I love the story from John’s gospel of Mary of Bethany. Especially the moment where, perhaps overwhelmed with gratitude for the raising from the dead of her brother Lazarus, she comes to Jesus, pours oil over his feet then wipes them with her hair.
Today there are two things that strike me about this public display of adoration…
One is that it is an act of incredibly expensive worship. It makes me wonder what a family in a little hill village above Jerusalem were doing with a pint of perfume that was worth a year’s wages? One commentator I read suggested that it might have been a way of saving money, an investment for the future, perhaps for a dowry when Mary or Martha wanted to marry. In any case it was a hugely expensive offering.
It may be that Mary was literally pouring out her financial security, her plans for the future, her hopes and her dreams over the feet of Jesus. An act of pure worship. It was extravagant, costly, over the top, and it caused others to question whether she was getting too ‘carried away’, but in this moment it was undoubtedly entirely the right response to Jesus.
Sometimes singing a song of worship is a costly act for us, but there are many other things which we are called to do which require much greater obedience, trust, surrender and sacrifice. These choices, to do what Jesus asks of you even when it might cost you your dignity, your good name, your financial security, your dream of how life would be, are extraordinary acts of silent worship.
The second thing I notice today is that in John’s account ‘the house was filled with the fragrance’ of the spilled perfume. I have a tiny, tiny bottle of spikenard oil from Israel that a friend gave me. Just the tiniest dot of it has a heady perfume that I can smell on my skin for hours. I can’t quite imagine what the fragrance of a whole pint spilled on Jesus’ feet and the floor would have been like. The scent of it would’ve been totally overpowering and would have not only filled the whole house but would have lingered in that place and on Mary’s hair and on the feet of Jesus for days if not weeks.
When I painted this postcard, I wanted to show that in our moments of love, surrender and giving, in singing worship and in the rest of life, Jesus does not remain impassive. He responds. He smells the fragrance and he leans towards us to receive the gift. He honours us and our costly gifts to him as He honoured Mary and He wears the fragrance of our worship with pride.
When we not only declare our love publicly and with extravagance, but anoint Him with our trust, our hopes and our dreams, the perfume is spilled out over both Him and us. We share in the lingering scent of it and the fragrance spreads out to fill the room.
I wave the white flag
and I pour out,
my heart, my life, my hopes, my dreams, my security,
over your feet.
Already washed in your blood
made clean by your sacrifice
restored by resurrection
alive in your life… I choose
and place my all
into your hands
may the house be filled with its fragrance
If you want to read it for yourself, this story is in John ch 12 v 3-8.