We’re back at Mary and Martha’s house. (The first time we were there)
This is some time after the incident with the sisters bickering over who was in the right; sitting at Jesus’ feet or working to serve Him. The disciples are present, the house is packed full of people and the mood is a little morose. Mainly cause Jesus keeps referring to His own death and everyone is feeling kind of awkward about it.
I mean imagine this scenario in the current context.
You’ve thrown a dinner party and a bunch of friends are enjoying the cheese, and cracker plate. Someone is snooping your medicine cabinet in the hallway bathroom, and that one friend is telling you that the potato salad has too much mayo in it. You've invited a guest from church and they’ve brought a gaggle of friends with them. Thats okay though, you made enough food and this time your sister helped, which was nice of her.
The guest you invited, though, seems to be acting a little strange. He’s going around and telling everyone that he’s going to be dying soon, but not to worry cause he’ll be back. It’s put kind of a damper on the festivities and all your close friends are looking around awkwardly and whispering amongst themselves.
A strange get together to be sure, but things are about to get a whole lot stranger.
Your sister, comes down from her room upstairs and brings her bottle of Caron’s Poivre, the perfume you got her for Christmas. The one that took you all year to save up for.
Your sister then proceeds to go over to this guest and as he sits there she empties the entire bottle over his sandaled feet. In her haste she even manages to break the box it comes in. The guests around your house are aghast, and you are completely shocked and irritated at the waste you’ve just seen.
This is an amalgamation of what things might have looked like for Martha, because the Mary we read in this passage is one in the same. The Mary of sitting-at-Jesus’-feet is the Mary of pouring-perfume-over-Jesus’-feet.
Jesus is, of course, moved. And we’ll get to why in a minute.
Jesus’ disciples, however, are unabashed in their criticism. A woman, doing this intimate act in public, wasting a very valuable perfume that could have been sold; the money given to the poor who Jesus regularly stood up for. They speak out harshly and Jesus, knowing the incredible symbolism of this moment stops them with their words in their throats.
"Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me.
The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. She did what she could.
She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial.
Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her."
Once again Jesus references His coming death. Death for the Jewish culture was a tricky thing. You see, priests and those training to be priests (such as the disciples) were not allowed to touch, or even be in the presence of a dead body for the risk of becoming “unclean”(spiritually unclean — not physically unclean). And here Jesus is talking about death... regularly. Those whose duty to care for the dead are called shomerim which essentially means “guard” or “keepers”. These keepers are honored highly within the Jewish culture because their act of service upon the dead can never be repaid(Keep this idea in mind cause we'll be coming back to this theme in a future blog post). So here, Mary is performing the act of a shomerim. She's preparing Jesus for burial, just before the Passover after which Jesus is betrayed, jailed, beaten, and crucified.
The symbolism here is what gets me. And it’s what gets to Jesus too. It was lost on everyone else though it seems.
This woman, a sinner, breaks a very expensive bottle of perfume, and pours it out as a sacrifice to prepare her savior for death.
Did you get that?
A sinner breaks something immensely valuable to pour out an offering of beauty upon the dead.
Need it clearer?
This entire act is a mirror of what Jesus is about to do for the entirety of humanity.
Jesus is about to be broken at the hands of sinners, and the essence of salvation will be poured out upon humanity.
If you’re not blown away right now, I’m not sure what else to say.
This is the reason Jesus is so adamant about sticking up for Mary. At a time in His life where Jesus is still unsure about His role as a Savior to His creation, God sends this beautiful scenario to remind Jesus that the brokenness that will happen leads to the beauty of salvation for all mankind.
I like to imagine that as Mary is pouring her perfume and tears over the feet of her Rabbi, Jesus’ tears are falling heavily upon Mary’s head and anointing her. Tears of thankfulness and love.
What Mary did was a wasteful act of love. Sure, she could have dropped a few drops here and there. It would have achieved the same effect in anointing and preparing the body, but she didn’t withhold that which was most precious to her. No longer would she wear that perfume after this day. No longer would those around her say “Mary was here a moment ago, I can smell her perfume” or “Here comes Mary, her perfume is in the air”
Mary poured a part of her identity out with her tears. It was symbolic; everything she had to give she gave. Just as Jesus gave everything of who He was, fully and without reservation.
So what does this mean for us?
Well, I’m not sure.
The symbolism is what caught me. The scriptures are rife with symbolism, and this one moment is a moment among many that point to God’s redemptive plan, but there is something about the wastefulness of Mary’s act and how it mirrors Jesus’ act only a few short days later.
Many would look on the act of Jesus’ death as an act of wasteful love. Broken and poured out fully. Of course we look back on it now and see that, though it seemed wasteful, in truth it was a symbol and act of love that goes beyond our reasoning. Christ came and gave of Himself. Without reservation. Nothing held back. Jesus was all in. Jesus stepped into humanity and broke the shell of self to pour out His love through salvation upon all creation.
The call then is; can we do the same? Can we give everything we have and break open to most valuable parts of who we are and pour out the fullness of worship to our Savior? Would we be willing to worship Jesus when everyone else around us might laugh, and jeer, and call into question our sacrifice? Might we become something new in our worship of God? A Keeper perhaps? Our intention of worship having no expectation of return?
I believe we can worship so recklessly that the world might see our love as wasteful.
And why wouldn’t we want to pour out our love this way?
And He still does.