• Rev. Caroline

The perfume and the party

Whenever she wanted to remember the last time she’d seen Jesus, she went to the market stall that sold the perfume which Mary had given him. It was terribly expensive – to this day she had no idea how Mary had found the money to buy it.

The woman smiled as she remembered another time in Lazarus’ house. Martha, as usual, had been frantically busy in the kitchen while her sister Mary sat calmly at Jesus’ feet like a disciple.

Martha’s face had been a picture when Jesus told her that Mary was doing the right thing. She had expected Jesus to order Mary into the kitchen to help her, as she’d requested. But then no-one understood then that Jesus’ time with them was to be so short. He had a lot to say, and he needed people to listen.

The men said afterwards that he had warned them three times of his approaching death, but it hadn’t made sense at the time. “Besides,” said one of them privately, “we didn’t want to believe him when he said he would be handed over to the Gentiles, who would mock him, insult him, and spit on him, whip him and kill him, and then after three days he would rise to life. I couldn’t bear the thought of all that happening to the Master.”

The woman reflected that she was glad she hadn’t known what lay ahead that night at Lazarus’ house. She had enjoyed helping Martha in the kitchen, preparing a banquet fit for a king – when we didn’t even know he was a king, she thought to herself.

There was a party atmosphere about the house, and why shouldn’t there have been, for Jesus had done the impossible and brought Lazarus back from the dead. There was plenty to celebrate, and wonderful smells of cooking and baking filled the house.

Until, of course, Mary chose the moment to break open her jar of perfume. It dominated the aroma of food and wine. It was beautiful – it really was. As usual, the people eating with Jesus were mostly poor – it was a great treat for them to be surrounded by such expensive scent.

Only Judas Iscariot spoiled the mood, complaining that it would have been better to sell the perfume and give the money to the poor. But the poor would have bought bread – something ordinary – whereas they had been included in something extraordinary thanks to Mary’s extravagant gesture.

But it was what Jesus himself had said that turned out to be the most important thing. Neither the woman nor anyone else had understood it at the time, but hindsight is a wonderful thing.

The poor broken body of the Master couldn’t be anointed immediately after being laid in the tomb, because of the Sabbath rules against working. But at least, just a few days earlier, Mary had anointed Jesus’ feet with her perfume and wiped them with her hair.

The woman took a deep breath – every detail of that night came back to her. In meeting Jesus, in actually knowing him, she had been truly privileged. As she walked away from the market stall, she began to count her blessings.

(ref: John’s Gospel, chapter 12, verses 1-8)

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