Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?” (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”
John 12:1-8 NRSV
We’re in the middle of the Lenten season and Easter is only a few weeks away. Lent is typically seen as a time of fasting, of remembering what we have in God by denying ourselves worldly things. But it doesn’t stop at simple bodily denial. Lent is a time of preparing ourselves to accept the sacrifice that Jesus made for us on the Cross; a time of trying to get ourselves into a headspace where we can digest the fact that this universe-big God deigned to incarnate as a common human man, to lead a largely human life, to suffer one of the most undignified and painful manner of deaths, all for people who did not understand him, did not immediately or fully comprehend the nature of his sacrifice, and didn’t appreciate that sacrifice once it had been made. Lent takes a look at all of this and says: You know all these things. You know what’s coming at the end of these forty days and forty nights: Jesus, on a Cross. So what are you going to do about it?
Mary knew what was coming. Unlike Jesus’ male disciples, who frequently denied or misunderstood what Jesus told them – who wanted the lion’s share of his glory but who all abandoned him on the very precipice of that glory – Mary had listened and grasped what Jesus had been teaching all along: that he had come to suffer and to die. In fact, she had prepared for it: Jesus tells his male disciples, “She bought it [the oil] so that she might keep it for the day of my burial.”
When we read that Mary anointed Jesus’ feet and wiped them with her hair we tend to think “Oh, gross” and move on. But what Mary did was stop-and-stare scandalous, and this at a gathering with a man who had recently been resurrected! Women did not let their hair out in front of a bunch of men. What Mary did was extremely intimate. It speaks of a love that punched through cultural norms and social mores right to the heart of faith. In doing what she did, Mary communicated several things: that she understood Jesus’ teaching, that she loved him beyond self and even safety, that she trusted him absolutely. In the face of this, instead of flinching away from the reality of what was about to happen, Mary did the only thing she could think to do: she prostrated her all at the feet of her Saviour and she anointed him.
The Merriam-Webster defines anoint as to apply oil to as a sacred rite especially for consecration. It’s no wonder Judas was beside himself – it would have been unheard of for a woman, who was very low in the cultural strata of Jewry, to do something so audacious to a respected rabbi. Yet Jesus allowed Mary to consecrate him. He allowed it because what he was doing, he was doing for her and people like her. He allowed it because Mary had grasped something that for the other disciples was still a long way off, something that every socially destitute person Jesus had eaten with understood, something that every sick person healed or possessed person freed knew: that Jesus wants you. Just you. Not you the way you think you should be, or religion says you should be, or society dictates you should be. Not the best you, the most sinless you, the most presentable you. Just you, the way you are. A you that is audacious enough to consecrate Jesus Christ with your vulnerabilities and watch him march off to a Cross to free you from them.
I repeat: Lent takes a look at all of this and says: You know all these things. You know what’s coming at the end of these forty days and forty nights: Jesus, on a Cross. So what are you going to do about it? What are we going to consecrate God with this Lenten season? Are we, unlike Mary, going to play it safe? Worry about the right answers instead of righteousness? Or are we going to be audacious in our trust?
Lord, teach me to accept all afflictions
after the example You have given.
Let me place my death in Yours
and my weakness in Your abandonment,
Take hold of me with Your love,
that same foolish love that knew no limits,
and let me offer myself to the Father
with You so that I may rise with You to eternal life.