“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. “~ John 12:1-3
Yesterday we found Jesus mobbed but probably exhilarated by the crowds as he made his entry into the great holy city of Jerusalem to the shouts of “Hosanna to the Son of David!”
This day, Monday, weary from all the excitement and eager once again to be welcomed by his beloved friends Martha, Mary and Lazarus, he makes the short trip to Bethany with his disciples.
Apparently he was expected; a dinner party had been arranged and Jesus was to have quite an intimate surprise ~ right there in front of God and everybody. Martha and Mary were sisters; Martha was the practical one; she was always busy in the kitchen preparing the meals. Mary loved Jesus in a special way; she was often at his feet listening to his wonderful words.
This day, in front of the guests, she got down, washed Jesus’ dusty, tired, bare feet and massaged them–all the while, soothing them and caressing them.
Suddenly she got up, went to a nearby shelf and got a beautiful alabaster bottle filled with the finest aromatic spikenard. She broke it open! and the whole house was instantly transformed by its wonderful aroma!
She poured it liberally over the Master’s feet. (And as we know Judas objected strenuously ~ but let’s not go there for the moment.
(Permit me this Ignatian-style reflection ~ a bit R-rated.)
A sensual woman caresses a 33-year old man with perfumed oil. The oil squishes down between his toes; it soothes his weary feet. She rubs it in circular motions around the ankles.
Then Mary teases him dripping some, drop ~ drop ~ drop on his shins, watching the glistening oil slither down to his feet.
She leans back on her haunches and waits to get his reaction.
He grins, and raises his eyeballs.
Then she pounces on him and rubs his feet firmly and furiously and backs away again, then looks at him and smiles. He returns the gaze, obviously, very pleased, very delighted, very relaxed.
Then she massages his feet, rubbing the oil deep within the feet of this man who had trodden all over Judea preaching about the reign of God and healing the sick the everywhere.
Then she leans forward and begins to dry his feet with her hair!
This process takes a long time.
Oil takes a long time to come out, just being dried by hair, as lovely as Mary’s is.
Now, dear friends, you can’t get more sensuous than that!
I wonder what the Lord of the universe might have been thinking and feeling during this most intimate of male / female encounters? Would this most unusual, very creative experience be as intimate–as soul-connecting–as intercourse itself?
I wouldn’t even dare to imagine. Take a moment of silence right now and ponder those thoughts and let Jesus have his own thoughts and feelings in your own mind and heart. (That is what Ignatian imaginative Scriptural prayer is: You reflect on the Scripture in your imagination and see how the Lord speaks to you; try reading this passage again and see what turns up for you.)
The sacred text doesn’t say, but we can intimate from what we already know that Jesus is already very comfortable with Mary who used to sit gaga-eyed at Jesus’ feet (Luke 10:38-42.)
Was it sexual? No. But it sure as h- was sensual!
Did he enjoy the experience?
You bet he did!
Jesus was a whole, integrated man.
Was he embarrassed to have that happen in front of the others? Quite sure not.
He was with people he could “let his hair down” with, although Mary probably got a good talkin’ to by her sister in the bedroom later! Jesus, unlike many of us, was not afraid to be himself, in every circumstance.
That Monday of that of Holy Week two Millennia ago was a day of relaxation for our Lord. He seemed to have the ability to be able to make the present moment a sacrament as he put aside concern about the events that lie ahead.
In William Barclay’s commentary on this passage, he has a series of little character sketches.
First, Martha. She loved Jesus, but she was a practical woman and the only way she could show her love was by working with her hands by cooking and serving. She always gave what she could.
Then there’s Mary. We see three things about her love in this story. We see love’s extravagance. She took the most precious thing she possessed and spent it all on Jesus. We see love’s humility.It was a sign of honor to anoint someone’s head, but she anointed Jesus’ feet. And then we see love’s unselfconsciousness. Mary wiped his feet with her hair. In Palestine no woman would appear in public with her hair unbound. That was a sign of an immoral woman.Mary never even thought of that. Mary loved Jesus so much that it was nothing to her what the guests might have thought.
But there’s something else here. The house was filled with the fragrance of the ointment. Many Fathers of the Church have seen a double meaning here. That the whole Church was filled with the sweet memory of Mary’s action.
Then there’s the character of Judas.We see Jesus’ trust in Judas. As early as John 6:70, John shows us Jesus was well aware that there was a traitor within the ranks. It may be that he tried to touch Judas’ heart by making him treasurer. And here, in the house of Jesus’ friends, he had just seen an action of surpassing loveliness and he called it extravagant waste. Judas was an embittered man and took the embittered view of things.
And the scene ends with the mob coming to see Lazarus and the chief priests plotting to kill Jesus.
But Barclay doesn’t end here. He tells us that there’s one great truth about life here. Some things we can do almost any time, but some things we will never do, unless we grasp the chance when it comes. We are seized with something that seems important to do, but if we put it off, we say, Oh I’ll do it tomorrow and it never gets done.
This Holy Week resolve to do something that you have put off doing for someone~ an act of kindness or forgiveness, or asking for forgiveness.
help us, too, to live in the present moment as Jesus did
~ not thinking about what comes next.
Help us to fully give ourselves to the moment we are in,
embracing it, with eyes and ears wide open to it,
putting all other concerns aside.
For that moment is where life happens;
we may not get another!
And now before you go, here’s the song “Said Judas to Mary. Click here.
William Barclay / the Daily Study Bible Series / The Gospel of John – Volume 2 Revised Edition / Westminster Press / Philadelphia Pa 1975 / pp. 108-112.
You might like to know that the sourceof spikenard is Nardostachys jatamansi, a flowering plant of the Valerian family that grows in the Himalayas. It is a source of a type of intensely aromatic amber-colored essential oil, spikenard.