If we wanted to seek a biblical model of what it looks like to “grow your heart”(our theme for Lent) in relationship with Jesus, Mary anointing Jesus’s feet with expensive nard and wiping them with hair would be at the top of my list. In Luke, we see her sitting at Jesus’ feet learning like any true follower, absorbing all she can. Now she takes her disciples to the next level, she gives Jesus the most precious gift she has—not just the expensive perfume, but the gift of her devotion, her discipleship, her love—she gives the gift of her complete self.
It’s hard to underestimate the radical nature of her actions in this story—everything she does is wrong and against custom, common practice, and long-held tradition:
Everyone’s feet were already washed before they came into the house. Dusty roads shared with animals makes for dirty feet shod with sandals—and no one allowed guests into their house without the first act of hospitality which is the washing of feet by the household slave or a woman. Jesus’ feet did not need further attention.
Women were not supposed to be entering the dining room except to serve, so why was May compelled to go in? Jesus had miraculously raised Martha and Mary’s brother, Lazarus, from the dead after 4 days—4 days!—and she was overcome with gratitude and for Jesus. Her brother was alive—in a way that was just imaginable—he had been really dead—stinky dead—and here they were, hosting a dinner party to celebrate hi new life. At the same time Jesus was speaking of his own death—everything felt upside down—death was not final and Jesus, who was so powerful seemed precarious in his--Mary would not be denied this time with either her brother, or with Jesus regardless of the rules. So into the dining room she went with a perfume that overcame the recent stench of death.
Mary begins touching Jesus as she anoints his feet with her perfumed oil. Men and women were prohibited from touching each other in public; in fact men weren’t even supposed to speak to a woman who was not his wife, mother or daughter. Another boundary thrown to the wind.
Scandal escalates with Mary’s hair loose and flowing which she uses as a towel. Because a woman’s loose hair was viewed as too sensual, it was taboo for a woman to have her hair unbound.
Mary’s extravagant nard is worth a laborer’s entire years’ salary and she uses it all to perfume Jesus’ feet—a symbolic act of “anointing” Jesus. Anointing was reserved for kings, prophets or priests who were called by God for a special task, but such anointing was done by a male priest in Jerusalem—NOT by a a layperson, not in Bethany where the poor and the sick were cared for, and certainly not by a woman.
It’s an outrageous scene that Jesus, the Messiah, the Christ is being lavishly anointed for his journey to the cross by a poor, small-town, laywoman, who, in a moment of unbridled devotion, breaks through every boundary and tradition in the books. Can you see the layers of meaning?
• Mary is a priest who anoints Jesus –not for a traditional kingly role, but for burial and like he did for Lazarus—to take away the stench of death for all eternity
• Mary is a faithful disciple whose foot-wiping foreshadows Jesus washing of the disciple’s feet; She already loves like Jesus commands before he even asks the disciples at the Last Supper to love one another as he has loved them. Her will is in union with Jesus’ will and mission—she not only understands the level of love and service Jesus’ calls for, she embodies it even before Jesus himself does.
• Mary is Christlike as she offers her body and her unbound hair for sacrificial service—opening herself to ridicule and shame to show love and gratitude. She signals to Jesus he will not be left alone when is scourging begins, she will remain by him.
• Mary is a fragrant offering, giving away the most expensive, precious thing she has because of the abundance she experiences in the fullness of her relationship with Jesus. Life with Jesus is abundance—grace upon grace.
Rules be damned; Mary risks it all—she offers her whole self to Jesus—perhaps because she knows by now, that this is precisely what Jesus is doing for them— risking it all—offering his whole self to us—for God so loved the world, the cosmos, that he gave his only begotten son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life.
Mary sees how precious Jesus’ gift of himself is, so she offers the precious gift of herself in return.
That is truly what these Lenten weeks before Easter are all about, are they not? To help us see Jesus and who he is and what he does for us as clearly as Mary—to see what he offers us as precious, as the heart and center of our lives—our breath, our strength, our hope.
And then to offer something precious in return—our whole selves, our heart, our life, the fragrance of our faith and prayers. Like Mary, we want to give our unbridled devotion that does not give a rip about others’ expectations or what any Judas thinks, because the death and life of Jesus Christ is blessed assurance, undying love, and unmerited forgiveness. And that is worth whatever precious gift I can give—it is worth the time I can give God in prayer, the help I can offer in service, the support and connection I can give and receive in this community, the growth I can gain in Bible study, the abundance I can share with the poor.
We all have something precious to give Jesus for the growing of the kingdom in this place—a part of ourselves in love and service and devotion so that others will know how precious he is to us, to our family, to this church and to our mission. What is your precious gift that you can offer so that our outreach and love expands and more people know of precious gift of Jesus Christ?
When Mary’s rule-breaking behavior was criticized, Jesus defended her, “leave her alone,” he orders. “She gets it—she gets that my devotion to you is pure and precious and complete—that’s why God sent me. And she gets that the best way to experience it is with your whole precious self—Mary is all in.
In that moment, all the rules and barriers are broken open—death isn’t even reliable anymore—look at Lazarus—and he is just the first chapter so stay tuned on that one! The kingdom that is coming is a kingdom of life and abundance and resurrection and love—Mary is the only one who sees the magnitude of love and abundance that breaks open the rules; and breaks open the expensive jar of perfume; and breaks open Lazarus’ tomb; and breaks open the seal on Jesus’ tomb.
Break open your heart, like Mary and pour out with love, the precious gift of yourself in return for what Jesus has done for you.
As we each give ourselves and our precious gifts and become One with Jesus in his will and mission, and to the building of Christ’s kingdom,
- we like Mary, will be priests, in the priesthood of all believers, anointing more believers for mission in Jesus’ name
- we like Mary, will be faithful disciples, serving and loving others as Jesus commands
- we like Mary will offer ourselves in sacrificial service as we grow in our outreach to our community
- we like Mary will become a fragrant offering as we share the abundance and richness of God’s love for all –an extravagant love that breaks down barriers and walls and traditions that have kept people apart, away and alienated from each other and from God.
You and your heart are precious gifts to Jesus and to us.