“The Sweetest Aroma of All” A Resurrection Weekend Reflection
She gingerly left the dining area and her important guests. When she arrived in the other room, she reached underneath the edge of her sleeping mat, to the spot near where the wall and the mat meet. She felt it immediately. It wasn’t very large, but it was heavy, it wasn’t even an ornate flask, but its contents were invaluable to her. She had been told that it would cost a regular working person their entire year’s wages to buy it outright. Nobody she knew had that kind of money. It had been a gift from her mother, who had died some years ago and who had given it specifically to her.
It was a flask containing very costly perfume from the Orient, made of pure nard. She had never opened it — never mind smelled it — in all the years she had possessed it. Now she held the flask, remembering her mother and her scent, and her eyes teared up.
She, her sister and her brother all lived together. Before his painful passing, her father had contracted leprosy and he and his property and been declared unclean by the local Jewish leaders. The family house became known as “the house of Simon the Leper.” Though their family had gone through the physical and ritual cleansing required by the Law and by the priests the house still bore that name. It stuck to it like ugly graffiti that nothing could wash away.
It was in this house that she had first met him, the One the nation was looking for, the Messiah. She sat at his feet listening to his words as her sister Martha made a scene about food preparation responsibilities. She didn’t mean to neglect her duties but listening to this Rabbi, this Prophet, yes, this One who was clearly her Messiah, seemed so much more important. She was ecstatic that every time he came up to Jerusalem after that first encounter, he stayed with them. Mary couldn’t believe that her, Martha and Lazarus were so privileged to call this man their friend.
When Lazarus took very ill and they sent word to Jesus, he didn’t show up. She was devastated. He had healed so many, why couldn’t he just stop by to heal his friend, Lazarus? And when Lazarus died, Mary had been angry. Four days later when Jesus showed up for the mourning she confronted him. Overcome with tears and bitterness, she’d told him “If only you had been here, my brother would not have died!” Moments later he was standing before her brother’s tomb and proclaiming, “Lazarus, come forth!” Out of the tomb, still wrapped in grave cloths came her brother, alive and well, with a story to tell she never tired of hearing. Jesus’ had had a better idea. He always seemed to.
It had been at that moment, when she saw her brother come out of the tomb that she decided she must do something very special for this Messiah of hers. Hosting he and the 12 was a nice gesture but He deserved more. He taught the multitudes, He fed the hungry, He healed the sick, He exorcised the demonically oppressed, He confronted the false teachers and He raised the dead. He was not just an ordinary man. He was extraordinary. He was God. He deserved more than a gift. He was worthy of so much more.
That’s when it hit her. He deserved her all. That included her life, her time, her plans, her hopes and dreams and even her most precious possession. He deserved the beloved flask of expensive, very expensive perfume given to her by her mother. Next time he was in town she would present it to him. She promised herself and God that.
As Passover drew near, Mary knew Jesus would be coming to stay at the family house. She looked forward to it….and then again, she didn’t. She was having second thoughts. Did she really have to give this precious of a gift to Jesus as an act of devotion? Didn’t he already know how highly she thought of him, how much she loved him? This was the only costly item she owned. It was from her mother. It meant the world to her but yes, he meant so much more.
As she sat on her bed mat holding the flask, she was at a crossroads. Her all our something less, what would it be?. Brushing back her tears she put the flask in her garment and headed again to the main room where everyone was gathered for the meal. There would be no turning back now.
What she did next surprised even her. Making her way to her Lord, she pulled open the flask and began pouring the contents on the head and onto the feet of Jesus. Because she had no towel, she began wiping his feet with her hair. The sweet aroma of the expensive spice overwhelmed the room. Her act of worship captivated the small group of 15 or so gathered for the meal. There was a heavy silence as they realized the enormity of what she had just done. Mary didn’t notice, her focus was Jesus exclusively.
Judas Iscariot broke the mood with the harsh words of an accountant. He echoed what some there were also thinking when he declared “Why wasn’t this ointment not sold for 300 denarii and given to the poor?” Immediately a few others chimed in with similar sentiments. Mary was stung, her confidence fell, her countenance dropped. She felt sick to her stomach. She had just been accused of wasting her most precious possession, throwing it away like cheap perfume on a senseless act. Surely, I am being misunderstood, she thought. Surely my Lord understands and approves of this her soul cried.
There was a brief moment of doubt. Then Jesus spoke words that lifted her heart and that have come to us down through the centuries. In reply to Mary’s growing critics, he said, “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.”
There. Enough said. Her audience of One had applauded her. No else’s opinion or approval really mattered. She had given her very best to her Lord and he had accepted her offering.
The next seven days would be a difficult whirlwind for her and the other disciples of Jesus. She and they would come to fully understand what Jesus meant about preparing his body for burial and she and they will come to fully appreciate who He is as He himself is raised from the dead.
Now what about me, what about you? As we ponder the cross and who Jesus is and what he has done to for us, are we moved to an authentic act of worship like Mary was? Not the singing of a song or the throwing of a few dollars into an offering plate. Not serving when convenient or even serving when it inconvenient. The act I speak of is the giving totally and unconditionally and permanently that which matters the most to us, that is to say, all of us, the giving of our very hearts to Him.
As we do, we like Mary may be criticized or misunderstood but that’s just fine. Our “Audience of One” will approve and applaud and that is all that really matters. As the hymn writer has so aptly penned “love so amazing, so divine, demands my heart, my soul my all.”
When I Survey the Wondrous Cross