While Jesus was in Bethany a dinner was given in his honor at the home of Simon the Leper. Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead, reclined at the table with him and Martha served. Mary came to Jesus with an alabaster jar of nard, a very expensive perfume, which she poured on his head and feet. She then wiped them off with her hair. John wrote that “the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume” (John 12.3).
When Judas saw this, he was outraged (John 12.4). Why this waste? The perfume was worth a year’s wages. It should have been sold and the money given to the poor. Jesus told them to leave her alone; they would always have the poor to help, if that was their desire. But Mary had done a beautiful thing, she had prepared his body for burial. “When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. I tell you the truth, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her” (Mat. 26.12-13).
This event is recorded in Matthew. 26.6-13, Mark 14.3-9, and John 12.1-8. I have two questions: What was “beautiful” about what Mary did, and what was so outstanding about it that the world needs to know about it?
When Mary anointed Jesus with nard and wiped his feet with her hair, Jesus said that she had done a beautiful thing by preparing his body for burial. How was this a “beautiful” thing to do? If I came up to you during dinner and started measuring you for a coffin would you think that was a “beautiful” thing for me to do? Hardly, you would think it was creepy, and so would I.
Let’s start off by admitting a couple of things: First, it was a beautiful act, even if we don’t know why at this moment. What Mary did was an act of love that grew out of her faith in Jesus. Second, we don’t understand what was going on. How can something that, under normal circumstances would be creepy, become something beautiful?
Jesus wanted what Mary did to be known wherever the gospel was preached (Mat. 26.12-13). Why? Others had displayed great faith, what was so special about Mary’s act?
Look at the faith of the Centurion (Mat. 8.5-13). When Jesus agreed to come and heal his servant the centurion said it was not necessary for him to come to his home. He was a man under authority, and he had people under his authority. He told them to go and they went. He believed that Jesus needed only to give the command and the servant would be healed: “When Jesus heard this he was astonished and said to those following him, ‘I tell you the truth, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith.’” As great as this display of faith was Jesus didn’t say that it would be proclaimed wherever the gospel was taught. What was so special about Mary’s faith?
Mary listened to what Jesus taught. Jesus once said to her sister Martha: “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10.41-42). Mary listened and believed something that no one else believed. Mary believed that Jesus would be killed. What is special about believing that? Jesus had told his disciples many times that he was going to die. Yes, Jesus had told them many times that he was going to die, and they didn’t believe it, because it didn’t fit with what they wanted to believe. They believed that Jesus was a “chosen one.”
Look at Luke 24.13-21. Jesus has risen from the dead, the women who had gone to the tomb had told the disciples that Jesus was alive, but still they didn’t believe it. Two disciples were walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus, and Jesus joined them, but they were kept from knowing who he was. Jesus asked what they were talking about. They told him about Jesus, who they thought was a prophet. The authorities “...handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; but we had hope that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel” (Luke 24.20-21).
What happened that they no longer hoped that Jesus “was the one who was going to redeem Israel”? He died. The Chosen One can’t die. Yes, Jesus was the anointed one of God, but that wasn’t what they were looking for. They were looking for their own kind of hero. We all know the “Chosen One” doesn’t die. He faces overwhelming odds, but he doesn’t die. If he dies, then he wasn’t the chosen one.
But Jesus taught them many times that he was going to die. That is correct. How well did that go? Look at these three occasions in the book of Mark that he did that:
“He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. ‘Out of my sight Satan!’ he said. ‘You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men’ ” (Mark 8.31-33).
Just before this, in verse 29, Peter had stated he believed that Jesus was the Christ. What happened? Peter’s mind was filled with the ideas of men; he believed that the “chosen one” could not die.
Jesus tried again in the next chapter Mark 9.31-32: “ ‘The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise.’ But they did not understand what he meant and were afraid to ask him about it.”
And again in the next chapter Mark 10.32-34: “Again he took the Twelve aside and told them what was going to happen to him. ‘We are going up to Jerusalem,’ he said, ‘and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priest and teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise.’ ”
Three times in plain, open language Jesus told the disciples that he was going to be killed in Jerusalem, and his closest disciples couldn’t get past their own understanding of how things worked. Finally, in the garden of Gethsemane Peter tried to kill a man to keep Jesus from being captured (Mark 14.47).
Mary was different. Our sister Mary wanted nothing more than to sit at the master’s feet and learn from him. She listened and she believed: The Messiah had to die. The disciples heard the same message and they didn’t believe, because this truth didn’t fit their view of things. Mary simply believed. Doubtless seeing her brother raised from the dead made her belief greater; who could witness something like that and not be changed by it.
Why did she prepare Jesus’ body for burial? Wasn’t it enough to believe? Belief demands action. Jesus had told Martha that if she believed she would see the glory of God (John 11.40). Martha believed and had the stone rolled away from the tomb. Mary believed and prepared Jesus’ body for burial. She knew that it would be a violent death at the hands of the leaders. She might not be allowed to care for his body. So, when she could, she did that final act that we do for those we love, she prepared his body for the grave.
That is why, wherever the gospel message is taught, Mary is praised. She is an example to all believers. She didn’t climb some holy mountain, lead an army, or die a martyr, she just trusted Jesus even when what he said didn’t fit what people said was true.
You believed. And like Mary you have experienced the power of God in your life. But there are cares and troubles in you live, and there are so many pleasures and distractions. It is easy to forget what we believe. It is good to remember Mary and believe.