The Bible is full of stories, but it’s more than a storybook. For me at least, it’s far too easy for my eyes to move across its pages… to “read” the stories, if you will, without actually absorbing them. It’s a flat, two-dimensional experience. Sometimes, dare I say it, even boring. But there’s more.
This morning I had the priviledge of listening to a Middle Eastern man recount a story I’ve heard before, one I’ve brushed past at the Sunday-school level. Today the story came alive… and I wanted to share with you a snippet of what he said. My hope is that it will encourage you, bless you, and challenge you to seek within the pages of Scripture the heart of God. You will not be disappointed.
Perhaps you, like me, have heard this story. A lady pours out some expensive perfume on the feet of Jesus. It’s a great act of service and love… but I think it’s more than that.
From John 12:1-8:
“Six days before the Passover, Jesus arrived at Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, ‘Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.’ He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it. ‘Leave her alone,’ Jesus replied. ‘It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.’”
The perfume that Mary poured out was not only “expensive”, it cost the wages of an entire YEAR!! The US Census Bureau placed the average American household income at roughly $50,000 in 2004. Indeed much has changed in the past six years and figures vary depending on the statistical methods of calculation, but the point is the same: the perfume was worth a SIGNIFICANT amount of money. It was costly, and she used it all.
It’s likely that the perfume was her security. She was unmarried. Perhaps it was even her dowry. If something happened to her family she could have sold the perfume and lived off the proceeds for a year. She didn’t have a credit card for a rainy day… and yet she poured out ALL the perfume at the feet of Jesus.
The feet were considered the dirtiest part of the body. Even today in the Middle East it’s considered an insult to show the soles of your shoes to someone. In biblical times people wore sandals and walked on dusty roads. Feet were probably sweaty, smelly, and grimy after a day walking in sandals in the hot sun. Dirty toe nails, callouses, cuts, and possible fungal problems may have added to the “dirty” nature of feet in the culture. Good hospitality included providing guests with a basin to wash their feet after a long journey. If the host was wealthy and had slaves, then the task of washing the feet of guests upon their arrival fell upon the slaves. The master of the house or host would never have washed feet. Hence, Mary took the role of a servant to wash the feet of Jesus with perfume.
…And she used her hair…
In Biblical times women dressed more modestly than now, and often had their hair covered. A woman’s hair was considered her glory, and it was often tucked up. Wearing a veil in public was a symbol of submission to her husband and was considered to protect her honor and dignity. An unveiled woman in public would’ve been thought disgraceful. And yet Mary doesn’t seem to be worried about what people would think, or what it might do to her reputation or desirability… she was worshipping the Lord. (Note: the picture is of a modern-day Muslim woman. It is not intended to depict the dress of women in biblical times.)
This story, you see, isn’t just a simple account of a woman who did a nice thing for Jesus before he was crucified. It is the powerful story of a woman who truly gave all of herself — her money, security, reputation — at the feet of Jesus in honor and worship. This woman saw Jesus raise her brother, Lazarus, from the dead (John 11). Jesus deserves honor and worship. And Mary knew it. She held nothing back. Wow.