This Easter, I am taking us ‘inside’ several encounters Jesus had near his death. This first one takes place just days before the Last Supper.
My fingers shake ever so slightly as I slip—unseen—into Simon’s house. I can hear the laughter coming from the back, and I grip the jar a little tighter. At home, the idea had seemed perfect. What better way to show my love and devotion than to pour out my most precious possession on him who has saved me…loved me…healed me? Yet in this unfamiliar house full of men, my resolve wavers. What will his disciples think? What will my brother Lazarus think? And Martha? Will she wear that disapproving pout for the next few days, the one that—without saying a word—shouts, ‘you are such a fool, Mary’?
I almost turn back at this last thought, but then I catch a glimpse of him around the wall separating the two rooms. Jesus is reclining at the table, leaning towards Simon, the Leper. Why they still call Simon by that name is a mystery to me, for his skin is clearer than a baby’s since Jesus healed him. As Jesus draws back again, he turns his head and looks straight at me.
A warm rush of love engulfs me. How is it possible that a sinner such as I could find love and acceptance from one as great as he? Suddenly I know that no pout or criticism can stop me from doing what I’ve come to do. He is all that matters to me; his opinion the only one that counts.
His eyes never leave my face as I make my way to his side. A hush falls over the table and I am conscious of the men’s puzzled stares, but Jesus’ eyes draw me forward. I sink to my knees at his side, and hear his soft, “Shalom Mary.”
There is a rustle of surprise as I lift the alabaster jar and break it open. The rich aroma of the nard perfume wafts through the air and, for a moment, I feel a stab of sorrow. How can it be that this—the most beautiful of perfumes—goes hand in hand with the stench of death? Just a few weeks earlier, we had used Martha’s bottle to anoint Lazarus’ body.
I see my own sorrow reflected in Jesus’ eyes, and I hesitate. Yet his almost imperceptible nod encourages me to continue. I pour the perfumed oil onto his feet, and then unbind my hair. There is a whisper of disapproval amongst the men, but not a hint of it reaches Jesus’ eyes. As I wipe his feet with my hair, he smiles at me with such gentleness and love that I feel my heart will burst with joy.
I could have sat there for an eternity, basking in his love, but Judas’s indignant voice cracks through my reverie.
“Rabbi. This is completely unacceptable. Why wasn’t this perfume sold and given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages!”
A few other voices rise in agreement, but Jesus silences them.
“Leave her alone.” His eyes are still on me. “She has done something beautiful for me. You will always have poor people to help. But you will not always have me.” He breaks my gaze for just a moment, and the sadness is back in his expression when he looks at me again. “She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body to prepare me for my burial.” His fingers reach for my cheek and his caress if as soft and tender as his words. “Wherever the good news is preached throughout the world, her deed will be remembered.”
The account of Mary anointing Jesus just before his death is told—with some small variations in detail—in Matthew 26:6-13, Mark 14:3-9 and John 12:1-8.