Summary: Extravagant gestures are an appropriate - even necessary - expression of love.
Do you know how much it cost? $15,000, that’s how much. And that’s just for the perfume! The bottle she broke was worth nearly that much on its own. I can’t see why Jesus was so upset with us for complaining about the waste. I mean, I saw his point later on, but how could we have known then? Because Mary was always doing outrageous things, trying to get herself noticed, instead of being modest and self-effacing and hard-working like her sister Martha. She was probably upset that she couldn’t sit down and eat with us the way she did when it was just family. But it was formal. There were guests. They wouldn’t have understood. They probably thought she was a loose woman as it is, the way she behaved! But instead of waiting for a private time later on, in she came in front of absolutely everyone and poured expensive perfume all over Jesus’ head. And his feet. No wonder people were scandalized.
You see, it was like this. We were celebrating Lazarus’ - well, I suppose you could call it a healing, although it was really more than that, they had buried him 3 days before Jesus got there. So the whole village, practically, had gathered at Simon’s house to see Lazarus for themselves, and congratulate him and drink his health and so on. --Did I mention that Simon had only been back in Bethany for a few months himself? His children - that is Martha and Mary and Lazarus - had been living on their own before that, ever since he got leprosy and had to leave, but after Jesus healed him and the priests had okayed it he came back. They still called him Simon the Leper, of course. Anyway, what I think is, Mary got a little wild while he was gone. Sharing the house with their brother Lazarus made the arrangement decent enough, of course, but he wasn’t as strict as Simon had been, and she got into bad habits. Of course he was younger. And Jesus never minded when she joined in the conversation, he answered her questions and everything, so we had pretty much stopped taking notice of her dramatics.
But this was different. It was a formal feast. You just didn’t DO things like that in public. Of course she was grateful that Lazarus was alive again, who wouldn’t be. That’s not the point. And I suppose we were remiss in not washing Jesus’ feet or anointing his head ourselves, but really, he didn’t go in for that sort of thing, and we’d kind of gotten out of the habit. But she didn’t have to make such a production of it. And she certainly didn’t have to pour a whole pound of nard all over the poor man. You couldn’t smell the food for the rest of the night. Not that we had any appetite left.
I suppose if we’d stuck with the sheer impropriety of what Mary had done Jesus wouldn’t have been so upset with us. Because it had been hard to get used to the idea that women could be his followers, too, none of the other rabbis would even talk to a woman, let alone accept them as disciples. He knew we had tried. No, what really got to him was what Judas said. "Why wasn’t this oil sold and the money given to the poor? It would have brought 300 denarii! (As I said before, that’s about $15,000 in your money.)
Well, that sounded pretty reasonable to me! Wouldn’t it to you? I mean, Jesus had been going on for years about not attaching any importance to possessions, and advising people to sell their property and give it to the poor, and so on, to value ‘treasures in heaven’ instead, that sort of thing. Every time anybody gave him an embroidered robe or fancy belt he would give it away the next day. We were just trying to put what he had taught us into practice!
At least that’s what I was trying to do. I think. Jesus has really gotten me looking at my motives, these days. I never know, any more, whether I’m doing something because it’s right or just to look good. But we were trying, at least, and we didn’t know yet what Judas had been up to! How could we? He’d been carrying the money bag almost all the time we’d been together, he was good with money, didn’t mind keeping track of it, always knew when we needed to get a refill from Joanna or the other Mary or one of the others who had money of their own. We didn’t find out until later that he’d been skimming off the top. Imagine what he could have pocketed from a $15,000 windfall! (Not to mention what the alabaster bottle would have brought if Mary had donated that, too.)