“Holy Week” begins today in the Eastern Orthodox Church, (it began March 20 for Presbyterians and other denominations). No account of Christ’s last days would be complete without showcasing Mary of Bethany’s act of anointing Jesus’ feet. John 12:2-8 says:
“So they made him a supper there… Mary, therefore, took a pound of ointment of pure nard, very precious, and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the ointment. Then Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, one of his disciples, who would betray him, said. ‘Why wasn’t this ointment sold for three hundred denarii, and given to the poor?’ Now he said this, not because he cared for the poor, but because he was a thief, and having the money box, used to steal what was put into it. But Jesus said, ‘Leave her alone. She has kept this for the day of my burial. For you always have the poor with you, but you don’t always have me.’”
What Mary did made a big impression on Jesus. In Mark 14:9, Jesus said, “Most assuredly I tell you, wherever this gospel may be preached throughout the whole world, that also which this woman has done will be spoken of for a memorial of her.”
When Mary anointed Jesus’ feet with a costly ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, she was doing this simply as an expression of love for Jesus. She couldn’t possibly have foreseen that she would be going into the history books for what she did.
Comparatively speaking, it was a quiet, non-public demonstration of love. Yet, in doing this, she left a legacy that far surpassed anything she could’ve imagined. Jesus prophesied that wherever the gospel was preached, what she had done would be told about, and the apostles were faithful to make sure this happened. Three of the four gospel writers made sure that Mary’s act was recorded in their accounts of Jesus’ last days.
Mary exemplified the kind of servant that God wants, servants who are willing to do great things, not in an attempt to store up praise for themselves, but simply out of love. Rich Mullins once said, “If my ambition is to leave a legacy, I’ll leave a legacy of ambition.” Mary wanted only to show her love for Jesus and got more than she bargained for—a place in Biblical history as one of Christ’s most loyal followers.
Mary loved Christ more than she loved money. Judas was right about one thing–the ointment could’ve been sold for three hundred denarii. But she didn’t care. It’s not everyday that you’re in the same room as the Son of God. She took advantage of the opportunity she had to show him that she loved him, and however “impractical” her demonstration of love was, however much it went against “common sense” she would rather show Jesus her love than have all the denarii in the world.
For people like Mary—people who want to serve Christ and couldn’t care less who does or doesn’t notice—Jesus is more important than money, than being perceived “responsible”, than life itself. Sadly, there are others in the church who, like Judas, are in it for themselves. They follow Christ, not so much out of love, but more for the fringe benefits.
The text says Judas liked helping himself to the money bag. People who, like Judas, follow Christ for selfish reasons are, unlike Mary, always preoccupied with who’s noticing their service. It’s the ones who most crave to go down in history as someone great who are actually the least likely. They, as Jesus said on the Sermon on the Mount, “already have their reward.”
Mary sets an example for us to follow. Consider what C.S. Lewis had to say about her:
“The precious alabaster box which one must break over the Holy Feet is one’s heart. Easier said than done. And the contents become perfume only when broken. While they are safe inside they are more like sewage.”
According to John’s gospel, the day after his anointing, Jesus rode into the city of Jerusalem. This entry into the Holy City, sometimes called the “Triumphal entry” was actually quite painful for Jesus, as Matthew 23:37 explains:
When he drew near, he saw the city and wept over it…..” Jerusalem, Jerusalem , that kills the prophets, and stones those who are sent to her! How often would I have gathered your children together, even as a hen gathers her chickens under her wings, and you would not!”
Most churches commemorating Christ’s “Triumphal Entry” into Jerusalem on “Palm Sunday”. There was a degree of triumph in it all. Crowds gathered and spread out their coats and waved palm branches as he rode along, singing “Hosanna to the Son of David.” The sight so infuriated the Pharisees that their previous desire to kill Jesus was only rejuvenated: “The Pharisees therefore said among themselves, ‘See how you accomplish nothing. Behold, the world has gone after him.'” (John 12:19).
Of course it wasn’t the “whole world”. John 1:12 tells us that “he came unto his own and his own received him not.” Very few understood that Jesus was the Messiah, sent to save the world. Perhaps Jesus would’ve felt more “triumphant” on Palm Sunday if not for his ability to know the future. He could foresee that in a few short days the same crowds yelling, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” would be yelling, “Free Barabbas! Crucify him!”
When he arrives in the city, he weeps because he realizes that Jerusalem has missed its chance. The city, like Judas instead of Mary, had more “practical” concerns on their minds that the salvation Jesus offered.
God has come to them in the flesh, come to redeem them, but God Incarnate, like so many prophets before him, will be killed. Jesus knew he was about to be killed, but his tears are not for himself–they’re for the people of Jerusalem. He wanted to gather them under his protective wings as a hen would gather her chicks, but the people weren’t willing. So he wept.
Hebrews 13:8 says, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” If this is true, then that means when we reject Christ, as most of the Jerusalem inhabitants did, he continues to weep. He weeps over each soul that chooses to ignore his love. What about us? We can, like Mary, touch Christ with our love or, like Jerusalem, wound him with our indifference. Which are we doing?