Summary: This message looks at the actions of Mary as she breaks open the bottle of perfume and anoints Jesus during Holy Week. It challenges us to ask the question what can we do for Jesus that is beautiful?
She hesitates in the doorway separating the two rooms. Through the opening she sees her sister Martha hard at work helping Simon’s wife prepare the evening meal in the kitchen. She listens to the laughter and conversation as it drifts through the house. She hears Simon make a joke at Peter’s expense. The fisherman joins in the light-hearted talk his loud, coarse laugh raising above the din. They are all there she knows. Peter, James, John and the rest of the disciples. Simon called the Leper. Her own brother Lazarus. And Jesus. The reason for the celebration. Lately come from Galilee, he has caused quite a stir in Jerusalem this Passover and Simon’s home provides a much needed break from the coming storm. She shivers a bit as she ponders that dark thought. It almost seems that Jesus is determined to do something dramatic. Something even greater than the miracle of raising her brother from the dead. There is something about to happen, she can see it in his eyes. Somehow sadder than she has ever seen before. And she is frightened by that look. But tonight is a night for celebrating and she wants to do her part. Clutching the fragile alabaster jar to her chest she enters the main room.
At first no one notices her arrival. Caught up in the revelry, they do not see her walk and stand behind Jesus. She takes the jar of perfume, given her so many years ago by her mother, in anticipation of her wedding night, and breaks the thin neck with an audible crack. Immediately the air is filled with the sweet perfume. Made from the finest ingredients brought all the way from India, its fragrance quickly spreads throughout the room. Catching the scent, all eyes turn toward her. Before she loses her nerve, she quickly pours the entire bottle over the head of Jesus. It runs down over his neck and upon his beard. Carefully she captures some of the thick liquid and kneels at his side. Lovingly she rubs it into the top of his feet. He smiles warmly down at her and her heart leaps with joy.
But the joy is short lived. The accusing words of Judas rip the air. “What a waste!”
Mary looks up shock evident in her eyes. “Why that perfume costs a working man a year’s wages. And you just pour it out!” Philip chimes in: “You could have sold it for more than 300 denarius and given it to the poor!” Mary’s face flushes with embarrassment. Hot tears form in the corner of her eyes. She stumbles trying to get up and run from the room. It is then she feels Jesus take her hand. Standing beside her he turns to the others. “Why are you saying these things? Mary has done a beautiful thing to me.” Drawing her close he continues, “The poor you can always do good for, but I will be with you only a little while longer. Mary has done what she could to prepare for that day I am taken away.” Smiling he caresses her hair, “I tell you the truth whenever the Good News is proclaimed in this whole world, people will remember what she has done tonight.”
This account of the anointing of Jesus in Bethany stands out like a rose in the midst of thorns. What had begun with the triumphal entry on Sunday had quickly degenerated into a witchhunt with Jesus as the prey. And now on Wednesday the forces of darkness were gathering in full strength as the religious leaders plot to find a way to kill Jesus and by night’s end find the means as one of the Savior’s own men, Judas, agrees to betray him for the price of a slave. Yet between these twin pole of evil, Matthew records this compelling scene around the dinner table in the house of Simon the Leper. And in a way this powerful demonstration of love only serves to heighten the villainy of the hateful deeds plotted that night. What are we to make of this story? What insights can we gain from the actions of Mary? I think we find our answer by considering Jesus’ own commentary upon the event. Notice what he says: “She has done a beautiful thing to me. And this thing will be remembered whenever the Gospel is preached.” A prophetic word come true today as we consider again this act of devotion. I think the question we would do well to answer this morning is this: “Why was this a beautiful thing? What about this simple act was worthy of Jesus’ praise and admiration?” I would have you consider with me just four things.
First, this action was beautiful because it was done to Jesus. Since this dinner party was being held in Simon’s house, Mary must have decided before hand that she was going to do this for Jesus. She made a conscious decision when she left her home to bring this bottle of perfume to pour upon Jesus. She meant to do this thing to honor him alone. She didn’t bring it to share with the host Simon or with her brother Lazarus, or with any of the disciples. She did it for his sake. Out of reverence and devotion to who he was. True the others would be able to enjoy the fragrance of the perfume, but it was not for them; it was for him and him alone. Notice also that she did not delegate the responsibility. She could have asked one of the servant to anoint Jesus. That was their duty. Yet it was her devotion. So she herself broke open the flask and poured it out. She knelt and worked it into his feet. In her actions she made it clear that she was doing this for Jesus alone. Not for any vain glory or personal attention, but for his honor and his glory.