Jesus said to them, “…She has done a beautiful thing to me. … When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. I tell you the truth, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.” Matthew 26:12, 13

 

It’s called the Anointing.

All four gospels tell some version of this dramatic story (Matthew 26:6-13, Mark 14:3-9, Luke 7:36-50, John 12:1-11)—though Luke’s is so different that some scholars think there might have been a second incident.

Just before Passover and Holy Week, Jesus and his disciples are having a special dinner in the village of Bethany, two miles from Jerusalem.   A devout woman (named only in John) comes into the room. As Jesus reclines at the table, she washes His feet with her tears and anoints Him with rare and expensive perfume. Someone in the group (named as the disciples, some of the guests or Judas Iscariot) objects. Jesus rebukes them, saying she is honoring Him by preparing His body for His upcoming death.

By identifying her twice (11:2, 12:3), John makes sure we know the woman is Mary, the sister of Lazarus and Martha, the one who famously sat at Jesus’ feet while Martha served (Luke 10:39.) This family was dear to Jesus; He had just raised Mary’s brother Lazarus from death. His eating with them, their desire to honor Him and her deep devotion make perfect sense. (He might even have been staying with the family.)

Mary’s extravagant gesture was not spontaneous. One does not keep a vial of perfume worth a years’ wages sitting around, “just in case.” Of all of them, she knew and prepared for what was coming. From the disciples’ reaction, they didn’t—even though Jesus had told them plainly and often that He would suffer and die. Most likely, they were still clinging to the idea that the Messiah would be a military leader who would save them from the Romans. But Mary had been sitting at Jesus’ feet and paying attention. She knew Him; she loved Him; she believed in Him. Her faith in Him was as strong as her devotion.

That’s what Jesus commended.

We are in the season of Lent, a time in which it’s common to do something or “give up” something. But what if Lent is not so much about behaving better but believing better, about giving God time and space to strengthen our faith? What if we just “sit at His feet” and listen to Him?

As Mary did.

DEAR JESUS: Increase my faith. Help me to know You, love You, believe in You and honor You. Amen.

          First published in “Bozeman Daily Chronicle,” March 7, 2021.