Leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, there were many participants in the grand drama of redemption. From Judas who betrayed our Lord to the priests who condemned Him, each person played a vital role in God’s sovereign plan.
One of the most striking scenes is found in John 12:1–8. The story begins just outside Jerusalem in Bethany, the place where Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. Simon the leper, whom Jesus probably healed from leprosy, is hosting an evening meal for Jesus in his home. As is typical for an evening meal, guests are reclining on plush cushions to facilitate conversation. Courtesy dictates that servants would wash and often perfume the feet of those feasting because of this reclined posture. Chatter fills the room, and in walks Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus. She appears with an alabaster vial of very costly perfume of pure nard.
The perfume would have been kept in a small marble vial with a long neck and a stopper in the opening to release a few drops of the precious fragrance. With contents worth a year’s wages, this bottle was no doubt protected and locked away. “Pure nard” is an undiluted aromatic amber-colored essential oil derived from a flowering plant in the honeysuckle family that grows in the Himalayas. With the prized vial in her hand, Mary makes her way to Jesus, who is reclining at the table. She doesn’t sprinkle a few drops of perfume on His feet but does the unthinkable. She breaks open the bottle and pours its contents on His head and feet, anointing His feet and wiping them with her hair. John adds, “The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume” (v. 3).
Judas, who is also reclining at the table, becomes indignant and begins to remark that the perfume has been wasted and should have been sold and the proceeds given to the poor. With his mind already set on betraying Jesus, Judas’ heart is filled with greed (v. 6). Jesus rebukes those reprimanding Mary: “Leave her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of my burial. For the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me” (vv. 7–8). It is right to give to the poor, but what is your ultimate priority?
Mary provides an example of ignoring the naysayers and being unrelenting in one’s worship of Jesus. Just a few days before His crucifixion, Jesus blesses her for this selfless act of worship in preparing Him for burial. Mary is powerless to stop His inevitable death and suffering, but she can offer Him all she has in an act of devotion that is remembered two thousand years later. Jesus says that when the gospel is preached throughout the world, Mary’s adoring worship of her King will be remembered.
Against the backdrop of the betrayer, the wicked priests, and the cruel soldiers is Mary, who has given Jesus her all in an act of worship that clearly points to His burial and resurrection. Jesus is the supreme object of all our worship. What do you have to give Him?