I think there is a tendency to characterize Jesus more like a superhero than a human being. The Christian faith affirms that he is both fully God and fully human, but his humanity is sometimes overshadowed by him being the son of God. We hear the stories of resurrection, healing, and miracles, and view Jesus more like Superman than a real person. Like Clark Kent, Jesus looks human, but underneath we all know he’s got the cape on and he’s not really like us.
One of the things I love about today’s passage is that it takes place in a context that rings true of our human experience. We get to see the humanity of Jesus. Jesus is approaching Jerusalem, and he knows his hour is approaching to depart from this world. And like anyone who knows they will be dying soon, he wants to be with people he loves and say goodbye.
Jesus’ disciples accompany him on his journey, and on his way to great suffering, he stops in Bethany to be with Lazarus and his two sisters, Mary and Martha. Mary takes a pound of expensive perfume, estimated to be worth a year’s wages, and goes beyond the usual hospitality of anointing feet by pouring all the perfume out on Jesus. I imagine she had a sense of foreboding at the thought of Jesus going to Jerusalem. I’m not sure what Mary knew, but I know her actions arose from a deep love for Jesus.
I can imagine the smell of the pure nard perfume enveloping Mary and Jesus for days. In a time and place where daily showers were not common, the fragrant aroma that clung to them must have made others they encountered take notice. Mary’s act of love and devotion had a life beyond that initial moment with Jesus. Her worship of a vulnerable and loving God brought a sweetness to those around her.
We are also on a journey this Lenten season. We are drawing closer to Easter, and we have tried to create more space in our lives for devotion to Jesus. We are reflecting on what Jesus will soon go through, and, like Mary, we are with our friend and brother, knowing that he will soon suffer. And as we pray, fast, or do whatever we have purposed to create more space in our lives for God, I pray that there would be a sweet aroma that arises as we worship the God who has traveled with us through the darkest parts of human experience, the God who is with us and knows our pain.
Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched out your arms of love on the hard wood of the cross that everyone might come within the reach of your saving embrace: So clothe us in your Spirit that we, reaching forth our hands in love, may bring those who do not know you to the knowledge and love of you; for the honor of your Name. Amen.
Image Caption: Photo taken in 1968 behind the Sierra Leone Museum in Freetown by John Atherton