May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.
Let me start with telling you I had a lot of difficulty with the gospel reading today, and maybe you did as well? See when I read scripture, I like to find some things. Firstly, I want to hear what the scripture is telling me about God and this passage for me was not very clear about that. The next question I like to ask is what is this passage telling me about… me? How does this passage tell me about who I am today and who I should be? So, you could say I am looking for a lesson.
Now we know the Lord is always active and at work and that He desires to do good work in and through us. But I don’t think this reading is advising us to go spend a year’s wages on some kind of chanel no.5 perfume, I don’t know much about perfumes, but it seems Mary spent up big in this story today.
Today however, we look at a story set in the town of Bethany, which is just a short distance outside of Jerusalem. The event is recorded in all four Gospels, the anointing of Jesus. Each of the Gospels has a different perspective on the story, but what I want to look at first is this anointing thing and what is it?
Throughout the Holy Scriptures we read about anointing. It is a traditional Hebrew practice that a priest be anointed and prophets but also, we see it for kings as a sign of their inauguration. But anointing originated surprisingly from shepherds with their sheep. You see, lice and other insects would get stuck into the wool of sheep and as you might know if the pests get to the sheep’s ears it can be quite an issue (not one for the faint hearted). So, to protect the sheep, the shepherds would pour oil on the sheep’s head which the insects could not climb on and would slip off. So, we can see that there is a symbolic blessing even protection based around anointing. From a religious perspective anointing has become a symbolic moment of God choosing a person. We too are anointed, in our baptism, oil is sometimes used on the one being baptised and then marked with the cross of Christ. This is what the word Christ means: the anointed one. There is another significance to anointing especially as it relates to Passover, Christ’s passion and today’s Gospel text.
To gain an understanding about all this, we need to briefly learn something about the Jewish practice around the Passover. God instructs Moses and Aaron about the Passover, and this gives us a clue in Exodus
God’s destroyer then would pass over that house during the plague in Egypt.
So, what does this mean? Well as you heard in the Gospel it said “Six days before the Passover” so the Passover lambs are chosen six days before the Passover. Why? Well, the lamb is to be “without defect” no part should be blemished. After the lamb was inspected it is rubbed with oil on its feet and ankles. Then two days before the Passover and after one last inspection takes place the lamb is anointed on its head. So in today’s Gospel story we read that six days before the Passover, Mary anoints Jesus’ feet just like the Passover lambs. And John brings this imagery of Jesus being the new Passover lamb out and reveals this new Exodus. Jesus’ blood is shed to protect those who believe in him which opens up our way into eternal life setting the stage for our exodus from the bondage of sin.
Mary cracks open a bottle of perfume and puts it on Jesus’ feet. I don’t think we can really imagine the smell, but when I go into like the Myer centre or big department store, and you walk into the “fragrance” department. Boom! You are hit by this wave of aromas. Then it is on, you are like rocky balboa dodging all those ladies with their perfume guns trying to sell you the latest and greatest fragrances.
Life is full of beauty, and we experience it through our senses. For example, when you go to an art gallery you can see great art. Through feel you might be crushing grapes with your feet and that sensation of the grapes under your feet is tactile. With sound through beautiful music. We can taste delicious foods and great wine.
But our nose, how do we experience the joys of the world with our nose? Well sometimes the nose cops it right? I change a nappy and boom oh there it is. Or perhaps you’re a teenager and your thinking, hey did I wear that shirt last week? Give it the old sniff test? Yep, that one needs a wash. You see, the nose knows. The nose can tell us plenty of things and unfortunately it bears a serious brunt of ugly experiences in life as well. But the nose also experiences amazing aromas.
But this Nard perfume, it better smell really good! I mean made from the tears of unicorns because it is seriously rare and seriously expensive. And Judas he knows this and points out that “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.” (John 12:5). Can you fathom that, I mean seriously this bottle of perfume is worth a year of wages! And you only get 450mls.
So, what does that mean? Is this passage about guilting us in giving the costliest thing we have away? Are we being guilted to give more? By no means! Our Lord is not in the business of guilting, our Lord is in the business of freedom and forgiveness. And if you don’t believe me, or don’t understand, look at your baptism. A baby shows up, absolutely without any will of its own and is baptised. They become recipients of Christs amazing grace, his forgiveness they receive all the good stuff. No guilt, no requirement, just grace upon grace. You get everything up front, like a down payment. We have all been forgiven for everything past, present, and future. So, we stand in this state of being forgiven and God doesn’t want us to experience guilt but freedom from it.
Instead in this story we are seeing both the work of Mary and through Judas a fulfilment of a command of Jesus made on the Sermon on the mount. Jesus says “19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matt 6:19-21).
And that is it, we hear it, in these words there is a thief who is Judas, and he is unable to steal or take over the situation here. And this is frustrating for Judas, instead Jesus is being anointed by Mary in advance for his burial, just like the Passover lambs. He is being prepared for his sacrifice which is paid up front to show his goodness, grace and mercy which show the beauty of Christ’s sacrifice even before you get to experience it fully.
And the people in that room knew the power of that smell and the experience of something that was so good that no one could really afford it. But in that moment, they are fully emersed, inundated by the fragrance, and they witness this anointing. This is the thing. Mary gets it, she understands. Judas missed the point, but Mary is not worried about her most prized possession here on earth, she is storing up her heavenly treasure a years’ worth of wages spent on a bottle and poured out on someone. It just doesn’t make sense to a rationale person, does it? But because Mary knew her Lord would die, she also knew she would be with him forever. That everything, everything spent on the account of Christ is not for naught, it never goes away. And that goes for us to, we invest our lives for this, our hearts, minds, perhaps your time and talent, treasure whatever it is, everything that we give to God is always there for us, and it cannot be stolen by a thief.
But we tend to fall back into the Judas’s way and say, “hey wait just a minute, we can use that this way and it will make this life better.” But this is storing up our worldly treasures, and we all know that if you have this much, you want even more, and I think we can generally agree on that. But with more comes greater risk, in the blink of an eye it can all be lost. Just look at the situation in Ukraine those people are just like us going about their lives and now they have lost so much. So, we try to grab more and lay hold of things and not let go. This is not the experience of faith but fear. And what God has for you is not a life marked by fear, there is no fear in what God has already given you in your baptism, what he has achieved for you in Christ, there is no fear that if you fall off the wagon for a while that he won’t take you back. Remember, God has paid for us, he has taken care of it all and it never goes away. It is there for you. So, in Mary we see a life of a woman who lived without fear, she bet everything on Christ. So be confident because in Christ is the fullness of God in human flesh and God is your forgiveness.