The Extravagent Waste
I continue to be challenged to look beyond my own Evangelical upbringing, my suburban lifestyle, my American citizenship, and other barriers to truly “see” Jesus. I was confronted by how my own perceptions skewed my ability to fully know Jesus in seminary. It was a very disconcerting thought; but one which took me on a journey of going deeper, seeking to eliminate the barriers or cultural perceptions because I so longed to know Jesus fully. I longed to experience him as Mary experienced him as she offered her presence to him on his journey to the cross.
I am speaking of Mary, who was either Mary Magdelene or Mary, sister of Lazarus. Scripture records both as anointing Jesus’ body for burial (Mark 14:1-9, Matthew 26;6-13, John 12:1-8). I think perhaps part of the confusion is the reality that both Mary’s knew Jesus beyond the cultural, spiritual, ethnic, and political barriers that kept even his own disciples from fully understanding the depth what Jesus came to earth to do.
Both Mary’s experienced tremendous encounters with Jesus. Tradition states that Mary Magdelene was freed from 7 demons. Mary, sister to Lazarus, sat at Jesus’ feet as a learner, something women were very rarely given permission to do. She also saw her brother, dead for four days, come walking out of his grave after Jesus told him, “Lazarus, Come out!”
Mary took great risk in her personal extravagant act. She, during a dinner party, took a bottle of pure anointing oil of nard, and poured it over Jesus’ head. She continued to anoint Jesus, eventually reaching his feet, where she wiped the oil with her hair. This was an act of great intimacy….one that definitely attracted the attention of the dinner party! Immediately, criticism arose. I can’t help but think that most were offended at Mary’s level of physical presence with Jesus, as well as their perceived waste of what often cost up to one year’s salary.
It seems easy to consider this encounter if we stand apart from it, but if we put ourselves in Mary’s place, we come face to face with the reality of what life with Jesus can be. If we want to play it safe, it’s better not to follow because Jesus never played it safe. He never took the easy road. He wasn’t afraid to address injustice, or religious bureaucracy or hypocritic acts. He had great compassion for those who suffered and only scathing rebukes for those who oppressed them.
Today, as my desire to accompany Jesus on the journey, I am putting myself in Mary’s place and writing the rest of this blog as though it was my journal:
Day 1: “I understood today what Jesus has been saying when he speaks of the “Son of Man” coming to earth to give his life as a sacrifice. He means he is really going to put himself in the place of the “sacrificial lamb” which means he will be arrested and tortured and killed. How can this be? How can I give him my presence and support? What would make a difference to him?
Day 2: I spent the day considering what he needs to courageously walk this road. I wonder what would give him a continual reminder he isn’t alone….he has friends who love him and care about him.
Day 3: I have decided what to give Jesus. I have the bottle of nard my parents gave to me for their burial. I am going to use it to anoint Jesus’ body ahead of his death. When he is suffering, I hope the scent of nard will remind him of my love for him.
Day 4: Simon invited me to his dinner party. It’s the perfect opportunity to bring the nard with me to anoint Jesus. I will look for a way to get close to Jesus to pour the oil over his head. I know it is a great risk, I can even be arrested for being so physical with a man who isn’t my husband, but it is a small price to pay for the sacrifice he is making for me and for the rest of the world.
Day 5: I will treasure my experience for the rest of my life. I found a time when no one else was talking with Jesus and I came to him with the alabaster jar of nard. I saw a look of recognition on his face…pleasure almost, as he realized what I intended to do. I broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head. I began to weep as I thought about his body being broken and mangled, and yet, the smell being present ahead of his death. As I was weeping and wiping his feet with my hair, I inhaled the scent of nard…the sweet smelling reality of death. As Jesus began to breathe deeply, almost gathering courage through each breath, the room faded away and I knew then, I had pleased him. He was grateful that I knew…grateful I was showing him a way to acknowledge his journey.
The moment of intimacy with Jesus didn’t last. Suddenly, the party was in an uproar as the scent of nard permeated every corner of the house. Judas Iscariot and some of the religious leaders began to criticize me for both my waste and my brash behavior. They wanted to know why I didn’t just sell my inheritance and give it to the poor. I began to shrink away…but Jesus came to my rescue. He said an amazing thing: “The poor will always exist. But, Mary knew…she poured perfume on my body ahead of my suffering to prepare my body for burial. As people talk about me through the ages of time, what Mary has done for me will always be remembered.” Oh, the joy of pleasing my friend, my Savior, my Deliverer.
Day 7: My heart is breaking with grief. As I stood there at Jesus’ cross, watching his body suffer, I could barely contain my own suffering. But, every so often as the wind would gently blow, I would catch a whiff of the nard…permeating the presence of death. I saw Jesus look at me once, and smile…and smile, despite the incredible torture he was undergoing, he would smell it too, and remember, he wasn’t alone in his mission. I had been able to give him my presence as he journeyed to the cross.
You cannot be truly humble until you have the deep sense of being loved.
(Come Away my Beloved, p. 210)