I haven't posted here in a while but I feel an increasing need to write again. Today I wanted to share a message I wrote for the last Sunday of Lent this year. It is written from the perspective of Mary of Bethany as she anoints Jesus' feet with the fragrant oil, nard. I hope you enjoy it...
The house is full. People have been arriving all afternoon. The men have eaten the meal Martha prepared and are lying on the dining couches, at rest, talking softly.
I sit against a wall, watching, listening. My sister continues to clear the dishes and left over food. She loves having a house full of people to feed and fuss over. I know I’d only be in her way so I stay where I am, watching my Lord.
He is listening intently to John right now. But I know that his beautiful smile and wonderful laugh could burst forth at any moment. Jesus is so full of the joy of life. His smile always comes so easily and it lights up his face, it lights up the whole room. I could watch and listen to him forever.
But I know that is not to be. The Master has been talking more and more about his own death. This is a real possibility. The Jewish leaders have made no secret about their hatred for this man who proclaims himself to be the Messiah.
To me, he is Yeshua bar Yoseph, my friend, my mentor, and so much more. He is Emmanuel, God with us, real and tangible.
Lost in thought, I hear his musical laugh and look up. He is smiling but there is a sadness around his eyes. He knows. He knows the end is near.
How can they all sit, eating and drinking and talking as if nothing is wrong, as if their Master isn’t afraid and worried, as if he isn’t facing a great and terrible future? I can see the sorrow behind the smile. It breaks my heart.
I can hear the clattering of dishes. Martha, clearing another table.
Martha. Always busy when she is stressed. I know she senses the impending crisis, too. And I know she is worried for Jesus, just as I am. She shows it with this busy-ness. She shows her love in service…feeding people, serving them…it’s her act of devotion.
I look back to Jesus. He is sitting quietly now. The conversation has moved away from him. His friends are arguing good naturedly about something, again. They are always debating and discussing.
I know it frustrates Jesus sometimes, but he so obviously loves them, these friends who have followed him faithfully for three years now. He watches them and the sorrow creeps back into his eyes.
I can’t bear it. I love him so much. He has done so much for me, for my family. As I look across the room I see my brother, Lazarus. He wouldn’t be here, eating with us, if not for the love and grace of this wonderful man.
The power of God that flows through our Rabbi is overwhelming to behold. Many who did not see it for themselves have simply refused to believe it.
As I look back to Jesus an idea comes. I know what I can do for him. I know how I can show my love.
I get up and head into my private chamber. Under my bed, hidden, wrapped in cloth, is a beautiful box of alabaster. Inside there is something so precious, so priceless, that I had been saving it for a special and sacred day. Today feels like that day.
I unwrap the cloth and the scent of the nard seeps through the seal of the box, musky and deep and reminiscent of death.
This sacred oil has been used for years in the rituals of anointing. As a woman I have never been past the women’s court in the temple but I have heard that the priests use this same nard on the sacred altar.
I walk back into the dining room. The men are still talking, Jesus is still listening quietly, reclining on his couch. I come up silently behind him, not sure how to proceed.
Usually a guest is honoured by having oil poured over his head, but I dare not. That is too much. He is too holy, this man of God, to be anointed by a poor and weak woman like me.
As I look down at him I see his feet, dusty from the road, resting at the end of the couch. Yes, that’s what I will do. I will wash his feet with this most precious nard.
I kneel down and break the seal on the box. I pour some of the oil over his feet, not daring to look up at him, not sure how he will react. Will he reject me? Will he chase me away? Will he be angry?
As I begin to spread the oil the scent of it becomes almost overpowering. It begins to waft through the room, filling up every crevice, every corner.
Slowly, the conversation dwindles and then stops as the odor of the perfume catches everyone’s attention. They all know what it is. They all know what is used for.
I finally dare to look up at Jesus. He is watching me with the kindest eyes I have ever seen. His love overflows and wraps around me like the scent of the nard.
I begin to cry in the face of this all-encompassing love from my Lord. My tears fall onto his feet, mingling with the fragrant oil.
I realize that I haven’t planned this well. Jesus’ feet are now covered in my tears and the sacred oil is dripping onto the floor. But I have nothing with which to wipe his feet clean again.
Everyone is watching. His friends are beginning to look annoyed. I begin to feel embarrassed.
Quickly, I take the ribbon out of my hair, letting it fall free, ignoring the gasps of the crowd. I know that only a woman of low character would show her hair in public like this, but what else can I do. I begin to use my long dark hair to wipe the oil from Jesus’ feet.
Judas is walking over. He frightens me. Always so sour. Always so harsh with his tongue. Always criticizing. His eyes more on the coin box than on our Master.
I can tell he is angry with me and I prepare myself for his criticism and censure. I can barely hear what he says in my fear. Not fear of Judas, but fear that my Lord will realize that what I am doing is inappropriate. I can handle Judas’ rebuke, but I don’t know what I would do if Jesus turned to me with disappointment on his face.
Judas is complaining about the cost of the nard. It is very expensive, more than most men make in a year. He feels that I should have sold it and then used the money for the poor. Of course he thinks of the cost.
Does Jesus realize, I wonder, that his friend takes a percentage of all the alms given for the poor? Does he know that his trusted treasurer betrays at every turn? Does he know the true character of Judas? He must not, or he would not trust him with the coin box.
And maybe Judas is right. I hadn’t thought this through. I hadn’t considered the cost of my actions.
Jesus will probably feel as Judas does. After all, he loves the poor as no one else does. He is always telling us to care for the least among us. I am a fool.
I glance up at my Lord. He is still looking at me with the same love and kindness as before. I begin to cry harder.
Then he turns to Judas and rebukes him! As I listen to the Master’s words I realize that he knows! He knows why I did this. He knows how precious that oil was to me. Maybe he even knows that is was the last gift my own father gave me before he died.
And he knows that I have seen his sorrow; that I am already mourning with him and for him. He knows that, as Martha shows her love in her cooking, this is my act of love for him…giving to him that which has been most precious to me.
I hear him telling Judas to leave me be. Jesus, my Lord, protecting and defending me, a weak and foolish woman! I am humbled and overcome with love.
I can see that Judas does not understand. Jesus understands. He knows that he will soon die. He knows that his time with us is short. He is trying to tell Judas that the good work for the poor will continue, as it always has, but there is so little time left for all of us to be together with Him, with the Messiah.
But Judas, as always, has missed the point. He turns away, angry. The rest of Jesus’ friends seem confused, unsure of how to react.
Then Jesus looks down at me, still crouched at his feet, my hair, slick with the sacred oil, still draped across his ankles. And he smiles. That beautiful, wonderful smile so filled with love and understanding.
He is looking in to my soul. He sees me, truly sees me. And I know that I do not need to say a word.
But the sadness is there, too, behind the smile, never quite gone from his eyes. And as he reaches out to put his hand on my head, stroking my hair, I can see the tears glistening in his eyes. My own tears continue flow.
As we sit looking into each other’s eyes I know as I have never known before what this is costing him. I sense with an awful foreboding that the price that needs to be paid in order for me to enjoy his love will be a truly terrible price indeed.
I want to beg him not to do it. I want to tell him that he doesn’t have to, not for me. But I know that my protests would be useless.
I can see the love in his eyes, not just for me, but for all us, all of us there in that room, all of the people gathering outside, even for those who are plotting to kill him.
And I know that that love needs to pay the price for us. I know that I have to let him pay that price for me, even as it breaks my heart.
I break his gaze, lowering my head, and finish wiping the oil from his feet with my hair, as the house is filled with the fragrance of the perfume…..