Mary's anointing of Jesus was the text for this Sunday's Kingdom Kids. While listening to sermons, studying the scriptures, and praying over this lesson, I got the sense of something more bubbling just beneath the surface. Since then, I've scratched at the surface hoping to unearth this treasure, but it's remained just beyond my reach.
It had been two months since the event that had the whole town of Bethany abuzz. One of their own, a man named Lazarus, died and was in the tomb for four days when Jesus arrived. He hollered into the hollow of the tomb, "Lazarus, come out!" Even the dead had to obey his voice. The grave handed over her captive. Lazarus came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. "Take off the grave clothes and let him go."
"Who is this man that death bows before him? Could this be the Promised One of God?"
The way the crowds flocked to Jesus frightened the Pharisees, "If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him." So they plotted to get rid of the man (Jesus) and the evidence (Lazarus).
Spring was in the air; Passover was on the horizon; Freedom was the battle cry. The Jewish nation flittered with excitement. Would the one rumored to be Messiah come to Jerusalem for Passover? Would God deliver his people from Roman rule as he delivered them from Egyptian slavery?
Fear wrapped her tendrils around the Jewish leaders, "We will lose our place and our nation." They kept a wary eye open for Jesus, biding their time and waiting for the opportune moment to turn the crowds against him.
Jesus was at a private party with a few of his closest friends in Bethany. Simon the Leper was the host, grateful for company as only one who has long been estranged can. Lazarus was there, breathing anew the air he once took for granted. Martha was there, scuttling about serving food for the meal. The disciples were there, eating and reclining at the table. And Mary was there. Dear, sweet, Mary, sitting at Jesus' feet.
While the others conversed, Mary listened. She wore around her neck a year's worth of wages bottled up in an alabaster jar of perfume. Seeing no greater use for her treasure, she broke the jar and anointed her king. Perfume soaked Jesus' hair, ran down his cheeks, dripped from his beard, and fell to his feet. The room filled with the aroma as Mary knelt down and wiped Jesus' feet with her hair. Such devotion! Such beauty!
It was Judas Iscariot who broke the sacred silence, "What a waste! This was a very expensive jar of perfume! Why wasn't it sold and the money given to the poor?" The other disciples were quick to agree, "Yeah, a year's wages! Think of the food and clothing we could have bought for the poor."
It seemed like the right answer. It was Jesus who had taught them to care so deeply for the poor and the outcast. But in their meticulous pursuit of the practical, they missed the beauty. In their quest for rightness, they missed truth. The amount of perfume was excessive. Unless, of course, you were getting a body ready for burial.
"Leave her alone," Jesus replied. "She has done a beautiful thing. The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me. This perfume was meant for this day and this purpose. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial."
Jesus had spoken clearly of his imminent death no less than six times. And now, surrounded by the fragrance of death and the holiness of tears, the disciples bark their rebukes. They haven't been listening, but Mary has. Could it be that Mary knew exactly what she was doing?