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The Anointed One

Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. There they made him a supper; Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at table with him. Mary took a pound of costly ointment of pure nard and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair; and the house was filled with the fragrance of the ointment. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was to betray him), said, “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?”… Jesus said, “Let her alone, let her keep it for the day of my burial. The poor you will always have with you, but you do not always have me.”
John 12:1-6, 8

After a dramatic first day in Jerusalem, Jesus goes to Bethany outside the city to stay in the house of Lazarus, whom He raised from the dead, and Lazarus’ sisters, Mary and Martha (Mk 14: 3-9; Jn 12:1-11). While they were eating dinner, Mary takes an alabaster jar of expensive aromatic nard, an oil of anointing, and poured it on Jesus. Mark says that she poured it on His head while John says that she poured it on His feet and dried them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the nard and the objection of the dinner guests who opposed the waste of such an extravagant display. Jesus, however, silences them. He says that Mary has done this in anticipation of His death and burial, and she will be remembered whenever the Gospel is proclaimed.

Mary’s gesture was unmistakable. She was anointing Jesus. This anointing had a two-fold meaning. First, when she anoints the head of Jesus, it acts as a sign of His regal and messianic anointing. Secondly, He was being anointed for burial, which in Jewish society was considered essential for participation in the resurrection. At the time, Mary may not have known what she was doing, but because of her lavish gift, His body was anointed and prepared for the tomb.

Furthermore, Mary’s gesture points to her deep love for Jesus. First of all, the nard was worth 300 day’s wages. In the eyes of the other dinner guests, she wasted an entire years worth of work and wages. Mary was showing her recognition and love for something that stretched far beyond the here and now. Her actions symbolized her pouring out of self; this she did out of love for Jesus. Everything that was hers belonged to him, and He rewarded her for her devotion. She was, after all, the first person that Jesus appeared to after His resurrection.

Her actions also take on deeper meaning when we examine the Song of Songs, the great love song of the Old Testament. Spikenard was an aromatic and precious perfume worn by a bride on her wedding day. It goes on in Song of Songs 1:12 and 4:13-14 to speak of the sweet fragrance of the nard and its connection to the self-giving love of the Bride and Bridegroom. Mary, desperate to show her love for Jesus, takes this perfume that she’s saving for her wedding day and pours it over Jesus. We see through the eyes of scripture the depth of love Mary held for Jesus, the ultimate Bridegroom, who is about to give Himself once and for eternity for His Bride the Church.

The question that we must ask ourselves in light of this beautiful expression is what Jesus means to us, and what if anything are we willing to give for His sake. Do we offer our possessions, our money, or our ministries? Do we present our Lord with the loving duty of our vocations, or our potential vocation as Mary did? What is the outward sign of our faith and love that we so readily profess at Mass?

Mary’s expression shows us that we cannot stop solely at pious words and good intentions. Our faith and love, requires us to give until it hurts. We have to be willing to lower ourselves for the love of another with the knowledge that Jesus sees us, loves us, and bids us participation in His very life.

Today, let’s take our next step through holy week meditating on what we are being invited to give or give up for the love of Jesus. As we zero in on the end of Lent, what is that sacrifice that we will make in finality instead of just a season? We ask the Holy Spirit for guidance and faith that regardless of what we give, our reward will be much greater.

About the Author

Perry Rihl

I love Thai food, old books, and stupid puns. I'm married to a beautiful, patient, and holy woman and I live and work as a youth minister in the Diocese of Arlington, Virginia. God allows me to lead worship and retreats all over the place and you can follow me on Twitter @dprihl.