Mary Anoints Jesus
12 Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 2 There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. 3 Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them[a] with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. 4 But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, 5 “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii[b] and the money given to the poor?” 6 (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.) 7 Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She bought it[c] so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. 8 You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”
Nicaragua is one of the most beautiful places in the world, gorgeous scenery from the beaches to the mountains, but the people there are even more beautiful, inside and out. I’ve been there quite a few times and every time I go, I want to go back as soon as I get home!
I would love to get another group from Cincinnati to go there soon actually!
Folks from Nicaragua also practice amazing hospitality. When we went to Nicaragua with Young Life, or “Vida Joven” as it’s called there, we would do what we called “homestays”. Those were 24 hours where 2-3 of us would spend with a host family. We would have the normal struggles of language and cultural barriers, but every single home stay was such an enriching time of growth and learning.
I never will forget the first homestay. I was with a couple of high school guys from my church. We were with a great family and they wanted to take us out to restaurant in the city where we were, Matagalpa, in the mountains of Nicaragua.
When we arrived, we learned that several of their relatives had also come, as well as folks from the neighborhood. We sat down to order and noticed that only one or two other persons from the family also ordered food.
We, like many Americans or folks from wealthier nations, offered to pay for their meals and everyone else, which was kind of offensive to them I would realize later, but they were so kind. They insisted that we ate and that they pay for it.
It was a great lesson for me to learn, and a gift to receive.
The hospitality that they gave us was overwhelming. It breaks my heart that our country has not shown the same kind of hospitality to folks fleeing Central America that are on our southern border.
The gospel lesson has Jesus in the home of Lazarus. Mary and Martha are there as well. (Do you ever notice how women in these stories always seem to teach us as readers centuries later so much?!)
They are at the table and Mary comes to Jesus weeping. She then anoints his feet with expensive perfume. This is unusual because anointing someone’s feet wasn’t common, at all. You anointed someone’s head. Yet, this was an action of great humility, she recognized Jesus’ love, friendship, and acceptance of her. She wanted to show great respect for him…anointing his feet was and act of lowering herself.
I don’t know what her motives were or what to make of it completely, but I do wonder if the symbolism of feet, of being in the dirt, of movement, and of taking you somewhere has something to do with it. Israel and Judah are dry, semi-arid places with lots of dust. They wore sandals, touching and cleaning your feet is dirty business, yet we know that Jesus used that as a model for serving others.
We also read that she wiped off the perfume with her hair. Jewish women in that time always wore headcoverings and kept their hair up. She was showing great indignity, again, while recognizing Jesus’ acceptance of her.
We know that the perfume she used was very expensive. Judas, in this account, was upset. He made a good point that they could have sold the perfume and given the money to the poor. We also know that he was pocketing some of the money and may have had ulterior motives.
Yet, Jesus has this statement, it’s not about the money, and it’s not about the poor. Judas was missing the point. It’s not about simply giving away something, it’s about giving and receiving a gift, and being faithfully present with someone.
So many times we want to give money to something or write a check. It takes us off the hook, but Jesus is saying that Mary is giving a costly gift and Jesus is receiving it. They are practicing exuberant, over the top, blessing in the act of humility in giving and in the humility of receiving. It’s personal, it’s in the messiness of life, and it’s calling us to do the same…to jump in to the actions of Jesus with our whole lives, to not be afraid to be committed, and to even get a bit messy.
God wants us to know, through Jesus’s actions, that no one is outside of God’s gift giving and receiving, that we are called to be accepting, to show radical hospitality, even at great personal and corporate cost.
May we be a people that practices this costly and very personal way of friendship, of love, to one another and to the world around us…and, in so doing, may we feel the world with the sweet aroma of God’s divine flow!