instead of using a basin of water from the well and a cloth, she obtains her alabaster flask. Alabaster was a white, semi-transparent stone used to hold precious and costly ointments and perfumes. The flask contained Nard, which was a highly aromatic ointment used for anointing priests and kings, anointing the wealthy for burial, or a gift for a king. Nard was made from a plant that grew in the Himalayan Mountains; it was difficult to obtain and extremely expensive. Its cost was, according to today’s reading, 300 denari. The typical daily wage of a worker in that time would have been 1 denari. It was worth an entire year’s wages!
Mary broke the flask, probably the neck of it as it would have been constructed to only let a drop at a time fall out, so that it could flow freely over both Jesus’ feet and His head. This action alone shows that Mary had great insight as to who Jesus was and His mission on earth. 1) She saw Him as King. The very next day He would ride into Jerusalem on the donkey proclaiming Himself as King. 2) She saw Him as Priest. He was soon to make atonement for the people as a priest, standing between them and God. 3) She saw Him as the One soon to die and in need of anointing for burial. And, I believe with my whole heart that she also saw herself as a sinner in need of the salvation He would provide for her.
The result of her devotion – the fragrance filled the room! She sacrificed her costliest possession for Him; He was soon to sacrifice His all for her and the whole world!
There is a great contrast in this story that I haven’t really noticed before. Mary listened and heard, watched and took all that Jesus said and did and acted from her heart. The disciples heard and observed, but didn’t really see and hear. Mary made the issue Jesus, they made the issue the poor! Do you suppose that Mary’s wholehearted devotion to Jesus made them uncomfortable? I have often observed that devoted people make religious folks uncomfortable. It’s alright to be “devoted” to a hobby or your favorite sport, but if you’re devoted to Jesus you are a “fanatic”. Why? It shines the light on their own lack of spiritual priorities. It’s very convicting to be in the presence of a devoted follower of Jesus.
Mary knew that her significance and her security in this life was in Jesus Christ. For the disciples, especially Judas, security and significance were still anchored on this earth. They failed to really see and really hear and were totally unprepared for the reality that was to occur just days from then.
Take advantage of those times you can spend in the presence of Jesus, listen closely to what He is saying. It just could be very important to you!