Summary: Mary's act of devotion was costly but it was worth the price because costly devotion gets recognized, it gets remembered and it gets rewarded.
1) Costly devotion is sacrificial (1-3). Weird word isn’t it-‘nard’. Doesn’t sound very expensive, does it? Sounds too close to lard. “Hey, honey, look what I bought for you; this perfume called Nard! I got you a whole pint of it!” As weird sounding as it is, nard was some pretty precious stuff. This expensive perfume was worth a year’s wages (5). Let that sink in for a moment. Sacrificing a whole year’s worth of your income. We’re not sure how this expensive perfume came to rest in Mary’s hands but however she had acquired it she was willing to sacrifice it in order to honor Jesus. She was honoring Jesus for bringing her brother back to life. She was honoring the friendship they shared. She was honoring her Savior. Sacrificing this expensive perfume was her way of showing Jesus that he was priceless to her. William Barclay’s commentary, “Mary took the most precious thing she possessed and spent it all on Jesus. Love is not love if it nicely calculates the cost. It gives its all and its only regret is that it has not still more to give.” In Matthew’s account of this event, it says that she anointed his head while here in John it says his feet. It’s not a contradiction it is an issue of emphasis. In John it mentioned the feet probably because of the surprising act of Mary wiping his feet with her hair. So I believe both the head and the feet were anointed by Mary. I mean, she did have a whole pint of this stuff. Anointing the head and the feet were symbolic. Anointing the head would’ve symbolized Mary recognizing him as king. Anointing the feet would’ve symbolized Mary recognizing herself as Jesus’ servant. This is indicative of those who exhibit costly devotion to Jesus. They have placed Jesus on the throne as king, as ruler of their lives and they have surrendered to his Lordship as his humble servant. Costly devotion is sacrificial.
2) Costly devotion won’t make sense to some (4-6). Judas complains that what Mary is doing is wasteful. To some, doing things for Jesus will be a waste-a waste of time and a waste of resources. Sometimes, at least in the beginning, costly devotion might not make sense to us either. I’m sure Mary was tempted to not make such a costly sacrifice. It’s true-if she had sold the perfume the money could’ve kept her family going for a while or it could’ve helped others. It made more sense from a practical standpoint to sell the perfume. And not that it’s wrong to think like this but there are times when doing the godly thing doesn’t necessarily mean doing the practical thing. It might not make practical sense, but it will make spiritual sense. We too will be tempted to talk ourselves out of costly devotion. God will test the level of our devotion to him. “Do you love me?” “Yes, Lord, I love you.” Then are you willing to turn down that job that requires you to work on Sundays? Are you willing to not spend money on that new thing and instead give it to me? Are you willing to end that immoral relationship? Are you willing to put me first? Are you willing to make a costly sacrifice in order to show your devotion to me? Along with this not making sense to Judas I think there was another factor here. Judas was not just upset that Mary did what she did he was also upset because it made him look bad. Judas’ angry response could very well have been prompted by guilt. Here he was, someone who was greedy and guilty of pilfering from the generosity of others, seeing an extreme act of selfless, costly devotion. He knew that he was just shown up in the worst way. His heart was the opposite of Mary’s and instead of being humble he became enraged, trying to paint Mary’s act in a negative light. William Barclay’s commentary says, “A warped mind brings a warped view of things; and, if we find ourselves becoming very critical of others and imputing unworthy motives to them, we should, for a moment, stop examining them and start examining ourselves.” Costly devotion won’t be accepted by some but don’t let that stop you from doing God’s will.
3) Costly devotion is defended by Jesus (7-8). Mary probably didn’t know that she was doing this for burial purposes but Jesus did. When Mary carried through with God’s plans Jesus made it known. He came to Mary’s defense. Matt. 26:8-12. It appears that the other disciples took Judas’ side of reasoning here. I’m sure in the very least they thought the act strange for a few reasons. Not only was there the perfume value aspect there was also the fact that she used her hair to dry his feet. That was considered disrespectful for two reasons: a woman was not to let her hair down in public, and it was also considered disrespectful for a woman to treat a Rabbi this way. So their objections were due to everything Mary was doing. But Jesus didn’t chastise Mary he defended her. Perhaps the other disciples agreed not just from a lack of understanding but from their own conviction as well. “This woman has a more sincere heart than I do. Mary’s willing to risk more than I would.” Perhaps they were all feeling guilty with the understanding that they knew that they wouldn’t have done that for Jesus. These realizations could very well have prompted Jesus’ stern rebuke, “leave her alone. Don’t rebuke her for doing this beautiful thing. You’re the ones who need rebuking; especially you, Judas. None of you have the heart of devotion she has. Instead of dishonoring her act you need to honor it and learn from it.” We can take comfort and courage in this. When we are doing something that reflects our devotion to Jesus others may laugh and scoff. They may even call us a fool or try to paint our act of devotion in a negative light like Judas did. But don’t worry; Jesus will come to your defense. “The poor you will always have with you but you will not always have me.” On the surface this seems like a cold statement toward the poor. It’s not that at all. Jesus cared about the poor. Jesus was defending Mary’s timely act. God prompted Mary not to put off doing this beautiful thing and Jesus defended that. She was preparing him for his burial. Jesus’ time left on earth was short. Had Mary waited until a more opportune time she probably would’ve lost her chance. Had she waivered in her sacrifice she would’ve lost the chance to do this beautiful thing for Jesus. Then she would have regretted the fact that she waited too long to perform this act of costly devotion for her Lord. It’s a good lesson for us. We need to say and do the things we know we should before the opportunity passes, before we lose the ambition and the willingness; when all we have left are regrets.