Coop's Column - A Beautiful Gesture, A Fragrant Gift

In these Lenten meditations we have been paying a visit each week to a place where Jesus stopped as he with the disciples made his final journey toward Jerusalem. Our aim in doing this is to be attentive to our Savior as he makes his way toward his God-appointed destiny with suffering and death on the Cross for us. As his church, the Body he so much loves, we want to be present to him in his sufferings, and to show our love for him. We long to be close to Christ, for we cannot get enough of his presence.


“Leave her alone,” Jesus replied.  “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial.” (John 12:1-8)

In these Lenten meditations we have been paying a visit each week to a place where Jesus stopped as he with the disciples made his final journey toward Jerusalem. Our aim in doing this is to be attentive to our Savior as he makes his way toward his God-appointed destiny with suffering and death on the Cross for us. As his church, the Body he so much loves, we want to be present to him in his sufferings, and to show our love for him. We long to be close to Christ, for we cannot get enough of his presence.

This week we invite ourselves in to a dinner party that Jesus’ friends at Bethany are giving to honor him. He has just arrived in town from Ephraim, where he’s been on retreat.  He is on his way toward Jerusalem, about twelve miles away, to celebrate Passover. The feast is now a mere six days away. Along the way Jesus has stopped in at the house of Lazarus, whom he had raised from death. Knowing that Jesus would be stopping at their house, Martha, Lazarus’ sister, has invited a number of friends to have a meal with Jesus. She has prepared the food for the evening, and is now serving the company of invited guests.  

The mood of the evening is warmly appreciative, even celebrative, for Jesus has done so much for so many. But it’s ominous, too, for there are whispers among the guests about Jesus’ going to Jerusalem to suffer, to die and be buried.

Suddenly the dinner conversation among guests reclining around the table is startlingly interrupted. A woman named Mary comes up behind Jesus, kneels down, opens a bottle of rare and expensive perfume, and pours out its entire contents over his feet.  Then, lovingly and in an act of deep devotion and adoration, she unbinds her hair and wipes Jesus’ anointed feet with her long, flowing tresses. 

It goes without saying:  The guests are aghast. At least one, Judas, a disciple of Jesus, is irritated to the point of consternation, even of anger. His words reveal his mood:  “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor?”

But Jesus stops Judas’ peevish outburst:  “Leave her alone. It was intended that she would save this perfume for the day of my burial. She has done a beautiful thing for me” (cf. Matt. 26.10, John 12.7).

Who knows whether Mary was fully aware of what was about to happen to Jesus, and thus knew the full significance of what she was doing? But several things are clear:

  1. Mary was deeply humble toward Jesus. Scripture says that one time she had “sat at” Jesus’ feet to learn from him (Luke 10.39). At another time it says she “fell at” his feet to indicate her complete dependence upon him (John 11.32). Now, her third encounter with Jesus, she bows at his feet, humbly to anoint him and to offer him her heart’s devotion.
    Says John Milne: “The feet of Jesus is where service for him begins.” It’s the place, too, humbly to tell and show our Savior that we need him—desperately—and to plead that he help and save us. Bowing at our Savior’s feet is proper posture—the only appropriate posture—to admit to him our sinful weakness, and our utter inability to save ourselves.
  2. Mary’s act of anointing was purposeful –“intended” says Jesus, “for the day of my [coming] burial” (John 12.7). His death and burial were only a few days away. Perhaps Mary understood aforetime how timely and fitting her gesture of loving attentiveness was. Perhaps she didn’t.  No matter. God himself was using Mary’s act to announce to all the guests reclining at table—and to us, too—that his Son’s death was fast approaching. And that they—and we, too—must ready our hearts to take it in.
  3. Mary’s anointing spread fragrance. Its aroma filled the entire banquet room, of course.  But it wafted far beyond it. About this devout woman’s  act of sincere devotion and her fervent affection for her Lord, our Master himself said:  “I tell you the truth, wherever the Gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her”  (Mark 14.9). His comment serves to remind us that every word spoken in love for our Savior and every obedient act done to adore and delight him, are never wasted. Their sounds will echo into eternity. Their fragrance will spread to the ends of the earth, and rise to the very heights of heaven.

Only a few days remain before we begin Holy Week. Soon we shall enter Jerusalem with our Lord. What better way can God’s people spend their time than by meditating Jesus’ call in John 6.29:  “The work of God is this:  To believe in the One whom he has sent.” The summons to believe is the first order of business for the entire company of Christ, the Church, and of every  soul within it.  As followers of our Savior, it’s our chief work in life, the defining and all-important task he’s given us to do.

Our second task—our high privilege—is this:  As Mary did, to pour out the expensive perfume of our lives—and of our life together as his church—in adoring gratitude to him.

So that he may delight in its fragrance.

And so that the world, too, may take in its attracting aroma, and be drawn to trust and obey him.

Prayer

"Savior, an offering costly and sweet
Mary of Bethany laid at your feet;
May our love’s incense rise sweeter than sacrifice,
Savior to you, Savior to you.”
~ Edwin P Parker

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