Mary: Extravagant Love
“Then Mary took a pound of fragrant oil—pure and expensive nard—anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped His feet with her hair. So the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil” (John 12:3).
Some things can’t be explained rationally.
This is one of those things.
Nard was an oil extracted from the root of the nard plant, grown in India. It was, as John notes, very expensive. A pound of nard equaled 300 denarii as Judas reckoned it, meaning that it cost the equivalent of nine months of salary for a working man in Jesus’ day.
It’s hard for us to fathom that, or to think about it properly. In today’s terms, it would be like spending $30,000 on a bottle of perfume. Who does that? You can buy a nice car for $30,000.
Not only does she have a jar of expensive oil, she pours it on Jesus’ feet. John says the fragrance filled the house. I’m sure it smelled wonderful. It ought to smell good for that kind of money.
John points out that Judas objected to this “wasteful” extravagance, but Matthew and Mark make it clear that the other disciples joined in. They were indignant that Mary would spend so much on perfume that was just poured out on Jesus’ feet. Why not use the money to feed the poor? Good question. We’ll talk about that tomorrow.
Mary responds this way to Jesus because he performed the amazing miracle of raising her brother Lazarus from the dead. That miracle revealed to her that Jesus was much more than a teacher or a prophet. She knew he had power and authority that could only come from God.
Her desire to honor Jesus moves her to violate the customs of the day. A woman would not normally sit at a man’s feet, much less let down her hair in public, and certainly not wipe his feet with her hair. It was, in a sense, a very private act that others were permitted to see. Jesus’ comment that she anointed him in view of his coming burial would not have made much sense at that moment. It was true, of course, but they wouldn’t understand it until after the crucifixion.
I don’t think Jesus means that Mary had been given some special insight into his coming death. It seems that none of the disciples saw clearly what was about to happen. Mary’s extravagant gesture was just that—an expression of her unrestrained love for Jesus in response to all he had done for her and her family.
True love, deep love, honest-to-goodness love can’t be explained. Even when you see it, you don’t understand it. Judas had a good point, but so what? Love has its reasons, and those reasons can’t always be spelled out.
Mary’s gift to Jesus was so extravagant and so radical that his top men couldn’t understand it. I'm sure I would have reacted like they did. That leads me to one final thought. If my faith never leads me to do things that make no sense to others, including my Christian friends, perhaps I’m playing it too safe. If everything I say and do seems perfectly comprehensible to the world, then I need to do some soul-searching. The world says Mary was a fool to do what she did. Would the world ever say that about me?
That’s too close for comfort, which is one reason this story is in the Bible.
Spirit of God, shake me up so that I will wake up and not be ashamed to be counted a fool for Christ’s sake. Amen.