by Ken Gire, from Moments with the Savior
The winds of treachery have been gusting around Jesus with increasing intensity. But there is a calm eye in the midst of this storm of mounting opposition. It is a home in Bethany, a shelter of intimate friends who come to honor him.
Parallel passages provide the guest list: Simon, a leper Jesus healed; Lazarus, a dead man Jesus raised; Martha, who served him; Mary, who sat at his feet; and of course, the disciples who left everything and followed him. But a draft has made its way into this warm circle of friends, and betrayal is in the air. The draft is Judas. But only Christ feels the chill. Christ, and one other—Mary.
She comes with perfume. Expensive perfume. As she anoints him, the aroma of extravagant love fills the room. So pure. So lovely. Flowing from the veined alabaster jar of her heart, a heart broken against the hard reality of her savior’s imminent death. Her actions are strangely out of place, a breach not only of etiquette but of a woman’s place in this culture. And yet…are her actions not the most appropriate? Is not the breach instead being committed by the men?
Did they not see the shadow of the cross lengthening to overtake their Lord? Did they not know his hour was fast upon him? Time and again, Jesus warned them. Both in parable—of the tenants killing the landlord’s son—and in plain language: We are going to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death…. (cf. Mark 9.30-32). How much clearer could he have spoken? What were those men thinking? Did they ignore his words? Dismiss them? Forget them? Hear only what they wanted to hear? Were the words so painful that they suppressed them? Or their minds too occupied with the work of the kingdom that they lost sight of the king?
For the disciples, the ministry was fast becoming a business to be budgeted rather than a savior to be served. What a stab in the heart this must have been to their honored guest. Bickering about the poor when one sits in their midst famished for a crust of human understanding. They are the most intimate confidantes, yet none has a clue to the gnawing hunger inside him. Peter doesn’t. James doesn’t. John doesn’t.
But Mary, she does. She sees the melting tallow of emotions in Christ’s eyes. And she feels the chill of betrayal in the air. So beautiful the flame. So tender the wick. So mercenary the hand that seeks to extinguish it. For this brief candle she weeps. And as she does, she anoints him with perfume to prepare for his burial. Mingled with tears, the perfume becomes, by some mysterious chemistry of heaven, not diluted but more concentrated. Potent enough behind the years of each century for the scent to linger to this day, a fragrant reminder of her extravagant love.
Soon the alabaster body of Jesus would be broken. Blood would spill from the whip…from the thorns…from the nails…and finally, from the spear thrust in his side. A perfume more precious than nard. It would cover the stench of mockers rabbled around the cross. It would flow to fill the earth with its fragrance. It would ascend to heaven to reach the very nostrils of God. So pure. So lovely. So truly extravagant. The savior had come to earth to break an alabaster jar for humanity. And Mary had come that night to break one for him. It was a jar she never regretted breaking. Nor did he.
Prayer. Lord Jesus, grant that my heart would be a Bethany for you—a quiet place of friendship where you are the honored guest.
Grant that I may respond to you not with the prudence of the disciples but with the extravagance of Mary. To realize that there is a time to sell perfume for the poor and a time to shower it on you.
Grant that where betrayal is in the air, I might fill that room with a beautiful thing said or done with you. Without thought of its cost. Without thought of what others may say.
Help me, O Light of the World, to see all my possessions illumined by your presence. And to remember that their true worth is only in proportion to how they honor you. So, teach me to value all you have entrusted to my care in this short life I have on earth.
Should I ever hesitate and cling to any alabaster jar of my own, bring to my remembrance the precious jar you broke for me. In the fragrance of that thought may I fall at your feet, as Mary did. Amen.