[I know the story of Mary annointing Jesus' feet with perfume is not included in this year's lectionary for Holy Week, which is based on Mark, but it's something that's been on my heart to write about...]
Yesterday’s Holy Week reflection at Barnstorming about Mary washing Jesus’ feet struck me quite strongly – the contrast between Mary’s belief in Christ’s prediction of His suffering and death and the disciples’ denial.
Mary ACTED on her belief in Christ’s words and teaching. The whole post is worth reading as it challenges us: what would faith lived out look like in our lives – how are we being called to serve and sacrifice? What can we do out of love for Jesus today?
Here’s an excerpt which highlights the parallels between Mary actions and love and Christ’s actions throughout Holy Week:
Mary acts out of faith even when she confronts a painful reality–she acknowledges Jesus’ predictions of His death and burial–she believes what His disciples refused to hear.
Jesus prays a few days later to have the reality of suffering lifted from Him, but in obedience, He perseveres out of faith and love for the Father.
Mary acts out of her steadfast love for the Master–she is showing single-minded devotion in the face of criticism from the disciples.
Jesus, on the cross, shows forgiveness and love even to the men who deride and execute Him.
Mary acts out of significant personal sacrifice–pouring costly perfume worth a full year’s wages–showing her commitment to Christ.
Jesus willingly gives the ultimate sacrifice of Himself–there is no higher price to pay.
Mary responds to His need–she recognizes that this moment is her opportunity to anoint the living Christ, and His response clearly shows He is deeply moved by her action.
Jesus, as man Himself, recognizes humanity’s need to be saved, and places Himself in our place. We must respond, incredulous, with gratitude.
Jesus tells Mary of Bethany (and us), in response to the disciples’ rebukes, that it is her action that will be told and remembered. She did what she could at that moment to ease His distress at what He would soon confront. She did what she could for Him–humbly, beautifully, simply, sacrificially …
Some songs that tie in with this reflection on the theme of Mary’s offering to Christ:
art credit: SusanBaily.org
In reading the account of Mary and Jesus found in John 12, I was startled by the verse that suggests that the perfume Mary’s sacrificed was worth 300 denarii (silver coins, perhaps worth about $20 each). Yet Judas, who complains about Mary’s wastefulness, sold Jesus for only 30 silver coins! (It’s not specified that these are denarii, Scripture merely says “pieces of silver.”*) I have never consciously juxtaposed these two figures before. Comparing Mary and Judas is sobering – do I give to Jesus without counting the cost or am I always trying to protect my self interest – no matter how petty?
In closing, I like how one commentator describes how Mary’s sacrifice prefigures Christ’s lavish grace towards us all:
She had possession of the alabaster box and she chose to share it with her Lord. She did not hoard it for herself or try to sell it, as the disciples would have liked, merely for monetary gain. Its contents were more precious to her than any amount of money. In fact, she gave expecting nothing in return, kind of like how God bestows us with His Grace even though we don’t ask for it. It’s a free gift. The perfume from that alabaster jar was like God’s grace poured out for all of us.
*note: The ESV online study Bible notes for Matt 26:15 suggest these pieces of silver paid to Judas may have been worth 4 months wages, which would make them equivalent to 120 denarii, still less than the perfume.
Update: not to get distracted by numbers and monetary values, but I found a cool online calculator which lets you convert Hebrew Biblical units into Roman Biblical units – thus you can convert from Shekels to Denarii. The ESV notes for Matt. 26 suggest that Judas may have been paid 30 Shekels – in accordance with the passage in Exodus that sets the reimbursement for a slave gored by an ox at 30 Shekels.
So my question was, how do 30 Shekels compare with 300 Denarii?
This Biblical Unit Converter gives an idea: according to that site, 30 shekels = about 89 denarii. Or, in reverse, 300 denarii = 101 shekels. No matter how you measure it, Mary’s sacrifice is staggering when compared with the “rewards” of Judas’ betrayal of Christ.